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California is about to lock down again as COVID hospitalizations rise
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

California is about to lock down again as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise

Is that the right move?

California is about to lock down again.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new regional stay-at-home order Thursday, calling for an "emergency break" to slow the spread of COVID-19 — again.

KABC-TV reported the order separates California into five regions: Northern California, Greater Sacramento, Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California. If any region's hospital ICU capacity drops below 15%, the stay-at-home lockdown will go into effect for that region.

Current projections estimate that all regions in California save for the Bay Area are expected to hit that threshold in the coming days. Southern California is currently at 20.6% ICU capacity, according to KABC-TV.

The lockdown will once again force bars, wineries, nail salons, hair salons, barbershops, and other personal care businesses to close. Private gatherings of any size will be restricted. Restaurants will need to shut down indoor and outdoor dining and will be permitted to stay open only for takeout and delivery. Retail stores will be allowed to operate at only 20% capacity. Finally, travel deemed "nonessential" will be "temporarily restricted statewide."

"This is the most challenging moment since the beginning of this pandemic," Newsom said. "If there was ever any time to put aside your doubt, to put aside your skepticism, to put aside your cynicism to put aside your ideology, to put aside any consideration except this: Lives are in the balance. Lives will be lost unless we do more than we've ever done."

Enforcement of these new coronavirus restrictions will be left to local governments, but Newsom threatened to deprive counties that refuse to comply of state funding.

"If you're unwilling to adopt the protocols to support the mitigation and the reduction of the spread of this disease, we're happy to redirect those dollars to counties that feel differently," he said.

The new round of lockdowns for Californians come as confirmed coronavirus cases are surging across the nation. There are now more than 14 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and on Wednesday, Johns Hopkins University reported more than 2,800 deaths, the highest death toll on a single day yet.

However, the actual number of cases in the U.S. may be far greater than officially reported.

In a report released last week, the CDC estimated that for every confirmed case of COVID-19, there are eight cases that go undetected. The report said that by the end of September there were 53 million Americans infected with the coronavirus, a number eight times greater than the confirmed cases reported at the time.

Of those 53 million estimated cases, the CDC says about 45 million developed symptoms at some point and about 2.4 million were hospitalized.

If that is true, supposing that the actual number of coronavirus cases is eight times greater than the officially reported 14 million, as many as 112 million Americans may already have contracted the virus — nearly one third of the U.S. population.

The efficacy of lockdowns in slowing the spread of coronavirus is disputed. Proponents of lockdown policies point to studies that show lockdowns are effective at limiting person-to-person contact and therefore reducing the transmission of the virus.

But the consequences of these policies are real and deadly — economic hardship, exacerbated mental health problems, delayed treatment for non-COVID related illnesses, and other collateral damage associated with lockdowns and social distancing policies must be weighed against intrusive government intervention to slow the spread of the virus.

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