published on March 20, 2020 - 1:14 PM
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(AP) — Normally congested freeways in California were largely free of traffic Friday, though lines snaked out of grocery stores and people hit the streets for fresh air after waking up to a new reality: the nation’s most populous state was in a near lockdown after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered 40 million residents to stay home indefinitely, with some exceptions, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

After weathering a growing number of restrictions this week, residents were coming to terms with the impact of the new order that allows them to venture out only for essential jobs, errands and some exercise.

Scott Sorensen walked his boxer Chewie through the quiet streets of downtown Los Angeles, a typically thriving hub of business and retail that has shut down. He said he was mindful of his great-grandmother Tillie’s descriptions of being hungry and frightened during the Great Depression in North Dakota.

“They consumed really only what they produced on their own farm,” he said. “I’m trying to keep it in focus.”

While the governor’s effort to curb the pandemic had plenty of exceptions, it was by far the most sweeping measure taken by any state.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday banned gatherings statewide and ordered all workers in nonessential businesses to stay home.

“I can assure you, home isolation is not my preferred choice, I know it’s not yours, but it’s a necessary one,” Newsom said Thursday at news conference streamed on social media.

He said Californians “can still take your kids outside, practicing common sense and social distancing.” Restaurant meals can still be delivered to homes.

The announcement came after the release of a letter to President Donald Trump in which Newsom warned the virus was spreading quickly and eventually could infect more than half the state’s population. A spokesman later clarified that the figure did not take into account the aggressive mitigation efforts that have been made.

The governor said he doesn’t expect police will be needed to enforce his stay-at-home order, saying “social pressure” already has led to people keeping their distance from one another.

“I don’t believe the people of California need to be told through law enforcement that it’s appropriate just to home isolate,” he said.

The Democrat who is barely a year into his first term also called up 500 National Guard troops to help distribute food. The move comes after panic-buying led to massive lines at some grocery stores.

Newsom also outlined steps aimed at providing more space for hospital patients.

He said the state has taken over a 357-bed bankrupt hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area, soon will announce the purchase of a similarly sized hospital in Southern California and may use dormitories at the state’s public colleges and universities. He also asked Trump to dock the Navy’s 1,000-patient Mercy hospital ship in the Port of Los Angeles.

There are at least 1,030 confirmed cases in California and 18 people have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Newsom’s statewide order came after counties and communities covering about half the state’s population already had issued similar edicts. He said the restriction is “open-ended” because it could raise false hopes if he included an end date.

However, he did offer a glimmer by saying he didn’t expect it would last “many, many months.”

Just before Newsom’s statewide declaration, Los Angeles officials announced what they called an order that carried the same restrictions.

“We’re about to enter into a new way of living here in Los Angeles,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “What we do and how we do it and if we get this right will determine how long this crisis lasts.”

In the letter to Trump seeking the hospital ship, Newsom said California’s infection rates are doubling every four days in some areas and that 56% of the state’s population could contract the virus in the next eight weeks, which would be more than 22 million people. He later said the “overwhelming majority won’t have symptoms” and will be fine but that up to 20% could be hospitalized.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. It can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, for some people, especially older adults and those with existing health problems. The vast majority of people recover.

Newsom has asked congressional leaders for $1 billion to support health systems. He said that money would be needed to set up state-run and mobile hospitals, provide housing options that allow social distancing, and test and treat those without insurance.

He also asked for help so the state can extend unemployment benefits beyond the usual 26-week limit; expand food assistance programs and resources for the homeless and tribal communities; and boost child care programs.

Newsom earlier announced $150 million of a $1 billion emergency state appropriation would go toward getting homeless people off the streets. He has estimated up to 60,000 of the state’s homeless could get infected.


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