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Most Californians will be home for Christmas whether they like it or not under new, restrictive mandates going into effect Sunday night across much of the state.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said stay–at–home orders and business shutdowns for regions where hospital intensive care unit capacity falls below 15% can flatten the spiking curve in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, reducing stress on the state’s overburdened health care system until vaccines ride to the rescue.
The restrictions are similar to those established in March when California was among the first states to take action to combat the pandemic. Back then, the state was able to keep the virus relatively under control and soon lifted the measures.
But the virus surge is back with a vengeance, and Newsom said he was compelled by the data to again take action. This time there is a hitch: At least two sheriffs of counties totaling more than 5 million people say they won’t enforce the restrictions.
“The Riverside County sheriff’s department will not be blackmailed, bullied, or used as muscle against … residents in the enforcement of the governor’s orders,” Sheriff Chad Bianco said.
California, with a population of 40 million people, has reported more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and about 20,000 deaths.
The 15% metric triggered the lockdowns across an 11-county swath of Southern California that includes the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego and is home to about 24 million people, almost half of the state’s population. The San Joaquin Valley in central California and much of the San Francisco Bay area face similar measures.
The wide-ranging shutdown limits restaurants to carry-out and shutters indoor and outdoor play areas and recreational facilities, hair salons, barbershops, museums, movie theaters, amusement parks and live-audience sports. People may not congregate with anyone outside their household and must wear masks whenever they go outside.
“We are at a tipping point in our fight against the virus and we need to take decisive action now to prevent California’s hospital system from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” Newsom said. “I’m clear-eyed that this is hard on all of us, especially small businesses.”
Newsom has threatened to withhold state funds from jurisdictions that fail to enforce the rules. And he has promised grants and tax reliefs to help get business owners through the month. He urged Californians to stay home as much as possible and to wear masks when they go to the doctor, shop for groceries, or go for a hike.
“California can come out of this in a way that saves lives and puts us on a path toward economic recovery,” he said.
But many small-business owners are reaching the breaking point. In Los Angeles County, where an outdoor dining ban has drawn a court challenge, Angela Marsden owns the Pineapple Hill Saloon in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood. In a now-viral video, she claims Mayor Eric Garcetti had shut down her outdoor patio while letting a Hollywood movie crew operate an outdoor dining area a few feet away.
“Everything I own is being taken away from me and they set up a movie company right next to my outdoor patio,” she says, fighting back tears as she shows the two seating areas. “Right next to me, as a slap in my face.”
In Orange County, a Los Angeles-area county of more than 3 million people, Sheriff Don Barnes was among those unmoved by the Democratic governor’s plea.
“Compliance with health orders is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement,” Barnes, a Republican, said in a statement. “Orange County Sheriff’s deputies will not be dispatched to, or respond to, calls for service to enforce compliance with face coverings, social gatherings or stay-at-home orders only.”
In neighboring Riverside County, with a population of more than 2 million, Bianco expressed similar sentiments. Bianco, also a Republican, called Newsom “extremely hypocritical.”
Newsom has in the past berated the federal government for threatening to withhold funds from the state. And he drew fire after attending a dinner party Nov. 6 despite pleading with California residents to avoid social gatherings that mix households. Newsom argued that he “followed the restaurant’s health protocols and took safety precautions.”
“The metrics used for closures are unbelievably faulty, are not representative of true numbers and are disastrous for Riverside County,” Bianco said.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly, a physician, counters that some of the actions already taken have saved countless lives. The latest actions will preserve ICU beds for people who need them “whether they’re COVID-19 patients or someone who has suffered a heart attack or a stroke,” he said.
Erica Pan, a physician and acting state public health officer, said the order strikes the balance between saving lives and providing essential services while still allowing Californians to participate in lower-risk outdoor activities that are crucial for physical and mental health.”
“Staying home for three weeks is a sacrifice,” Pan said. “But if every Californian did that for a month, we could stop this disease in its tracks.”