California imposes curfew to curb skyrocketing COVID cases

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Motorists wait in long lines to take a coronavirus test in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium, Wednesday, Nov 18, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California is imposing an overnight curfew for nearly all residents as the most populous state tries to head off a surge of coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm its health care system, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday.

What officials are calling a limited stay-at-home order requires people who are not on essential errands to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Saturday. The order will last until Dec. 21 but could be extended if disease trends don’t improve.

The curfew covers 94% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents. It's in place in 41 of the state’s 58 counties that have the most significant increases in virus cases and face the most severe restrictions under California’s four-tier system for reopening the economy.

It's a swift escalation that comes just three days after the state imposed tougher restrictions limiting business operations in those 41 counties. COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are surging nationwide ahead of Thanksgiving, when many will be tempted to gather with family and friends.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic, and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a statement.

It's the sort of announcement Newsom, a Democrat, would normally make in person. But he did not attend a virtual news conference with the state’s top health officer, Dr. Mark Ghaly.

Newsom is under intense criticism for attending a friend's birthday party at a pricey Napa Valley restaurant despite pleading with residents to avoid gatherings with people from multiple households. Photos of the event surfaced showing Newsom without a mask and sitting close to other guests, some of them lobbyists.

Newsom apologized and said he wouldn't fall short again but the story has generated headlines all week as the state sees its most significant spike in cases in many months.