With COVID-19 infections surging across the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday issued what amounts to a soft overnight curfew, prohibiting “non-essential” activities and gatherings between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The “limited Stay At Home Order” applies to all counties in the restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s coronavirus monitoring system — which includes Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties. The order will take effect at 10 p.m. Saturday and remain in force until 5 a.m. Dec. 21.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge,” Newsom said in a statement. “We are sounding the alarm. It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges. We’ve done it before and we must do it again.”

According to the governor’s office, the order is aimed at reducing opportunities for spread of the virus, nothing that activities conducted overnight “are often non-essential and more likely related to social activities and gatherings that have a higher likelihood of leading to reduced inhibition and reduced likelihood for adherence to safety measures like wearing a face covering and maintaining physical distance.”

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, said California is starting to experience the wave of cases that have affected other parts of the nation.

“We too are seeing this surge grow faster and faster and we must address it immediately,” he said.

Ghaly said the order is not a hard curfew, indicating that people can still go outside to walk their dog at 11 p.m. if that is their normal routine. He said the idea is to cut off activities and gatherings of people that can promote virus spread.

He said there is no definitive cause for the state’s sudden surge in cases.

“There is no single culprit,” Ghaly said. “It’s a combination of factors. It’s certainly the colder weather, more mixing, which comes with more opening. … And of course greater travel. We’ve enjoyed some events over the last many weeks — in my home county of Los Angeles, the Dodgers, the Lakers. We had Halloween. We just exited Veterans Day. We’re looking forward to other future events and activities as we go into the winter.

“We’ve had some things to celebrate, some things to protest, coming together in ways that we don’t usually always do,” Ghaly said. “All of those things create opportunities for the virus to spread, opportunities where when we’ve put our guard down it certainly does spread. And we know that those are factors driving this high transmission.”

The question with the state order is whether it will be actively enforced by law enforcement.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva issued a statement via Twitter Thursday night saying he is aware of the order, but will largely rely on the public to comply voluntarily.

“Since the first Stay At Home Order was issued in March of this year, we have focused on education and voluntary compliance, with criminal enforcement measures being an extreme last resort,” Villanueva said. “We trust in the community and rely on people to assess risk and take precautions as appropriate.”

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes issued a statement saying his agency would be more focused on “emergency calls.”

“Throughout the pandemic, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has taken an education-first approach with regard to the public health orders,” Barnes said. “We are currently assessing the action by the governor. At this time, due to the need to have deputies available for emergency calls for service, deputies will not be responding to requests for face-coverings or social gatherings-only enforcement.”

On Monday, Newsom said he was pulling an “emergency brake” on economic activity in the state in response to rising case numbers. As part of that announcement, 28 counties were moved back to the restrictive “purple” tier of the monitoring system, leaving a total of 41 of the state’s 58 counties in that tier.

The “purple” tier severely restricts capacity at retail establishments, closes fitness centers and limits restaurants to limited outdoor-only service.

Newsom said daily cases numbers in the state “have doubled just in the last 10 days. This is simply the fastest increase California has seen since the beginning of this pandemic.”

Newsom noted that the biggest increase the state had seen previously was in mid-June, when California had a 39.2% increase in new cases in one week. At the start of November, the state saw a 51.3% increase in a one-week period, he said.

He called it an “increase simply without precedent in California’s pandemic history.”

Los Angeles County health officials on Thursday announced 5,031 new coronavirus cases, the highest single-day total reported since the pandemic began. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said the county’s surging numbers have now exceeded the spike seen in mid-summer, jumping 68% since the end of October, compared to a 43% increase that occurred between mid-June and early July.

“At this point, no one should be still underestimating the spread of this virus, nor should anyone be questioning the actions we still need to slow the spread and lessen its impact on our collective health and our local economy,” Davis said.

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