California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was pulling the “emergency brake” Monday on the state’s efforts to reopen its economy as coronavirus cases surge more dramatically than they did during a summer spike.
“We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a statement. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet — faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer. The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes.”
The action that Newsom called the “emergency brake in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy” will impose more restrictions on businesses across most of the state. He said masks would now be required outside homes with limited exceptions.
The troubling rise in cases in November has come at a faster pace than a spike in mid-June and could quickly surpass the peak of the hospitalizations at the time, health officials have said. The state became the second in the U.S. last week to surpass 1 million case of the virus as the U.S. has now recorded more than 11 million cases.
The new rules are certain to rankle business owners such as restaurateurs and gym owners who have been struggling to get back on their feet after lengthy shutdowns followed by reopenings that have at times been curtailed as cases have risen.
The state has blamed the spike in cases mainly on people who have grown fatigued coping with the virus and have ignored public health warnings to not socialize with friends and family members. Those warnings have been more forceful in advance of Thanksgiving next week.
Businesses have complained that they have played by the rules yet had to pay the price for residents who didn’t do so.
Newsom himself has faced blowback after failing to follow his own rules by attending a friend’s birthday party at the opulent French Laundry restaurant in wine country north of San Francisco.
Newsom’s action, which takes effect Tuesday, will put most of the state’s 58 counties in the strictest of the four-tier system for reopening that is based on virus case and infection rates. That tier closes many non-essential indoor businesses.
Counties with lower rates have had more freedom for businesses to operate, schools to open for classroom instruction and for formal gatherings like religious services.
Eleven counties were forced into more restrictive tiers last week. Several San Francisco Bay Area counties on Friday said they would voluntarily follow the city of San Francisco and ban indoor dining even though their case levels allowed them to keep them open under the state’s rules.
Newsom and the governors of Oregon and Washington on Friday issued a travel advisory urging their residents to avoid non-essential travel and to quarantine for two weeks after arriving on the West Coast from another state or country.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also announced a two-week “freeze” Friday to limit restaurants to offering only take-out food and close gyms. She said the travel advisory could become a requirement if cases remain at current levels.
Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee ordered gyms, bowling alleys, movie theaters, museums and zoos to shut down indoor operations. Stores must limit capacity to 25%. People from different households will be barred in Washington from gathering indoors unless they have quarantined.