First weekend of California stay-at-home order hits millions

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — California has never seen a weekend quite like this.

No sports practice for the kids. No dining out. No church services.

A little more than 24 hours after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an unprecedented stay-at-home order to nearly 40 million residents to help curb the coronavirus spread, most Californians were faced with how to spend two days of free time with strict limits on their freedom.

If Friday, the first day under the order, offered any clue, it may involve calling or texting friends and loved ones, or leaving the house to buy food or walk the dog: two exceptions to the lockdown.

Many who ventured outside were still trying to figure out how to practice social distancing.

A farmer’s market near Oakland’s Lake Merritt was bustling on a Saturday morning with shoppers waiting in line at a produce stand to buy beets, strawberries and kale. Most stood several feet apart, but the spacing didn’t appear to be enough for one woman who walked by and yelled “6 feet!” to remind everyone the rule for keeping a safe distance.

Some vendors required shoppers to order produce instead of picking them out themselves. One farmer posted a sign that said: “Don’t touch what you won’t buy please.”

“If you’re not wearing rubber gloves and a mask, you shouldn’t be here,” said Jeff Hyde, who had both on while selling smoked fish. He said sales were up at his stand.

“Food is king right now,” he said. “People can’t splurge on going to the movies or dining out, so they’re buying food.”

At the farmers market in Pasadena, some people waited in lines and appeared to be trying to stay 6 feet apart. The stalls, however, were directly next to each other and shoppers picked out produce close together.

The Huntington Beach pier is typically full on a sunny weekend morning, but there was plenty of room Saturday for walkers, joggers and roller skaters to stay far apart. Down below, dozens of surfers bobbed in the water where sets of waist-high waves rolled in.

Beautiful spring weather, or perhaps the threat of rain on Sunday, drew many people to Venice Beach. Most took care to stay well away from each other on the sand. But spacing became an issue in popular areas like the pier and the boardwalk.

The governor’s effort to curb the pandemic in the nation’s most populous state was by far the most sweeping and was followed Friday by similar announcements in New York and Illinois.

California is one of the hardest-hit states, with 1,224 confirmed cases confirmed cases and 23 deaths as of Saturday.

Los Angeles County Health Director Barbara Ferrer urged people to stay home and only go out for essential needs. Those who have been tested and come back negative shouldn’t have a false sense of security.

“You can be negative today and positive tomorrow,” she said. “Stay home as much as possible. You are safer at home.”

Newsom has said infection rates of the COVID-19 virus are doubling every four days in some areas and projected that 56% of the state’s population — about 22 million people — could contract the virus in the next two months if aggressive prevention isn’t taken.

On Saturday, he ordered spending $42 million in emergency funding to allow the state to lease two hospitals — Seton Medical Center in Daly City and St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles — for three months to provide care for patients with COVID-19. Up to 120 patients can be treated at Seton starting as soon as next Wednesday, while St. Vincent will reopen to provide care for up to 366 patients as soon as possible, the governor’s office said.

The emergency fund will also be used to buy or refurbish ventilators, provide more patient transportation service and expand testing capacity at a state laboratory.

On Friday, Newsom issued an executive order requiring mail-in ballots be issued to voters for three April and May special elections and extending the deadlines for certifying the results from March primary elections.

Residents have been told to stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from others, not gather in groups and wash their hands frequently. They can go out to get food, fill prescriptions, seek medical care, care for vulnerable relatives or neighbors and get some exercise, such as walking.

In general, people seemed to be heeding state and local orders to stay home as much as possible. Normally congested freeways in California were truly free — of traffic — and city streets remained mostly empty in areas usually bustling with cars, bikes, scooters and commuters emerging from rail stations and stopping at coffee shops and bakeries. Yosemite National Park closed to visitors Friday, the latest of California’s top tourist destinations to do so.

Most retail businesses and virtually all schools were closed and those that could were having employees work from home. Gas stations, supermarkets and convenience stores were open along with auto repair shops and those providing essential services, such as plumbers and electricians, were still on the job. But restaurants were only delivering or providing take-out.

Some eateries have seen business plummet 95%, said Jot Condie, president of the California Restaurant Association.

“It’s thinning out by the day,” he said. “Hundreds and hundreds of employees are being laid off by the hour.”

At the same time, people were sweeping grocery store shelves bare despite government pleas that hoarding was unnecessary because there were no shortages. Toilet paper was universally in short supply.

Up to 500 members of the California National Guard were activated Saturday to help with humanitarian aid. Most of them are providing help in distributing food at food banks, whose volunteer base has declined during the crisis while the need for them has soared because many people are losing work.

Newsom said he expected social pressure — not policing — to help enforce his stay-at-home order. But officers in San Jose were prepared to crack down on dozens of businesses that remained open in violation of the order, Chief Eddie Garcia said.

Authorities were looking into releasing non-violent inmates from jails to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in close confinement. The state prison system reported its first two cases among employees at different institutions, but no inmate has yet contracted it, state corrections spokeswoman Dana Simas said.

For most people, COVID-19 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.

California’s homeless population was a serious concern because of their lack of shelter and the fact that many had underlying medical problems that made them more vulnerable to the virus. Los Angeles was waging a crash program to set up thousands of emergency beds in its recreation centers.

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Associated Press writers Adam Beam, Don Thompson and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, Stefanie Dazio, Michael R. Blood and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles, Olga R. Rodriguez and Juliet Williams in San Francisco, and Amy Taxin in Orange County contributed to this story.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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