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California enacts nighttime curfew as COVID-19 cases spike

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FILE - In this April 1, 2020, file photo Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services, gestures to a chart showing the impact of the mandatory stay-at-home orders during a news conference ,at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services in Rancho Cordova, Calif. On Saturday, California will impose another, partial overnight curfew to stem a recent surge in coronavirus cases. Ghaly said that about 12% of the new cases will be hospitalized in coming weeks, and the cumulative increase could soon threaten to swamp the state's healthcare system as it has in other states. The curfew will run from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool, File)

LOS ANGELES – A majority of Californians are under a nighttime curfew beginning Saturday as surging 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 to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. unless they are responding to an emergency, shopping for groceries, picking up takeout or walking their dogs. The monthlong curfew could be extended if rapidly worsening trends don’t improve.

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.

“I think this is best way to get ahead of this thing, so we can all move forward,” said Eric Gore, an Oakland musician. “My work depends on nightlife. But I’ve been staying home to keep myself safe.”

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 of almost 15,500 new cases reported Friday.