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‘Virus gonna virus’ — regardless of what government does – Locked-down California runs out of reasons for surprising surge of COVID

Locked-down California runs out of reasons for surprising surge

OAKLAND, Calif. — California has had some of the toughest restrictions in the country to combat the coronavirus, from a complete ban on restaurant dining to travel quarantines and indoor gym closures.

It hasn’t been enough.

America’s most populous state has become one of the nation’s worst epicenters for the disease, setting new records for cases, hospitalizations and deaths almost every day.

At more than 100 new daily cases per 100,000 residents, California’s case rate is second only to that in Tennessee, according to the nonprofit tracking site Covid Act Now — though it’s a state that does not mandate mask wearing and allows indoor gatherings of up to 10 people. The website Covid Exit Strategy shows a 97 percent rise in Covid throughout California, which has gone in the opposite direction from its West Coast counterparts, Oregon and Washington.

In Los Angeles, officials have said all along that people were gathering too often. They blamed celebrations and postseason viewing parties when the Dodgers and Lakers won championships this fall.

Some have blamed the strict rules themselves, saying that cooped-up Californians couldn’t take it any longer and decided they need to live their lives. Others have said congregant settings remain a severe concern in a housing-constrained state, especially in low-income communities where residents live in tight quarters and must continue to work in-person to survive.

The state hasn’t employed strict enforcement and has relied on its regulatory agencies to cite the worst-offending establishments in spot cases. But it has no real hammer against people gathering or engaging in everyday social activities, and many local law enforcement agencies have made a point of declaring they will not become the stay-at-home police.

“It’s a big state. We get big numbers when things go wrong,” said George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology and statistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

In the biggest shopping month of the year, parking lots at malls and retail centers are packed. Such stores are among the few indoor operations allowed to stay open with stated capacity limits. Mobility data from Google suggests that Newsom’s December stay-home orders have barely made a dent in keeping people home compared to previous months, though the baseline doesn’t say whether it may have tamped down traffic compared to last December.

Rutherford doesn’t think the general population fully grasps the seriousness of the current surge. “People think they can negotiate with the virus,” he said. “Here’s a hint: They can’t.”