More than 23 million people in Southern California are facing the harshest lockdowns in the United States as coronavirus cases spike to record levels in the country’s most populous state.
State governor Gavin Newsom ordered the tough, new restrictions to take effect on a region-by-region basis as intensive care unit beds in hospitals fill, almost reaching capacity in parts of California.
From midnight Sunday (local time), bars, hairdressers, nail salons and tattoo parlours will be required to close again while restaurants will have to shut down indoor dining, with outdoor dining also curtailed.
The new rules affecting the vast region of Southern California, much of the San Francisco Bay Area and a large swath of the Central Valley also prohibit residents from gathering with people not in their household.
There’s just one problem: enforcement agencies are going rogue.
Californian police refuse to enforce Covid lockdown laws
Law enforcement officials have hit back at the restrictions, in some cases refusing to enforce them.
Shortly after the restrictions were announced, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco took to Facebook in a video message calling the measures “flat out ridiculous”.
He said his office “will not be blackmailed, bullied or used as muscle” against county residents to enforce the governor’s orders.
Sherrif Bianco labelled the governor “dictatorial” and “hypocritical” after he was photographed dining indoors without a mask or social distancing last month.
His protest video came after a stay-at-home order was triggered by ICU bed capacity in the area dropping below 15 per cent.
US hospitals nearing full capacity
Southern California’s capacity was just above at 12 per cent of beds still available on Saturday (local time). By the following afternoon it was at 10.3 per cent, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Other law enforcement officials have also dissented over the lockdown measures.
“Orange County Sheriff’s deputies will not be dispatched to, or respond to, calls for service to enforce compliance with face coverings, social gatherings or stay at home orders,” Bianco’s counterpart in Orange County, Don Barnes, said in a written statement.
The San Francisco Bay Area will also go into lockdown starting at 10pm on Sunday, under a separate set of orders issued by Mayor London Breed, who was also caught breaching coronavirus guidelines by attending an indoor party at a restaurant last month.
According to the Covid Tracking Project, there are 101,487 people hospitalised with Covid-19 in the US as of Sunday (local time), another new record.
The virus is blamed for over 280,000 deaths and more than 14.6 million confirmed infections in the country while new cases per day have rocketed to an all-time high of more than 190,000 on average.
‘Only we can save us’ from virus surge
With a Covid-19 vaccine perhaps just weeks away in the US, top health officials warned Americans that this is no time to let their guard down.
“The vaccine’s critical,” Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
“But it’s not going to save us from this current surge. Only we can save us from this current surge.”
Top government officials warned Americans to wear masks, practice social distancing and follow other basic measures — precautions that President Donald Trump and other members of the administration have often disdained.
“I hear community members parroting back those situations — parroting back that masks don’t work, parroting back that we should work towards herd immunity, parroting back that gatherings don’t result in super-spreading events,” Dr Birx said.
“And I think our job is to constantly say those are myths, they are wrong and you can see the evidence base.”
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