California Will Have A COVID-19 Curfew. Here’s What That Means

Nov 19, 2020

People dine in a tent temporarily set up in the parking lot of a restaurant in La Habra, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.
Credit Jae C. Hong / AP Photo

California announced Thursday a curfew order to slow the state's surging coronavirus outbreak ahead of the holidays.

The announcement comes days after Gov. Gavin Newsom hinted at a possible curfew and said 40 counties would move into more restrictive tiers in the state's reopening system as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to surge. State officials reported a nearly 50% spike in infections during the first week of November.

Here's what we know about the order so far:

When will the curfew take effect?

The curfew will take effect 10 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21, and remain in effect until 5 a.m. Dec. 21.

Who will be affected?

The curfew order is from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily and covers all counties in the most restrictive purple tier, which signals widespread COVID-19 transmission. That means 94% of the state's population will face curfews.

Similar to initial statewide stay-at-home order, this curfew limits outdoor activities to only errands deemed essential — like walking a dog, taking out the garbage  or getting food. The state has a list of businesses it deems essential here.

While certain activities such as exercising, visiting the drug store or a supermarket, picking up takeout or heading to and from work are permitted, state officials are hoping law enforcement agencies will crack down on private and public gatherings between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Why is the state imposing the curfew?

California health officials say they are hopeful that limiting the hours people can be outside of their homes will reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top health official, says the virus is being spread primarily by people mixing with others outside their households and not taking the proper precautions. Those include wearing a mask, staying six feet apart, gathering outdoors and limiting the duration and number of attendees at gatherings.

“Activities that you normally do are higher risk today than they were a month ago,” he said. “Because the level of COVID in our communities is higher, even our everyday activities become higher risk.”

There’s major concern that if cases continue to rise, the health care system will be overwhelmed. Ghaly said Thursday that 12% of people becoming infected right now will ultimately be hospitalized. There could also be a spike in intensive care unit admissions, which Ghaly said has seen 40.5% increase over the past two weeks. Hospitals say they’re low on specialized staff to treat those patients.

Will this be enforced?
Ghaly was unclear Thursday on how the state will enforce the order. The state has largely left it up to local law enforcement to handle enforcement of COVID-19 orders, including during the initial stay-at-home order in March.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said his office will not enforce any public health order related to the curfew or gatherings. He instead asked residents to call 311 to report any issues to the county health department.

"The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office will not be determining—including entering any home or business—compliance with, or enforcing compliance of, any health or emergency orders related to curfews, staying at home, Thanksgiving or other social gatherings inside or outside the home, maximum occupancy, or mask mandates," Jones wrote in a statement.

In Roseville, police will focus on “education and compliance,” instead of enforcement, a department spokesperson wrote in an email.

Multiple California counties have pushed back against statewide restrictions that could be viewed as targeting businesses, arguing that bars and restaurants have not been a main cause of spread.

“The Governor has crossed a line by implementing what is essentially a statewide curfew," Placer County board of supervisors chair Bonnie Gore said Thursday. "I continue to believe that using a forceful and/or punitive approach is wrong and will not result in further compliance."

Do curfews work to stop the spread of COVID-19?

Some health experts are skeptical about the effectiveness of this type of curfew. Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease researcher with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, says it will only impact a small number of people.

“That’s a time frame where not many people are really out there gathering,” he said. “Most people are probably home and asleep by then.”

Riley says California should put more resources into contact tracing, which has helped other countries tamp down on the virus, and worry less about restrictions.

“I’m not convinced this is going to make a huge impact in controlling this epidemic,” he said. “They should really be thinking more in terms of identifying where these transmissions are occurring and controlling those activities, rather than just doing this blanket curfew.”

Have other areas implemented curfews?

A number of other states and local governments have recently implemented curfews. Ohio put a statewide curfew in place earlier this week, and New York recently announced a curfew for bars and restaurants.