California bans private gatherings amid record COVID-19 surge

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -California compelled much of the state to close shop and stay at home on Monday, when some of the harshest coronavirus restrictions in the United States came into effect one day after the state set a record with more than 30,000 new COVID-19 cases.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s order was triggered in areas where fewer than 15 percent of intensive care hospital beds were available, affecting more than 23 million people in Southern California.

In addition, five counties in Northern California surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area have voluntarily imposed the restrictions even before reaching the intensive care unit threshold.

California has been under a stay-at-home order for all but essential services since March. The new order, which will last at least three weeks, bans private gatherings of any size, shuts all but critical infrastructure and retail operations, and requires everyone to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing.

Newsom, a first-term Democrat, has threatened to withhold funds from local governments that refuse to comply.

Even so, the sheriffs of Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties have said they will refuse to enforce the order, emboldening non-essential businesses to remain open.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said in a videotaped message his office “will not be blackmailed” into enforcing the governor’s orders, and Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement his deputies would not respond to calls to enforce violations of the mask mandate, stay-at-home orders or the ban on social gatherings.

But the mayor of one Los Angeles County town said more enforcement was needed.

“People absolutely should be arrested for not wearing masks,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Perris told the Orange County Register. “Most of these people have never been arrested before. Spend one night incarcerated, and they won’t do it again.”

California reported more than 30,000 new cases on Sunday, exceeding the state’s previous high of 21,986 set on Dec. 4, and marked a new record for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia also announced record one-day rises in new infections.

FILE PHOTO: A masked customer ascends a flight of stairs inside Japan Center in Japantown ahead of the new stay-at-home order in attempts to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in San Francisco, California, U.S., December 6, 2020. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Nationwide, COVID-19 infections in United States are at their peak with an average of 193,863 new cases reported each day over the past week, according to a Reuters tally of official data.

There have been 14.7 million infections and 282,253 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to be his chief medical adviser on coronavirus, on Monday warned the surge could get worse after the year-end holiday season.

After millions ignored expert advice and traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday in November, Fauci anticipated Americans would once again behave recklessly during Christmas and New Year’s Eve festivities.

“Nobody wants to modify, if not essentially shut down, their holiday season, but we live in a very critical time in this country right now,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN.

Biden, a Democrat, has said he will make the pandemic his top priority upon taking office on Jan. 20.

Departing President Donald Trump, a Republican, has downplayed public health measures such as mask-wearing, instead banking on the rapid development of vaccines, which could receive federal approval as soon as next week.

Anticipating that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the White House will host a vaccine distribution summit on Tuesday with governors, retail pharmacy chains and shipping companies, Health Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News.

The aim of the meeting was “to be very transparent and show the world how comprehensively we have planned out every aspect of this distribution,” Azar said.


Reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Lisa Shumaker, Doina Chiacu, Lisa Lambert and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis


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