Essential California: Newsom pulls the ‘emergency brake’

Drive-through COVID-19 testing
Angelenos in line to get a coronavirus test at Dodger Stadium.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Nov. 17, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a dramatic rollback of the state’s reopening on Monday, as new coronavirus cases in California continue to skyrocket.

As the governor spoke, the slide below him quite literally read, “We are sounding the alarm.”

Those words remained on screen as the governor described the fastest increase in cases that California has seen thus far during the pandemic, with daily cases doubling over the past 10 days.


Given the speed of the spread, officials are pulling what they characterized as an “emergency brake,” drastically reversing much of the state’s reopening.

[Read the story: “California dramatically rolls back reopenings amid unprecedented COVID-19 surge” in the Los Angeles Times]

On Monday morning, just 13 counties were in the most restrictive purple tier of the state’s reopening road map, which severely limits indoor operations. Newsom announced Monday that that number would more than triple, to 41, with the changes effective Tuesday. Roughly 94% of Californians — or about 37 million people — live in those 41 counties.

The move came as the state broke its single-day record for new coronavirus cases, recording more than 13,280 new cases Monday night. Few corners of California have been left untouched by the surge.

Just weeks ago, San Francisco was lauded by infectious disease experts for keeping its coronavirus numbers low despite the city’s density. The city is now experiencing a “major surge” that reflects the worsening health conditions throughout the Bay Area, as my colleague Maura Dolan reports. San Francisco has moved from the least restrictive yellow tier — which connotes minimal restrictions —to the second-most restrictive red tier. All other Bay Area counties have moved to purple, except San Mateo and Marin, which also moved to red.

All of Southern California is now in the most restrictive tier, as is the Central Coast and all eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley. The purple swath also covers much of the area in and around Sacramento County. You see the full map and look up your county using this tracker.

What does being in the “purple” tier mean?

Placement in the state’s most restrictive tier severely restricts nonessential indoor operations. Indoor dining is no longer allowed. Indoor gyms, dance and yoga studios must now operate outdoors only, and museums, zoos and aquariums are also required to stop indoor operations. Houses of worship can no longer hold in-person indoor services but can host in-person services outdoors.

What else you need to know

Newsom said the state was considering the possibility of a curfew. But the governor made clear that the idea was in the assessment stage, with a great deal of questions remaining about what it might or might not look like.

With Thanksgiving a mere week and a half away, officials and health professionals up and down the state are imploring Californians not to treat this year’s holiday like years past.

“The basic advice is: Stay within your pod. Stay within your bubble. Stay within your household,” Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco, told my colleague Ron Lin.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


L.A.'s police union spurns City Hall’s request to meet on the budget crisis, dealing a fresh setback to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council as they struggle to close a looming budget deficit. Los Angeles Times

Some in L.A. are getting COVID-19 tests so they can party and socialize. But officials call this a disaster, and say such tests can provide a false sense of security. Los Angeles Times

“They’re our neighbors.” How L.A. restaurants help feed those in need with weekly street cookouts. Eater LA

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Faced with the country’s worsening economic and health crises, President-elect Joe Biden called for action from two political forces beyond his control on Monday: Congress, which is deadlocked over economic relief, and President Trump, who refuses to concede the election and share information about the pandemic and national security. Los Angeles Times

More than half a dozen California lawmakers traveled to a conference in Hawaii this week, despite a spike in COVID-19 cases in the Golden State that resulted in travel warnings by health officials. Los Angeles Times

GOP Rep. Mike Garcia holds a razor-thin lead in race for Katie Hill’s old seat: The hotly contested race has seesawed between Garcia and his Democratic challenger Christy Smith, with the two currently separated by 104 votes. Los Angeles Times

[See also: “Your guide to what happened in the California election and what’s next” from the Los Angeles Times]


The University of California would pay $73 million to victims of alleged sexual abuse by a former UCLA gynecologist under a proposed settlement reached Monday in a class-action lawsuit filed by seven women who accused the former UCLA doctor of abuse. Los Angeles Times


Moderna said Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine was proving to be highly effective in a major trial, a second dash of hope in the global race for a shot to tame a resurgent coronavirus that is now killing more than 8,000 people a day worldwide. Associated Press

San Francisco’s opioid crisis exploded this year, killing people at staggering rates. Seeking to understand more about the epidemic, the Chronicle obtained data revealing the location of every fatal overdose in 2020. Here’s what it shows. San Francisco Chronicle


Idyllwild’s dog mayor remains busy through the pandemic: “We are doing lots of private visits at the mayor’s house so we can control distancing. Everyone wears their masks and takes them off just for the photo,” said a woman identified as the golden retriever’s “chief of staff.” Idyllwild Town Crier

A dog wearing a tie
A gratuitous photo of Mayor Max, as pictured in 2017, to brighten your morning. Idyllwild’s golden retriever mayor took “office” in 2013 after the the death of the previous dog mayor, who was also named Max.
(Julia Wick / Los Angeles Times)

The death of the $15 Salad? How pizza won the pandemic — and Sweetgreen got left behind. Marker

The strange saga of San Francisco principals being ordered back to empty schools: For reasons that no one can quite explain, scores of San Francisco principals and assistant principals were ordered back to campuses this month. Mission Local

Airbnb unveiled long-anticipated plans to go public Monday, defying concerns that the coronavirus pandemic had permanently hurt its business of short-term rentals. San Francisco Chronicle

A poem to start your Tuesday: “Let Them Not Say” by Jane Hirshfield.

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Los Angeles: sunny, 79. San Diego: sunny, 79. San Francisco: rain, 61 . San Jose: rain, 64 . Fresno: partly sunny, 75. Sacramento: rain, 63. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Souris Hong:

I moved to California in 1996 and had the great fortune of living with my family in their home — Santa Monica Historical Landmark #37. I would often see neighbors pausing in front of the house to enjoy its magnificence. One morning, a woman stopped me to ask, “Excuse me, is this a Greene and Greene bungalow?” I looked at her, her friend, at the house, and then back at them and answered, “No! This is a green and brown bungalow!” and took off before they could ask more questions. The stunning Aeroplane Bungalow was my introduction to L.A. architecture.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.