LOS ANGELES — While California awoke Friday to the reality of a near lockdown to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, it was business as usual for Rick Curnutt and his family, who were hunkered down in China during the early days of the outbreak and spent two weeks in self-quarantine when they returned last month.
“This is take three for us,” the Los Angeles filmmaker joked. “This has become routine by now. We’re kind of professional homebodies.”
That’s not the case for nearly 40 million fellow Californians who were coming to terms with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order that they stay home indefinitely with exceptions for essential jobs, errands and some exercise.
Even after a growing number of cities and counties had placed restrictions on movement and activity, the order was a stunning development and further blow to businesses and workers reeling from the impact, and parents struggling to telecommute with children at home amid a prevalent fear of the rapidly spreading virus.
Normally congested freeways in California were truly free — of traffic — and city streets remained mostly empty in areas usually bustling with cars, bikes, scooters and commuters emerging from rail stations and stopping at coffee shops and bakeries. Yosemite National Park closed to visitors Friday, the latest of California’s top tourist destinations to do so.
The governor’s effort to curb the pandemic in the nation’s most populous state was by far the most sweeping and was followed Friday by similar announcements in New York and Illinois.
California is one of the hardest-hit states, with 1,185 confirmed cases and 23 deaths as of Friday.
Los Angeles County Health Director Barbara Ferrer urged people to stay home and only go out for essential needs. Those who have been tested and come back negative shouldn’t have a false sense of security.
“You can be negative today and positive tomorrow,” she said. “Stay home as much as possible. You are safer at home.”
Still, there were plenty of signs of life from employees still working, others taking advantage of allowable activities and some pushing the limits of the new rules.
Street sweepers rolled along in Los Angeles, saws whirred at construction sites, lines snaked out grocery stores and people hit the streets for a stroll in the fresh air or to walk their dogs.
Dozens of surfers bobbed in the waters off Huntington Beach, dubbed Surf City USA, where sets of waist-high waves rolled in. But on the beach business was a bummer for Jason Murchison, whose surf lesson business had tanked during a time of year when it usually picks up during spring break.
“Everyone is terrified to come out,” he said. “Surfing is one of those sports where if you want to talk about social distancing and all that, it’s the ideal sport to do that.”
Small businesses have been crushed by the efforts to stem the pandemic. While restaurants have been able to offer takeout food, some have seen business plummet 95%, said Jot Condie, president of the California Restaurant Association.
“It’s thinning out by the day,” he said. “Hundreds and hundreds of employees are being laid off by the hour.”
Cities were grappling with getting a swelling homeless population off the street and authorities were looking into releasing non-violent inmates from jails to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in close confinement. The state prison system reported its first two cases among employees at different institutions, but no inmate has yet contracted it, state corrections spokeswoman Dana Simas said.