Much of California on Monday faced a raft of new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, while a ban on indoor restaurant dining loomed in New York City as the United States braced for another surge during the upcoming holidays.
The order issued on Thursday by California Governor Gavin Newsom, which does not immediately cover the entire state, kicked in at the regional level in places where fewer than 15% of intensive-care hospital beds remain available.
It is currently in effect throughout Southern California and the state’s San Joaquin Valley breadbasket. Jurisdictions in the state’s heavily populated San Francisco Bay Area have imposed similar orders on their own. Combined, these three areas cover about three-quarters of the state’s nearly 40 million people.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, said on Monday that the state’s action will “rescue them from possibly getting their hospitals overrun.”
In reporting more than 30,000 new cases on Sunday, the state exceeded its previous high of 21,986 set on Friday, and notched a record high for hospitalized COVID-19 patients as well.
Nationwide, COVID-19 infections 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 confirmed infections and more than 282,000 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the United States since the pandemic began, the most in the world.
California’s order, due to last at least three weeks, bans private gatherings of any size in affected areas, shuts all but critical infrastructure and retail operations, and requires everyone to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing.
The sheriffs of Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties have said they would not enforce the order.
NEW YORK RESTRICTIONS LOOM
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state would tie any new restrictions to hospitalization rates in an effort to avoid a repeat of last spring when the state was at the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.
Cuomo said he would suspend indoor dining at New York City restaurants as soon as Monday if hospitalizations continue on their upward trajectory. At the end of September, restaurants resumed serving meals to diners seated inside, at 25% of capacity.
Cuomo floated the possibility of a broad shut down of non-essential businesses across the state like one imposed in the spring if its hospitals become overwhelmed, though he said the current situation was not dire enough to warrant such a step.
“If you are at a rate that is going to overwhelm your hospitals, you must shut down,” he added.
Restaurants in other regions of the state could face stricter restrictions also if hospitalization trends worsen.
Other non-essential businesses in New York City, such as beauty parlors and retail, would not be affected, Cuomo said. Meanwhile, the city’s school system – the country’s largest – welcomed back up to 190,000 of its 1.1 million students this week after a two-week shutdown.
In another move to avoid a critical shortage of beds, New York state health officials will order hospitals to increase their capacity by 25% and ask retired doctors and nurses to come back to work, Cuomo said.
Fauci, tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as his chief medical adviser on the pandemic ahead of taking office on Jan. 20, said the nationwide surge could worsen after the year-end holiday season.
After millions of people ignored advice from public health experts and traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday in November, Fauci said he feared Americans would again resist calls to avoid gathering during the next round of holidays, with Christmas and New Year’s Day on the horizon.
Death toll spikes typically occur about three weeks after surges in infections and hospitalizations.
“Without substantial mitigation, the middle of January can be a really dark time for us,” said Fauci, appearing with Cuomo during the governor’s video news conference.
Biden has said he will make tackling the pandemic his top priority upon taking office as he replaces Republican President Donald Trump.
Anticipating U.S. Food and Drug Administration emergency authorization of the first COVID-19 vaccine in the coming days, the White House will host a vaccine distribution summit on Tuesday with state governors, retail pharmacy chains and shipping companies, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News.
The meeting’s aim is “to be very transparent and show the world how comprehensively we have planned out every aspect of this distribution,” Azar said.