By ANGELA HART, CARLA MARINUCCI and JEREMY B. WHITE03/15/2020 05:22 PM EDT
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom called Sunday for all senior citizens and residents with chronic conditions to isolate themselves at home, as well as for all bars, wineries and brewpubs to close, launching the state’s most sweeping effort yet to slow the spread of coronavirus.
No other state has imposed such restrictions on residents age 65 and older. Newsom said his orders do not come with enforcement but that he expects residents and counties to follow his protocols. California has 5.3 million residents over the age of 65.
“This will be socialized in real time,” Newsom said. “I have all the confidence in the world.”
The governor’s announcement came a day after large crowds continued to enjoy nightlife in cities across the nation despite public warnings to avoid social activities. The weekend before St. Patrick’s Day drew green-clad revelers to many bars and pubs, and the city of Sacramento went so far Friday as to encourage people to dine out by eliminating nighttime parking fees.
Absent further action, the revelry was expected to continue Tuesday on the actual St. Patrick’s Day, which traditionally sees bars open in the morning to packed crowds across the nation.
“We believe this is a non-essential function in our state,” Newsom said of alcohol-focused establishments. Newsom himself has long owned a wine business.
Unlike a handful of other governors Sunday, Newsom did not call for restaurants to close, but to halve their capacities and create the recommended six feet of distance between patrons.
California now has 335 positive coronavirus tests, a 14 percent increase from Saturday, Newsom said. A sixth person has died, though additional details were not immediately available.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called Sunday morning for a “dramatic diminution” in activity at bars and restaurants across the nation. He told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that Americans should prepare to “hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Sunday ordered the closure of all bars and restaurants through the end of March, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was taking similar action. A few cities in New Jersey on Saturday imposed curfews and banned in-person dining.
As positive tests multiply in California and around the nation, elected officials and health officers have scrambled to impose a cascade of restrictions on public life. On Thursday, Newsom’s office issued a directive urging people to avoid large gatherings and new rules opening access to state benefits and opportunities for telework.
He subsequently released an order ensuring shuttered schools could still receive funding, but stopped short of demanding statewide closure of schools, as governors elsewhere have done. The vast majority of schools in California will be closed this week, including those in 24 of the state’s 25 largest districts. Newsom said 85 percent of students in public schools will not have class this week.
Meanwhile, local governments on the front lines of trying to contain the virus have enacted further-reaching limits on public events — Santa Clara County and San Francisco have banned those larger than 100 attendees and sharply limited groups greater than 35. San Francisco went so far as to order bars with capacity limits higher than 100 to close for several weeks.
The economic damage could be sustained and wide-ranging. Businesses are bracing for potentially catastrophic losses of customers as workers who cannot do their jobs remotely confront the possibility of extended stretches without pay.
In an attempt to buoy the ever-popular restaurants and bars in the capital city, the Sacramento City Council provided an economic relief package for small businesses and waived parking fees at night and on weekends. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg on Saturday afternoon tweeted, “Please safely patronize our local businesses during this difficult time,” a post he has since removed. That drew dozens of people to criticize the mayor for risking public health by encouraging residents to visit restaurants and bars.
After Newsom’s announcement, Steinberg said in a statement that “We must all fully embrace the direction the governor articulated today. This will require us all to make real sacrifices, but they are necessary to slow the progress of this pandemic. … I feel for our small businesses, restaurants and working people who will face economic hardship as a result.”
Widespread homelessness was already a paramount concern for California leaders before the virus began to spread, and the sprawling encampments that dot many large cities now loom as a potential source of transmission. Newsom said the state was working to get Californians out of encampments and into shelter, including trailers and motels assembled by the state, and he predicted that officials would be able to move residents experiencing homelessness without wielding “police state” powers.
“I think there’s a lot of mythology about resistance,” said Newsom, adding that “I just don’t buy that someone prefers to live in an encampment.”
Along similar lines, Newsom said his office would on Monday release guidelines about evictions. Policymakers across California are calling for a moratorium on evictions as residents face down the prospect of missed paychecks.
The governor also attempted to allay fears about the economic wreckage, saying that healthy budget concerns help to ensure that “we’ve never been in better position to weather a recession.”
Nolan D. McCaskill contributed to this report.