Beginning Saturday, Orange County residents will have to stay in and nonessential businesses will have to close at night following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide curfew as the second coronavirus wave hits.
Editor’s Note: As Orange County’s only nonprofit & nonpartisan newsroom, Voice of OC brings you the best, most comprehensive local Coronavirus news absolutely free. No ads, no paywalls. We need your help. Please, make a tax-deductible donation today to support your local news.
The order requires “non-essential work, movement and gatherings stop between 10 PM and 5 AM in counties in the purple tier. The order will take effect at 10 PM Saturday, November 21 and remain in effect until 5 AM December 21. This is the same as the March Stay at Home Order, but applied only between 10 PM and 5 AM and only in purple tier counties that are seeing the highest rates of positive cases and hospitalizations.”
The incoming curfew comes as local epidemiologists and public health experts are concerned that Orange County may max out its hospital capacity, which could lead to more deaths.
[Click here to read what the public health experts said.]
Secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said case rates across the state are rising faster now than they were in the first wave in the Summer.
“What are we hoping to gain?” Ghaly told reporters at a Thursday news conference. “It’s to avoid further restrictions … COVID-19 goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour very quickly.”
He also said more restrictions are “what we hope to avoid, but all tools are on the table.”
“But hope our collective actions … to keep our protective behaviors up, will help stem the tide and bring surging numbers down very, very soon.”
He also said the curfew is aimed at helping protect people older than 65, which make up the majority of virus deaths.
“Why now? We want to keep highest risk individuals safe. Many people who might be out and about every day between 10 and 5 are not usually the most vulnerable — not those with underlying conditions — that said, we know for those who are out, those infections can quickly spread to other settings,” Ghaly said.
In a Thursday tweet, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said his department is still “assessing the action by the Governor.”
“Throughout the pandemic, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has taken an education-first approach with regard to public health orders,” Barnes said in the tweet. “At this time, due to the need to have deputies available for emergency calls for service, deputies will not be responding to requests for face-coverings or social gatherings-only enforcement.”
Newsom said the curfew is needed to help slow the spread.
“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 Thursday news release. “It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges. We’ve done it before and we must do it again.”
The Governor wasn’t at the Thursday news conference and he usually does big announcements like the incoming curfew order.
Newsom’s been criticized this week since news reports of him eating, seemingly indoors, at a high-end restaurant earlier this month with about a dozen people, including a longtime political ally and lobbyist.
Meanwhile, OC’s hospitalizations have been steadily increasing since November began.
As of Thursday, 304 people were hospitalized, including 83 in intensive care units.
When November began, there were 183 people in hospitals, including 60 in ICUs.
Orange County’s cases have been steadily increasing too.
On Thursday, the county Health Care Agency reported 582 new cases.
Over the past week, the daily new cases reported the agency has averaged over 500 new virus cases a day.
Ghaly said roughly 12 percent of all newly infected people statewide end up in hospitals two to three weeks down the road.
California saw roughly 11,000 new cases Thursday.
“Ten thousand cases a day? You can see how that number adds up … you can see a challenge on our entire health care system. In many ways, the days and weeks to come will be very different,” Ghaly said, hinting at “some tough choices, decisions – even unpopular ones.”
State public health officials can’t exactly pinpoint where the outbreaks are happening either.
“So what has caused the rise to go so high and so fast … we do have plenty of data and evidence around certain sectors. But, overall, I will say that there is no single culprit. It’s a combination of factors,” Ghaly said.
He said it’s a mix of restaurants and businesses reopening, sports team celebrations, protests and private gatherings. Also, Ghaly said, since the weather is getting colder, more people are hanging out indoors, which significantly increases the chances of spreading the virus.
Ghaly said the curfew would’ve been issued regardless of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
“At this level of surge, no matter what’s coming next week, we would take these actions.”
UC Irvine epidemiologist Daniel Parker said the transmission rates are already at alarming levels.
“The new cases are high now. It’s not good. So, weeks from now, we’re still going to see these cases and hospitalizations climbing — maybe even faster. And at the same time we don’t have any extra interventions (masks, physical distancing, limited gatherings) to put in place, so we have to rely on people’s behavior,” Parker said in a Thursday phone interview, before the curfew order was issued.
In a Thursday news release, Ghaly said the curfew hopes to mimic some of the March’s stay-home order effects.
“We know from our stay at home order this spring, which flattened the curve in California, that reducing the movement and mixing of individuals dramatically decreases COVID-19 spread, hospitalizations and deaths,” Ghaly said in the news release. “We may need to take more stringent actions if we are unable to flatten the curve quickly. Taking these hard, temporary actions now could help prevent future shutdowns.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio
Reporter Brandon Pho contributed to this story.