California announced Thursday it will impose a mandatory overnight stay-at-home order for much of the state as COVID-19 surged to unprecedented levels and hard-hit Los Angeles County careened toward even more severe lockdown measures.While the coronavirus is surging across the state, the situation in Los Angeles County was quickly reaching crisis levels, with nearly 5,000 new coronavirus cases Thursday, the most it has seen in any one day since the pandemic began. Moreover, California set another record for most coronavirus cases in a single day Thursday. An independent county-by-county tally conducted by The Times found that 13,422 new coronavirus cases were reported Thursday, the second time in a week the single-day record has been broken. The single-day record was last broken on Monday when 13,412 coronavirus cases were reported. Officials said they are alarmed by the rapid spread of the infection. For the two-week period that ended Thursday, average daily cases over a seven-day period have jumped by 102%, from more than 1,600 cases a day to nearly 3,300 cases a day. If the number of new daily coronavirus cases on Friday, Saturday and Sunday remains the same as Thursday’s, L.A. County could cross a red line as early as Sunday that would put the region on the cusp of a new stay-at-home order. Whether such a new stay-at-home order would happen automatically or wait for a few days hasn’t yet been decided, L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said. A new lockdown measure would be another body blow to businesses struggling to survive amid the pandemic. Davis and others said they want to keep businesses open but might not have a choice if the outbreaks cannot otherwise be slowed.
A Times analysis has found that California is now averaging more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases a day over a seven-day period. California has not experienced a daily case count this high since the outbreak began, even during the surge in the summer that stands as the state’s deadliest time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new order issued by the California Department of Public Health will prohibit most nonessential activity outside the home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in counties in the strictest tier of the state’s reopening road map — the purple tier. The restriction goes into place on Saturday and lasts through Dec. 21, though it could be extended.
“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,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “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 restrictions are different from the statewide stay-at-home order Newsom issued in mid-March, in that they focus more on curbing late-night drinking and group gatherings. Californians in the affected counties will still be allowed in the overnight hours to buy groceries, walk the dog, pick up restaurant takeout orders, visit doctors or other healthcare providers and other providers of essential services.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, said the limited stay-at-home order focuses on the late night because that is a time when people tend to congregate and let their guard down, either at gatherings in their homes or elsewhere.
Bars and restaurants are settings that can easily spread the coronavirus, through talking and even breathing. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that adults with positive coronavirus test results were about twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than those who tested negative.
Officials fear the spike in new infections also may drastically increase hospitalizations.
Most of those who test positive eventually will recover, and many do so without needing to be admitted for professional medical care. However, Ghaly added, authorities expect that roughly 12% of those testing positive will end up in hospitals in two to three weeks.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen by 63.6% over the last 14 days — hitting 4,523, he said Thursday. The number of patients in intensive care, 1,155, is 40.5% higher than two weeks ago. Officials in Los Angeles County sounded that alarm Wednesday, saying that, unless things change, the demand for local hospital and intensive care beds could soon outstrip supply.
Starting Friday, L.A. County will begin ordering restaurants and nonessential stores to close their doors to the public at 10 p.m., although takeout and delivery services can continue after that time. The county will also place a cap on the number of people allowed at outdoor gatherings — a maximum of 15 people from no more than three households.If the county reaches 4,000 average cases daily over a five-day period, officials would stop outdoor dining at restaurants, returning eateries to offering only delivery and takeout service for the first time since May. If new cases worsen still further, hitting 4,500 average cases daily over a five-day period, the county would impose a new stay-at-home order that would generally only allow essential workers and people securing essential services to leave their homes, and implement a 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew that only exempts essential workers.