Hundreds of protesters defied California’s new curfew Saturday night, gathering in Huntington Beach just as the mandate to stay home from 10 p.m.-5 a.m. went into effect.
The demonstrators, some waving large American flags, crossed the Pacific Coast Highway on foot amid blaring of car horns in the Orange County city, about 35 miles south of Los Angeles.
Huntington Beach police Lt. Ryan Reilly told the NBC Los Angeles TV station the crowd of about 400 protesters was mostly law abiding, with “some, not all’’ wearing masks, and dwindled in size by half after 90 minutes. Reilly said police did not intend to issue citations for curfew violations, adding, “We are seeking compliance and trying to educate people.’’
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered the curfew, which is set to last until Dec. 21, as a measure to combat the spiking number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state. The limited stay-at-home order applies to 41 counties currently in California’s most restrictive reopening tier, encompassing 94% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents, and it allows for some exceptions for essential activities.
“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic, and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge,’’ Newsom said in a statement. “We are sounding the alarm.”
Newsom has been under fire recently after it was reported he attended a friend’s dinner party at an upscale Napa Valley restaurant in violation of the safety guidelines he has repeatedly promoted. Newsom apologized, calling the decision “a bad mistake.’’
Authorities say the curfew’s aim is to keep people from social mixing and drinking, the kinds of activities that are blamed for causing COVID-19 infections to soar after dipping only a few months ago. Dr. Mark Cullen, an infectious disease expert who recently retired from Stanford University, said the underlying goal is based on a reasonable interpretation of data.
“Large numbers of people getting together oblivious of controls – no masks, no social distancing, often indoors – a lot of those things are in fact occurring at night,” Cullen said. However, he also questioned whether a limited curfew will be effective.
California, the second state to record more than 1 million coronavirus cases after Texas, set a record with nearly 15,500 new infections Friday. Officials in hard-hit Los Angeles County, the nation’s largest, are considering even stricter measures than the curfew.
Contributing: The Associated Press