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California tightens COVID-19 business restrictions in most counties

Updated November 17, 2020 - 7:51 am

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was pulling the “emergency brake” Monday on reopening the state’s economy as coronavirus cases surge at the fastest rate since the start of the outbreak.

“We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet — faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer. The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes.”

Newsom’s so-called emergency brake will halt reopening plans and put almost all of the state back under the strictest set of rules that halt indoor worship and force most indoor business to close or operate at a fraction of their capacity and keep most schools closed, including the nation’s second-largest school district in Los Angeles.

Newsom also said he was also strengthening a mask requirement outside of homes with limited exceptions, and he was considering a curfew on business hours.

The dramatic rise in cases in November has come more rapidly than a spike in mid-June and could quickly surpass the peak of the hospitalizations at the time.

More than 11 million cases have been recorded nationwide as the virus surges almost everywhere. While California accounts for more than 1 million cases — the second-highest number in the U.S. — it is the nation’s most populous state with 40 million residents and ranks 40th in cases per capita.

The new rules are certain to rankle business owners such as restaurateurs and gym owners who have been struggling to get back on their feet after lengthy shutdowns followed by reopenings that at times have been curtailed as cases have risen.

Businesses have complained they have played by the rules but had to pay the price for residents who have grown fatigued coping with the virus and have ignored public health warnings to not socialize with friends and family members.

“We think a restaurant is a safer place to be than in a friend’s living room,” said Jot Condie, president & CEO, California Restaurant Association. “Yet restaurants and their employees are again being forced to pay a price for behavior that has little or nothing to do with them.”

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health secretary, said research has shown businesses have been sources of virus transmission. He mentioned instances where friends have gathered in close proximity for meals and drinks.

But Brad Pollock, associate dean of public health sciences at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, said the “jury is still out” on whether forcing most businesses to close indoor services will slow the spread of the virus.

With the “very scary” trajectory of cases, the new order may provide “a shock to the system” that convinces people to change their behavior and not travel or spend time with people outside of their household, he said.

“People kind of get the false idea that hey, it’s not that big of a deal,” he said. “If you don’t do this, and you continue on this path, everybody is going to get infected with this and we’re going to have deaths like you haven’t seen.”

11.1M cases

With more than a million new cases in the past week and more than 11.1 million cases overall, COVID-19 cases are surging in nearly every state. Many states and jurisdictions are rolling out tighter restrictions.

The surge in cases comes as a second vaccine, one by Moderna, has reported a high success rate in clinical trails.

A look at various COVID-19 situations and regulations being put in place:

Arizona

The director of Arizona’s public health program in Phoenix is calling on Gov. Doug Ducey to reintroduce closures and restrictions on certain indoor activities, including at restaurants, bars and gyms.

“If we had done the public health measures correctly both in the state as well as nationally the first time, we wouldn’t be here now,” Dr. Shad Marvasti told ABC 15 in Phoenix.

Like most of the country, Arizona is dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and ICU bed use. Shad said the state is now effectively doubling the number of new cases every two weeks. He believes further mitigation measures, such as restricting “high risk” indoor activities like indoor dining, could make a significant difference as doctors fear the flu season coupled with holiday gatherings could further exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus and overwhelm hospitals.

“We saw a 75% decrease in cases,” Shad said, referring to Ducey’s March executive order restricting and effectively shutting down certain types of businesses. “I don’t think anything has changed in terms of that working. That can work again.”

Chicago 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a 30-day stay-at-home advisory effective 6 a.m. Monday as the city reaches a “critical point” in the second surge of its coronavirus pandemic, according to NBC Chicago.

The advisory, which was issued among other restrictions, “calls on all Chicagoans to follow clear measures to protect their community and help us flatten the curve.”

Everyone over the age of 2 who can medically tolerate a face covering over their nose and mouth must wear one in a public place when unable to maintain a safe distance (6 feet) from others.

Florida

The Florida Department of Health has issued a public health advisory that advises residents and visitors to wear face coverings if social distancing is not possible, and asks gatherings to be 10 people or less. It also reminds people that travel increases their chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.

