California enacts a nighttime curfew Saturday as spiking coronavirus cases threaten to swamp health care systems and the state’s largest county warned that an even more drastic lockdown could be imminent.

The newest restrictions require people not on essential errands to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Dec. 21, with a possible extension if rapidly worsening trends don’t improve. People will be allowed to shop for groceries, pick up food and even walk their dogs.

Authorities say the focus is on keeping people from social mixing and drinking — the kinds of activities that are blamed for causing COVID-19 infections to soar after dipping only a few months ago.

Dr. Mark Cullen, an infectious disease expert who recently retired from Stanford University, said the underlying goal is based on a reasonable interpretation of data.

“Large numbers of people getting together oblivious of controls — no masks, no social distancing, often indoors — a lot of those things are in fact occurring at night,” Cullen said. However, he also questioned whether a limited curfew will be effective.

The curfew applies to 41 of the state’s 58 counties that are in the “purple” tier, the most restrictive of four state tiers allowing various stages of economic reopening. Those counties encompass 94% of the nearly 40 million people living in the most populous U.S. state.

California as a whole has seen more than 1 million infections, with a record 13,000 new cases recorded Thursday.

Los Angeles County, the state’s largest with about 10 million people, could see even more stringent lockdowns as early as next week as its caseload and hospitalization figures reach stratospheric levels. The county accounts for a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents, but it has about a third of the coronavirus cases and close to 40% of the deaths.

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County public health Director Barbara Ferrer said Friday that the county had 4,272 new cases in a single day and 13,247 over the past three days. The rate of positive COVID-19 tests has jumped to 7.3%, and nearly 1,300 people have been hospitalized.

“We’re seeing cases increased at a faster rate than we saw over the summer,” Ferrer said. “The data looks really bad now and we’ve had … three terrible days in terms of case rates and increases in hospitalizations.”

The county on Friday already reduced the number of customers allowed for restaurants and other businesses. Officials had said that if the county averages more than 4,000 newly reported cases a day for a five-day period or 1,750 hospitalizations, it would end dining entirely; restaurants would only be able to offer food for takeout and delivery. If cases or hospitalizations reach 4,500 or 2,000, respectively, the county will go on lockdown and impose a stay-at-home order for three weeks.

However, Ferrer said businesses would be given several days’ warning before the rules are enacted.

Officials hope to avoid full-on lockdown orders of the kind enacted back when the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining steam in March. Public health officials since then have …read more

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