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California Gov. Gavin Newsom updates the state's response to the coronavirus. | AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Newsom orders all 40M Californians to stay home in nation's strictest state lockdown


BERKELEY — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered California's nearly 40 million residents to stay home, making it the first state to impose that strict mandate on all residents to counteract a looming surge of new infections.

The order takes effect immediately and remains in place "until further notice." Californians are not allowed to leave home except for essential purposes. They are allowed to purchase groceries, prescriptions and health care, as well as commute to jobs deemed essential.

The governor's order comes with misdemeanor penalties for anyone who violates the restrictions, though he said he believes social pressure will keep people home rather than law enforcement.

“There’s a social contract here,” Newsom said. “People, I think, recognize the need to do more and meet his moment.”

Newsom said the order has to remain in effect indefinitely. He has repeatedly said the next eight weeks are crucial to bend the curve and stop the rapid contagion. He also said, however, that he does not expect the order to last "many, many months."

Despite strong guidance to stay home — and enforceable orders in nearly two dozen counties — a small number of people in California are still playing basketball, hanging out together on beaches and congregating in parks.

"We will have social pressure that will encourage people to do the right thing. Just a nod, look, saying, ‘Hey, maybe you should reconsider just being out there on the beach, being 22 strong at a park,'" he said.

Days after he instructed the California National Guard to go on alert, Newsom said Thursday he would deploy about 500 guard personnel to help with humanitarian work and food distribution.

In recent days, Newsom, mayors and health officials across the state have clamped down on social gatherings as reported coronavirus cases and deaths have steadily increased. Shortly before Newsom spoke, Los Angeles joined the entire San Francisco Bay Area and major metropolitan areas like Sacramento — the seat of California’s government and Newsom’s current home — in confining residents to their homes for all but essential tasks.

Newsom said those directives already cover some 21.3 million Californians, or more than half of the state’s residents; many businesses and most schools have closed. But his latest order is another order of magnitude, nearly doubling the population under lockdown.

The governor said his administration will put out more details on what people can and cannot do in the coming hours and days. He suggested, however, that it will be similar to the Bay Area orders.

"We're going to keep the grocery stores open," he said. "We're going to make sure that you're getting critical medical supplies. You can still take your kids outside, practicing common sense and social distancing. You can still walk your dog, you can still pick up food at one of our distribution centers, at a restaurant, at a drive-thru — all those things we will still be able to do."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Fox Newsthat he wasn't contacted by Newsom before the governor issued the order. "We do think there was an ability to do this without shutting down the entire state. I hope he consulted with a lot of experts before he just made this decision."

California announced Thursday that the state had 675 positive confirmations and 16 deaths as of Wednesday night. Some outlets, like The New York Timesand San Francisco Chronicle, have counted more than 1,000 cases in California using different tracking methods. The actual number is believed to be higher because testing remains limited.

The measures are intended both to shield vulnerable residents and to maintain California’s health care systems’ capacity to handle an influx of new patients. Earlier in the day, Newsom laid out a grim scenario if California does not respond decisively: 56 percent of the state’s residents, or some 22 million people, could contract the virus in the next eight weeks.

Newsom’s office clarified that figure did not account for the sweeping mitigation efforts California has imposed, making it a kind of worst-case scenario. But it nevertheless communicated the dire stakes.

Twenty-one of California's 58 counties had already imposed enforceable shelter-in-place orders for all residents before Newsom's announcement Thursday night, ranging from Silicon Valley's Santa Clara County with 2 million people to the 62,000-person San Benito County near the Central Coast.

Four of those counties approved those orders Thursday, with seven acting Wednesday, three acting Tuesday and seven acting Monday, starting with the populous Bay Area counties. And 25 of the state's counties before tonight had also banned gatherings of all sizes as local officials urged citizens to practice social distancing.

Victoria Colliver and Colby Bermel contributed to this report.