California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a mandatory stay-at-home order Thursday evening directing residents of the state to remain in their homes indefinitely other than for essential travel. The order, which will deeply affect the state’s nearly 40 million residents, is the most dramatic taken in the U.S. so far. California is the first state to issue a statewide directive restricting movement as the country tries to gear up to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The new set of restrictions, the Los Angeles Times reports, “allows Californians to continue to visit gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, takeout and delivery restaurants, banks and laundromats.” People are also allowed out of their homes to seek health care or care for a relative or friend.
“We’re going to keep the grocery stores open,” said Newsom during an address Thursday night. “We’re going to make sure that you’re getting critical medical supplies. You can still take your kids outside, practicing common sense and social distancing. You can still walk your dog.” The order also exempts essential workers in 16 federally defined critical infrastructure sectors, including emergency response services, health care, transportation, food and agriculture, energy, and financial services. Before the order, the governor had advised that hospitality businesses, like bars and restaurants, close, but had left it to individual counties in the state how far they wanted to enforce the recommendations.
Newsom said Thursday that the measures were needed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which the governor’s office said its models showed could infect as many as 25 million in the state—more than half of the state’s residents—in the next eight weeks. The House minority leader, California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, appeared to take issue with the move in an interview with Fox News. “I hope Governor Newsom consulted with a lot of experts before he decided to shut down 12% of the nation’s population,” McCarthy tweeted.
The order is mandatory, though Newsom acknowledged its enforcement will be largely through social pressure within communities in the state. The governor’s office said there was the possibility that those who refused to abide by the order could be subject to a misdemeanor penalty. “I don’t believe the people of California need to be told through law enforcement that it’s appropriate just to home-isolate, protect themselves,” Newsom said. “We are confident that the people of the state of California will abide by it and do the right thing.”