Californians who have been keeping a wary eye on the state’s rising COVID numbers and wondering whether the hammer might fall got their answer Monday: Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state was “pulling the emergency brake” on its reopening plan, reinstating broad restrictions across much of the state.
“We’re moving from a marathon to a sprint,” Newsom said.
More than 40 counties were moved backward in the state’s reopening tiers, including 28 counties that were moved back into the most restrictive purple tier, which now encompasses more than 94% of the state’s population.
In those counties, restaurants, gyms and houses of worship will have to shut down unless they can move outdoors.
Newsom said health care facilities that were set up near the beginning of the pandemic at arenas and other large spaces were being prepared to quickly open for patients, if necessary. One such facility will open in the next week or so in Imperial County, which was overwhelmed by COVID over the summer, he said.
The state is also looking into a possible curfew and will adjust restriction levels more frequently than has been the case.
The announcement came as the United States reported its 11 millionth confirmed case Sunday, with a recent average of 150,000 new cases a day, and will probably reach 250,000 total deaths sometime this week. One million cases were recorded in the country over the past week alone.
Daily case reports are rising in 48 states, and with little action from the Trump administration, governors and mayors across the country are taking new steps to try to halt the spread. On Monday, a sweeping stay-at-home advisory went into effect in Chicago. New Mexico is under a two-week lockdown, and North Dakota has imposed a mask mandate.
While the dire outlook across the rest of the country has perhaps made California look almost stable by comparison, Newsom said that California’s daily case numbers had doubled in the last 10 days, the fastest increase the state had seen since the beginning of the pandemic.
The state reached 1 million known cases Nov. 12, and the next day issued travel advisories, along with Oregon and Washington.
The increases, the governor said, cross age and racial or ethnic groups and appear throughout the state.
In Los Angeles County, which has struggled for months with higher case numbers, officials stopped short of ordering additional closures, but urged residents to behave more cautiously.
State leaders, including Newsom, have told residents not to gather with people from outside their households, and to resist visiting relatives over the holidays.
Much of the recent rise in cases, state officials say, appears to have grown from at-home parties or family gatherings.
But in what is likely to be remembered as one of the governor’s more damaging — not to mention embarrassing — episodes of the pandemic, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Newsom attended an outdoor dinner for one of his political advisers at the French Laundry, the famed Napa Valley destination, with guests from several households.
The gathering did not technically violate the state’s rules, because there is no formal limit on the number of households at each outdoor restaurant table, but as critics noted, the governor’s attendance undermined the spirit of restrictions.
Newsom apologized Monday, saying that he should have turned around and left when he realized there were more guests at the party than he expected.
“You own the mistake and you don’t ever make it again,” he said. “I expect more from myself and you have that commitment in my resolve.”
That “COVID fatigue,” he said, is real.
Dr. Bob Wachter, a professor and chair of the University of California, San Francisco’s department of medicine, said Monday that the moves by the state seemed prudent in light of rising case numbers.
“This strikes me as a reasonable set of actions, particularly with Thanksgiving coming up,” Wachter said. “Whether or not it’s enough, I guess we’ll see.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.