Georgia

Gov. Brian Kemp said Friday that he is extending coronavirus-driven social distancing and sanitization restrictions for businesses, gatherings and long-term elderly care facilities in Georgia.

Kemp has signed an executive order, effective at midnight Nov. 16 and running through the end of the month, leaving current restrictions in place.

“As COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations rise across the country, [Georgia Commissioner of Public Health] Dr. [Kathleen] Toomey and I are asking Georgians to remain vigilant in our fight against COVID-19,” the governor said.

“Continue to wash your hands, wear a mask, watch your distance, follow public health guidance, and get a flu shot. By taking these simple steps, we will protect lives – and livelihoods.”

A statewide public health emergency first declared in Georgia last March allows Kemp to continue issuing executive orders addressing COVID-19.

The latest order keeps in place a ban on gatherings larger than 50 people in Georgia and continues to make wearing a mask voluntary at the statewide level rather than mandatory. Cities and counties have been allowed to impose their own mask mandates since August so long as their local requirements do not apply to businesses and residences.

Idaho

Gov. Brad Little pleaded with Idaho residents Friday to take “personal responsibility” and limit social gatherings, announcing the state will move back to a modified Phase 2 in its reopening plan, according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Little announced the new phase restrictions as well as Idaho National Guard mobilization in a news conference but still refused to implement a statewide mask mandate.

The new phase restrictions focus mostly on social gatherings, limiting them to 10 people or less, with exceptions for religious or political expressions. Bars and restaurants can continue to operate if customers remain seated, other than to enter or exit.

The 10-person limit does not apply to businesses or schools, Little said.

Cases in Idaho continue to surge, with statewide daily case numbers reaching more than 1,000 every day since Nov. 3. Daily case numbers hit a new record Wednesday, with 1,693 new cases reported.

Iowa

With Iowa hospitals filling up, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds dropped her longtime opposition to a statewide mask mandate and enacted a limited version of one on Monday.

Reynolds signed a proclamation requiring that everyone 2 or older must wear masks when in indoor public spaces. The mandate applies only when people are within six feet of others for 15 minutes and they aren’t members of their households.

Reynolds also limited gatherings for social, community, business and leisure purposes to no more than 15 people indoors and 30 outdoors, saying the restriction applies to family events. Routine office and factory work and spiritual gatherings were exempted, although she urged employers and churches to take precautions.

Reynolds rejected calls to close bars and restaurants for in-person service and instead ordered that they cannot stay open past 10 p.m. She suspended youth and adult sports and recreational activities, except for high school, college and professional sports.

Reynolds announced the steps in a rare evening televised speech. She said they would not be easy or popular, but that they were necessary to fight a virus that was threatening to overwhelm the state’s health care system.

“If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose,” she said. “Businesses will close once again. More schools will be forced to go online. Our health care system will fail and the cost in human life will be high. So now is the time to come together for the greater good.”

Montana

Four hospitals are operating beyond their capacity, schools and businesses are closing and officials are pleading for people to follow public health guidance. Several jurisdictions have refused to limit the size of public gatherings. The prison system reports being overrun with hundreds of COVID cases, according to the Montana Free Press. Counties with more than four cases are subject to a mask mandate.

As of Sunday, Montana reported 47,158 confirmed cases, including 1,272 new cases since Saturday. Officials also report that 2,047 cases have resulted in hospitalizations, with 435 patients currently hospitalized. There have been 520 Montana deaths attributed to the disease.

New Jersey

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order Monday tightening restrictions around social gatherings as the state continues to battle the surging pandemic, which shows no signs of slowing down, according to Fox News.

Effective Tuesday, indoor gatherings will be limited to a maximum of 10 people, Murphy tweeted.

Starting Nov. 23, outdoor gatherings will be limited to 150 people.

New Mexico

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has issued a two-week stay-at-home order that began Monday. People are advised to stay home unless making “essential trips,” and all nonessential businesses and nonprofits have been ordered to cease in-person activities.

