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All Californians, Nearly 40 Million People, Have Been Ordered To Stay Home To Stop The Spread Of The Coronavirus

"This is a moment where we need some straight talk and we need to tell people the truth: We need to bend the curve in the state of California," Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

Last updated on March 19, 2020, at 10:37 p.m. ET

Posted on March 19, 2020, at 8:53 p.m. ET

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference Feb. 27, 2020.

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All Californians, nearly 40 million people, have been ordered to stay at home except for when it is absolutely necessary for them to leave "until further notice" to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the order late Thursday, just an hour after officials in Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the US, issued a similar mandate. Earlier this week, their Bay Area counterparts handed down similar "shelter-in-place" orders, the strictest measures taken in the country so far.

"This is a moment we need to make tough decisions," Newsom said. "This is a moment where we need some straight talk and we need to tell people the truth: We need to bend the curve in the state of California."

Across the state of California, health officials have confirmed 675 cases of COVID-19 and 16 deaths from the disease as of Wednesday evening, behind Washington state and New York, where more than 5,000 cases have been confirmed.

The state's order takes effect immediately and will be in place indefinitely with Newsom telling reporters that officials "could not give a deadline that we really could believe in."

"This is a dynamic situation," he said.

The Los Angeles order, which will stay in effect until at least April 19, requires all businesses, including museums, malls, retail stores, and workplaces, to stop operations and only allows people to leave their home for "essential activities," like to pick up food, go to the doctor, or take a walk in the neighborhood. It will take effect midnight Thursday, though businesses will have an additional day to prepare to close.

"We’ve already radically changed how we live in Los Angeles," Mayor Eric Garcetti said during a press briefing. "We need to be painfully honest tonight that we're about to enter into a new way of living here."

Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

The state's order, which does not have a set end date, includes exemptions for public safety and health care operations as well as other essential services, including laundromats, grocery stores, and restaurants that offer takeout or delivery. But even those essential businesses will need to incorporate social distancing practices — keeping 6 feet of space between individual employees and customers, officials said.

Like the orders announced by health officers in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties and the city of Berkeley on Monday, violations of the state and Los Angeles orders would be punishable as a misdemeanor.

"This is not shelter in place like a school shooting, this is stay at home because you’re safer at home," Garcetti said. "This is not a request. This is an order."

Under state law, violations of the order are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or by imprisonment for no more than six months — however, Newsom and local officials have stressed they do not plan to have police handling enforcement.

"There's a social contract here people I think recognize the need to do more," Newsom said, talking about the social pressure he expects will be placed on people to abide by the order. "Of course we have the capacity to move beyond that."

Earlier on Thursday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all businesses except those that are "life-sustaining" to shut down until further notice. Under that order, only businesses deemed critical, like grocery stores, gas stations, and transit operations, may continue to operate. Establishments that are found out of compliance of the new rules could face enforcement actions, Wolf said.

The Los Angeles order came hours after the county announced its second death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 40 newly confirmed cases, bringing the county's total number of infections to 231. The deceased was a person in their thirties with underlying health conditions from an unincorporated area outside of Pasadena.

"This is a disease that can strike almost everybody who lives here in LA County, and there is no security in thinking that you're either not going to be affected or don't have the responsibility to protect others," LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. "Each one us on any given day can be carrying this infection."

Ferrer said recent studies have shown that the measures the county is taking could potentially result in tens of thousands of fewer people getting infected over a shorter period of time. However, she noted that it's harder to predict how long it would take to see enough of a reduction in the rate of transmission to a point where officials could relax some of the restrictions.

The point, she explained, is to slow the rate of transmission so as not to overwhelm the health care system with a large peak in the number of people who are sick.

"We think we have a wonderful health care system here, but the best way to keep it highly functional is to actually make sure that we don't see that peak of tens of thousands of people that all need care at the same time," Ferrer said.

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