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Gov. Gavin Newsom Orders Californians To Stay At Home


California is by far the state with the highest population in the United States. Around 40 million people live there. And now those 40 million people are being told to stay home to try and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This is Governor Gavin Newsom giving this order last night.


GAVIN NEWSOM: A state as large as ours, a nation-state, is many parts. But at the end of the day, we're one body. There's a mutuality, and there's a recognition of our interdependence that requires of this moment that we direct a statewide order for people to stay at home.

GREENE: We should say this is the first statewide order of its kind, and let's turn to NPR's Leila Fadel, who is in Los Angeles. Hi, Leila.

Leila, can you hear me?


GREENE: Oh, great.

FADEL: Can you hear me?

GREENE: Yeah, no, there you are. I want to start, if I can, with these numbers from the governor...

FADEL: Right.

GREENE: ...Yesterday, when he was talking about taking this action. What - I mean, they sound really scary.

FADEL: Right. So the governor says he's really concerned that California's health care system just won't be able to handle the worst-case scenario. And those numbers he's projecting - more than half of California's almost 40 million people could get infected in the next two months. Again, this is worst-case scenario according to certain models. But if that happens, Newsom says California's hospitals would be nearly 20,000 beds short of what they need.


NEWSOM: We need to bend the curve in the state of California. And in order to do that, we need to recognize the reality. The fact is experience we're having on the ground throughout the state of California, the experience that's manifesting all across the United States and, for that matter, around the rest of the world require us to adjust our thinking and to adjust our activities.

FADEL: Now, state and local governments here have already taken steps. But this, of course, is the most dramatic so far.

GREENE: Yeah. So this is telling everyone to stay home. But there are some exceptions, right? I mean, what exactly does this order say?

FADEL: Right. So it's not a full lockdown. Essential businesses are open. And that means Californians can do essential things - get gas, groceries, food, go to the bank. Food banks are open. Delivery can still happen, food delivery. And you can leave your home if you need to take care of a loved one, get medical care. And there are also exemptions for critical federal infrastructure sectors, and that's things like health care, transportation, emergency response, food and agriculture. But otherwise, the governor wants Californians to stay at home, even though he was a bit fuzzy on how that would be enforced.


NEWSOM: I don't believe the people of California need to be told through law enforcement that it's appropriate just to home isolate, protect themselves, go about the essential - essential patterns of life, but do so by socially distancing themselves from others, and do so using their common sense.

FADEL: So I do have to say the order says the government has the authority to take the steps to ensure compliance. But like you heard the governor's message, he's asking Californians to comply voluntarily.

GREENE: Well, I just keep thinking back to you saying that, worst-case scenario, California could be 20,000 hospital beds short to deal with something of this scale, worst-case. Do people in the health care industry feel like this order will be effective in preventing that?

FADEL: You know, prior to this announcement, I spoke to Dr. Vivek Jain. He's part of the team leading San Francisco General Hospital's response to COVID-19.

VIVEK JAIN: We're very supportive of those aggressive public health interventions, and as health care workers at the hospitals, we're here, and we're ready to take care of everybody. But we need the public's help in observing the maximum social distancing interventions that they can.

FADEL: Now, this is especially because there's a national shortage of tests. And so Jain says social distancing is vital for the virus not to spread. He's in San Francisco, which already had a shelter-in-place order, and he said he was hoping others would follow suit. Now the whole state has.

GREENE: NPR's Leila Fadel in Los Angeles. Leila, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.

FADEL: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 21, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
In this story, we incorrectly report that Gov. Gavin Newsom said 50% of California's population would get sick with the coronavirus over the next few months. He actually said 50% of the state's population would get infected with the coronavirus.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.