“We are in a life-or-death situation, and if we don’t act right now, we cannot preserve the lives, we can’t keep saving lives, and we will absolutely crush our current health care system and infrastructure,” she said while issuing the order.

New York

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday that the rise of COVID-19 cases are below other states, but are going up.

“We are seeing a rising tide of COVID nationally and internationally. The rate of increase is less in New York, but it is an increase,” Cuomo said. “We don’t have the same problem that other states have, but we’re seeing an increase and the increase is continuing. We know the factors that contribute to spread, like COVID fatigue, winter, restaurants, gyms, and living room family spread. What’s going to happen? Will we shut down and will we have more restrictions? What has worked for New York from day one is it’s a pure consequence of science. There’s no political decision making, no ideological decision making. Look at the numbers, and if the numbers are increasing and if they’re not slowing, then you have to restrict activity. Our actions today determine our positivity rate tomorrow, so follow the public health law — wear a mask and adhere to gathering limits, and localities need to do the enforcement.”

Ohio

New restrictions took effect Monday in an effort to stem the skyrocketing numbers related to COVID-19. The restrictions are primarily regulations about face masks and signs in retail stores.

Gov. Mike DeWine says the state has reached a critical juncture in the fight against the pandemic. The new health order was announced last week.

Ohio on Friday reported more than 8,000 new cases over the previous 24 hours — the first time the state has reached that threshold — and 47,000 new cases for the full week.

Oregon

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced a “two-week freeze” on most activities and nonessential business.

“One week ago, I announced a two-week pause on social activities to slow the spread of COVID-19 in several of our counties across the state,” Brown said at a news briefing. “Unfortunately, since then, we’ve seen an alarming spike in both cases and hospitalizations.”

She also suggested that law enforcement officers may issue fines or make arrests for noncompliance. “For the last eight months, I have been asking Oregonians to follow to the letter and the spirit of the law, and we have not chosen to engage law enforcement,” Brown said. “At this point in time, unfortunately, we have no other option.”

Philadelphia

Mayor Jim Kenney announced a ban on all indoor gatherings, including dining, on Monday amid a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, according to Fox 29 TV. The restrictions run through the end of the year.

Texas

The state surpassed 1 million cases of COVID-19 on Friday, according to state data, eight months after the first case was recorded in the state.

State officials have not imposed additional restrictions to curb the virus’ spread. Some local officials complain that they’re hamstrung by the governor’s executive orders, which override any city or county actions aimed at slowing COVID-19.

The Texas Tribune counts only confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, following methodology used by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state agency does not include probable cases in its total case count.

Utah

Gov. Gary Herbert has placed the entire state under a mask mandate. Casual social gatherings are limited to household-only through Nov. 23. All youth and high school extracurricular activities, including athletic and intramural events, on hold for the duration of the order. College students enrolled at public and private colleges and universities, who either live on campus or attend at least one in-person class per week, are to be tested for COVID-19 weekly. People must wear a mask in public and when within six feet of anyone they don’t live with. The mandate is also enforceable in business settings, which must require employees to wear masks, request patrons wear masks, and post signage to that effect, according to the governor’s office.

On Friday, the city reported 1,158 news cases, plus 30 new probable cases from rapid tests. The city also reached a new high in terms of a seven-day average in cases earlier in the week.

Washington State

Officials are banning indoor social gatherings and ending indoor service at restaurants and bars, following a surge in infections that has mirrored the peaks seen earlier this year.

Starting Monday at midnight, Washingtonians are not allowed to meet indoors with anyone they don’t already live with. Exceptions will be made if people quarantine for 14 days before the social gathering, or quarantine for seven days beforehand and also have a negative test less than 48 hours prior. In general, socializing with people from other households will be allowed only outdoors —and only in groups of five or less.

Gov. Jay Inslee called Sunday the most dangerous public health day Washington state has seen in the past 100 years, citing how the number of average daily cases in the state has doubled in the last two weeks.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contact Marvin Clemons at mclemons@reviewjournal.com. Follow @Marv_in_Vegas on Twitter.

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