Newsom: California is now on COVID-19 lockdown; Update: LA mayor pledges to deputize bureaucrats to enforce it

Andrew Cuomo’s message over the past week has been all we have to fear is fear itself. Gavin Newsom has opted for another old saying: better safe than sorry. Last night, California’s governor issued the first statewide lockdown order in the US coronavirus pandemic, forcing tens of millions to stay home except for “essential” travel — indefinitely:

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered Californians to stay at home, marking the first mandatory restrictions placed on the lives of all 40 million residents in the state’s fight against the novel coronavirus.

The governor’s action comes at a critical time in California, where 19 people have died and at least 1,000 have tested positive for the disease, and it appeared to be the most far-reaching directive of any issued by states battling the epidemic.

The mandatory order allows Californians to continue to visit gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, takeout and delivery restaurants, banks and laundromats. People can leave their homes to care for a relative or a friend or seek healthcare services.

Newsom called on Californians to exhibit a community spirit that he clearly found deficient:

Despite strong guidance to stay home — and enforceable orders in nearly two dozen counties — a small number of people in California are still playing basketball, hanging out together on beaches and congregating in parks.

“We will have social pressure that will encourage people to do the right thing. Just a nod, look, saying, ‘Hey, maybe you should reconsider just being out there on the beach, being 22 strong at a park,'” he said. ….

“There’s a social contract here,” Newsom said. “People, I think, recognize the need to do more and meet his moment.”

Ahem. If everyone really “recognize[d] the need to do more,” Newsom wouldn’t be forcing everyone to do it instead. Of course, it remains to be seen if a lockdown order is either truly necessary or effective. Social pressure is almost certainly more attractive than a mandate, and arguably results in better and more effective behavioral modification. Newsom is risking a backlash, not to mention lots and lots of legal action.

The Los Angeles Times lists what what stays open and what won’t in the lockdown. The government stays open, obviously, as do grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, gas stations, and laundromats, although one has to wonder how long the latter will last. If you’re trying to tamp down a highly contagious and lethal pathogen, doesn’t the sharing of washers and dryers present a rather large problem? Verboten are all “entertainment venues,” bars, public events and “gatherings,” and dine-in restaurants. In truth, it’s about the same list as public officials have urged people to voluntarily adopt. Once again, it’s pretty clear that Newsom feels that people don’t recognize the need to “meet this moment.”

So how long will this lockdown last? Newsom won’t say, and his attempt to soothe fears of the state’s residents likely won’t make them feel much better:

Newsom said the order has to remain in effect indefinitely. He has repeatedly said the next eight weeks are crucial to bend the curve and stop the rapid contagion. He also said, however, that he does not expect the order to last “many, many months.”

What does that mean? Does Newsom plan to keep California locked down for, say, several months? A few months? Newsom had better plan on finding a better way than a mandate for anything longer than a couple of weeks. After that, restlessness will create an unraveling of this order, and Newsom won’t have enough police on hand to make it stick. That might be one lesson that other governors get to learn from afar if Newsom pushes this for even one full month.

Of course, California officials will offer the best spin possible in the meantime to stave off that kind of mutiny. Don’t call it a lockdown, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti tells Today‘s Hoda Kotb. Instead, look at all the things government will allow you to do! You can take a walk outside, and, er, take a walk outside, and, er …

Update: Garcetti didn’t sound quite as relaxed about the whole thing last night when talking with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. He pledged to “deputize” officials to enforce the lockdown order by roaming the streets looking for escapees:

CUOMO: Now, we’re going to hold that thought about why they hoard for one more practical question. Then I want to get to that more philosophical question. How is this enforced? The mayor said they don’t need law enforcement to tell them that they’re better off at home. But what if they don’t stay home? How is it enforced? Is it enforced?

GARCETTI: You know, one of the questions we had in our press conference a couple hours ago was — this — one of those if you see something, say something? And I said yes, absolutely. But don’t call a cop. Go and tell somebody they shouldn’t be doing that. Then if there are cases where people are blatantly violating this order, yes, we’ll visit them. When we said restaurants were closed to eating indoors, 99.9 percent of them closed. The press found one restaurateur who said I’m not going to do this, it was in one neighborhood in L.A., we visited them. We brought a police officer, it was closed down immediately. They got had a smile, it’s not open.

You know, people are getting guns. They’re going crazy. I’m saying crime is actually way down and generosity is way up. This is different than a riot or a public safety emergency. This is a public health emergency and we have to remember that it’s on all of us to do this. But we’re certainly going to deputize many city employees to walk those streets, to drive around. If we see any folks that are still open, we’ll just pay them a visit and let them know that this is something they have to comply with. And it’s for their own health. In the very rare cases with someone who doesn’t comply, of course we can enforce that.

But it’s not a lockdown!