Reaction to Thursday’s announcement that California will begin overnight curfews beginning Saturday at 10 p.m. has been swift and loud — especially from businesses already hurting from eight months of restrictions.
The new rules will shut down some businesses from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., similar to the March stay-at-home order. State officials say it's needed to combat soaring numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in California as the rest of the country also struggles with rising infections.
Ohio put a similar order in effect earlier this week, and Los Angeles started its own curfew Friday. European countries like France and Spain have also imposed curfews for much of their citizens recently as cases rose there as well.
But what are medical professionals saying? CapRadio spoke with Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease specialist at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, who said the curfew will only impact a small number of people.
“That’s a time frame where not many people are really out there gathering,” he said. “Most people are probably home and asleep by then.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On whether the curfew will be effective in slowing the spread of the virus
We're going to have to see what happens. We don't have any previous experience with this type of curfew on pandemics like this. I know that some of the European cities started doing this, but again, they've only done this recently. So we've yet to really be able to assess the impact of this type of measure.
My gut feeling is that this is going to maybe have more of a cosmetic effect than a real impact, because No. 1, it's not going to start until 10 p.m. and go until 5 a.m., and there aren't that many people out there, you know, having big parties and things during that period, except maybe in bars. But it's not clear that the bars contribute significantly to the virus transmission that we're seeing. Of course they contribute to a certain level, but not to the level that would explain this big surge that we're seeing.
On the fact that most transmission of the virus is occurring at private gatherings
Most of these transmissions that contribute to the surge that we're seeing are actually occurring in people's homes. And so the curfew may actually force more people to gather at home because they can't go out. Especially the young people, they're more likely to then have parties in their private home spaces. College students may have parties in their dorms or in the frat houses, and so I'm not sure how much impact this is going to have.
And then the other thing that I'm not sure why they're doing this is, certain counties like San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, they're exempt from this curfew because they're in the so-called red tier zone, which is not that far — you know, just one step below from the purple tier counties. And so what's going to happen to these people who don't want to adhere to the curfew in nearby purple tier counties? They're probably going to drive over to San Francisco and then have parties and then San Francisco County is going to shift up to the purple tier.
If they're going to do this, they should make it statewide. Otherwise, what's the point of exempting these red tier counties? They're just going to invite more people to come to those places.
On whether another full lockdown would be beneficial at this time
I think it will have an impact, but it's going to be the same sort of impact that we saw before, meaning that the number of cases will decrease, you know, hospitalization, death, they will decrease for a period of time. And then what the state is going to do is to relax the restrictions and that's going to come right back up again.
And so, yes, you will have a transient effect like it did before, but there's no guarantee that the same resurgences are not going to occur. And so they have to do more than that.
On what more can be done
One thing that people don't seem to really talk about that much anymore is the contact investigation. We've had, here in the U.S., eight months to prepare for and improve or ramp up our contact investigation program. And we really haven't done it. We've been emphasizing testing, testing, testing and social distancing and wearing masks. But not much has been said about really ramping up our contact investigation.
It's not easy to really implement that. And the public health departments have not received the kind of funding they really need to do this, because a lot of the money has been shifted over to testing, which, as we now see, has done absolutely nothing in terms of mitigating this epidemic. We have more testing than ever before, and look what's happening to the number of cases.
So otherwise ... yes, we can cause some temporary decrease in the number of cases. But it'll come right back up again as soon as we start reopening.
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