(C) Reuters. People wear face masks as they use the beach boardwalk during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Huntington Beach, California
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California dramatically rolled back efforts to reopen its economy on Wednesday, banning indoor restaurant dining in much of the state, closing bars and stepping up enforcement of social distancing and other measures as COVID-19 infections surge.
Indoor activities at restaurants, movie theaters, museums and other facilities will be banned in 19 counties where 70% of the population lives for at least three weeks, Governor Gavin Newsom said.
“Do your best not to mix with strangers, not to mingle with people outside your household,” Newsom said at a press briefing.
With more Californians hospitalized and requiring intensive care than at any prior point in the pandemic, the state also moved late Wednesday to re-activate four non-hospital sites where about 300 additional patients can be treated.
California’s actions comes as anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic is rising among Americans along with an alarming acceleration of new COVID-19 cases. A Reuters/Ipsos poll Wednesday showed concern about the pandemic reaching its highest level in more than a month.
Arizona, Texas and other states are also seeing a spike in cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19, and the U.S. death toll now stands at nearly 128,000.
Under Newsom’s order, all bars and brew pubs, whether indoor or out, must also close in affected counties, which include heavily populated Los Angeles and Orange counties, as well as the state capital Sacramento.
Parts of the San Francisco Bay Area are included in the rollback, but the city itself was already operating under stricter regulations that banned indoor restaurant dining and similar activities.
The state is setting up strike forces to step up enforcement of the rules, made up of regulatory agencies and the California Highway Patrol, Newsom said.
Most of the enforcement activity will be aimed at businesses owners who flout orders to wear masks, maintain social distancing, or shut down banned activities, he said.
“We have a responsibility at the same time to go after people that are thumbing their nose, that are being particularly aggressive,” Newsom said.
Enforcement officials will have the power to issue citations and review the licenses of businesses that do not comply, said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Office of Emergency Services.
Newsom also asked counties to enforce the rules, saying the state’s recently passed budget allowed him to withhold funds from those that do not comply.
Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have been soaring in the most populous U.S. state, starting around the Memorial Day weekend. Over the previous 24 hours, 110 people had died from the disease in California, the governor said.
Nearly half of the available intensive care beds in the state are being used by COVID patients, and the rate at which residents are testing positive for the virus has risen to 6% over the past 14 days, up from 4.6% over the prior 14 days, Newsom said.
California rolls back reopening, steps up enforcement as coronavirus surges