Authorities say the goal is to prevent people from socially mixing and drinking – the types of activities that are accused of blowing up COVID-19 infections after diving just a few months ago.
Dr Mark Cullen, an infectious disease expert who recently retired from Stanford University, said the underlying goal is based on a reasonable interpretation of the data.
“A lot of people getting together without worrying about the controls – no masks, no social distancing, often indoors – a lot of these things actually happen at night,” Cullen said. However, he also questioned whether a limited curfew would be effective.
The curfew applies to 41 of the state’s 58 counties that are in the “purple” level, the most restrictive of the four state levels allowing various stages of economic reopening. These counties are home to 94% of the nearly 40 million people living in the most populous US state.
California as a whole has seen more than one million infections, with a record high of nearly 15,500 new cases reported on Friday.
Los Angeles County, the state’s largest with around 10 million people, could see even tighter lockdowns as early as next week, as its number of cases and hospitalizations soar to stratospheric levels. The county has a quarter of the state’s 40 million people, but it has about a third of coronavirus cases and almost 40% of deaths.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Friday the county recorded 4,272 new cases in a single day and 13,247 in the past three days. The rate of positive COVID-19 tests soared to 7.3% and nearly 1,300 people were hospitalized.
“We are seeing an increase in cases at a faster rate than what we have seen over the summer,” Ferrer said. “The data looks really bad now and we’ve had… three terrible days in terms of case rates and increased hospitalizations. “
The county already cut the number of customers allowed for restaurants and other businesses on Friday. Officials had said that if the county averaged more than 4,000 new cases per day over a five-day period or 1,750 hospitalizations, it would stop eating entirely; restaurants would only be able to offer food for take-out and delivery. If cases or hospitalizations reach 4,500 or 2,000, respectively, the county will go into lockdown and impose a stay-at-home order for three weeks.
However, Ferrer said companies would receive a warning several days before the rules were enacted.
Officials hope to avoid full lockdown orders of the type adopted when the COVID-19 pandemic gained momentum in March. Since then, public health officials have responded to fluctuations in infection rates by relaxing and then tightening various stay-at-home orders in an effort to balance safety and the economy.
The result, however, has been confusion and what some health officials refer to as “COVID fatigue” in which people simply tire of periods and let their guard down.
The crackdown on COVID-19 rules has also come from groups representing thousands of fitness centers. Most gyms in the state have closed or are restricted to the outdoors.
The California Fitness Alliance has said that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration uses “arbitrary criteria that defy both science and common sense … to determine the level of risk companies must shut down, costing thousands Californians in the fitness field get their jobs. ”
Health officials agree that the curfew will only help smooth infection rates if people voluntarily heed it. Violators could face fines or be charged with a misdemeanor, and companies could have their business licenses revoked. But the counties are primarily responsible for enforcement.
Rocco Temasamani, who sold jewelry at a stall at Ocean Beach in San Diego on Friday, said the curfew would only anger people who see it as excessive government action, especially supporters of President Donald Trump.
“How are you going to apply it? ” He asked. “Do you have enough policemen to give out tickets?” ”
County officials from El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Placer, Sacramento, San Bernardino and Stanislaus were among those who said they would not enforce the curfew, with some strongly opposing it.
Several protests to break the curfew were scheduled to start at 10:01 p.m. in several cities in Orange County.
In Huntington Beach, a restaurant that usually closes around 10 p.m. announced that it would stay open an hour later. Its owner, Tony Roman, has been denouncing Newsom’s orders since March.
West Hollywood, famous for its clubs and vibrant LGBT community, “will be hit like no other city” by the curfew, Mayor Lindsey Horvath said.
“These companies have created places, safe places for our LGBT community in particular to go out, enjoy our nightlife, be together as a community,” Horvath said. “It’s terribly heartbreaking to see what’s going on right now. ”
The curfew could even be counterproductive, said Dr Lee Riley, professor of infectious diseases at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health.
London officials who tried a similar approach found that “if anything, for young people, it could have increased their social gathering activities,” he said. “They can’t go out, so they congregate in someone’s house or in someone’s dorms. ”
“I don’t know how effective this will be,” Riley said. “But the state feels it has to do something. I think it will mainly be a cosmetic effect and not really a real impact on the interruption of this transmission. ”
Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Don Thompson in Sacramento and Aron Ranen in West Hollywood contributed to this story.