California Tightens Coronavirus Restrictions, Most Counties Must Close Nonessential Indoor Businesses

A volunteer wearing facemask and face shield checks for Covid-19 test appointments from motorists arriving at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California on October 8, 2020.  (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

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A staggering 94% of California's population will move back to the most restrictive COVID-19 guidelines due to a rapid uptick in cases, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday.

"This is simply the fastest increase California has seen since the beginning of the pandemic," Newsom said, noting that daily positive cases have doubled in the state in the past 10 days.

According to the governor, 41 counties in the state are now in the "purple" tier, indicating the most widespread risk, meaning dozens of counties have moved backward — including Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara.

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Under the purple tier, many nonessential indoor businesses will be forced to close, including movie theaters and gyms.

Newsom likened the rollbacks to pulling an “emergency brake” on reopening businesses.

San Francisco and San Mateo counties have moved back to the "red tier," indicating a substantial risk of spread.

State health officials will continue to assess county tiers daily, Newsom said, and changes could potentially occur more than once a week. Counties may move back more than one tier at a time, he added.

While the state has been allowing counties to contest their tier status, new requests for tier adjudication are "unlikely to be approved" unless there are "extreme circumstances" and data to back up the request, according to the state Department of Public Health.

The state is also strengthening its guidance on face coverings, requiring that masks be worn whenever individuals are outside their homes, with limited exceptions.

Newsom said he's considering a statewide curfew.

Over the summer, California seemed to be making some progress toward slowing the spread of the virus. But in recent weeks, numbers have steadily climbed, with total confirmed cases in the state now passing 1 million.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly reminded residents to continue wearing masks, to maintain social distancing and to limit travel to slow the spread and the impact on the health care system.

"Don't just do what we've been talking about for yourselves, for your families, but really to protect our health care delivery system and the workers and their families in those systems," he said.

Ghaly noted that as many as 12% of those being diagnosed now could end up in the hospital within two to three weeks.

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The rollbacks follow announcements this past week from governors around the country, calling for more COVID-19 restrictions amid widespread rising cases. Last week, Newsom — along with the governors of Oregon and Washington — issued travel advisories in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. The advisories urge against "non-essential, out-of-state travel" and ask those who do so to self-quarantine for two weeks.

"This is not a mandate, this is not a travel ban, this is not a restriction," Ghaly said. "This is really to discourage non-essential, out-of-state travel."

Last week, Newsom came under criticism for attending an outside birthday dinner at the French Laundry restaurant in Napa County with a dozen friends in early November. During Monday's news conference, he apologized for his lapse in judgement.

"The spirit of what I'm preaching all the time was contradicted and I gotta own that. And so I want to apologize to you because I need to preach and practice, not just preach and not practice," Newsom said.

As for the recent announcements from Pfizer and Moderna on the success rates for their vaccines, Newsom said he was optimistic: "We're moving from a marathon to a sprint."

But he also stressed that vaccines will need to be distributed safely and equitably.

Today's new tier assignments will remain in effect until the state public health officer determines it is appropriate to make modifications, the governor's office stated.

Newsom said he expects more restrictions to be issued Friday.