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California, New York and Illinois order residents to stay home to halt coronavirus

New York and Illinois joined California on Friday in ordering nearly all residents to stay in their homes, as governors undertook their most sweeping efforts yet to contain the coronavirus and fend off the kind of onslaught that has caused southern Europe to buckle.

'This is not life as usual.... Accept it, and realize it, and deal with it,' says N.Y. governor

A woman uses a hand sanitizer dispenser on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., on Friday. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

New York and Illinois joined California on Friday in ordering nearly all residents to stay in their homes, as governors undertook their most sweeping efforts yet to contain the coronavirus and fend off the kind of onslaught that has caused southern Europe to buckle.

"No, this is not life as usual," N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as the death toll in the United States topped 200, with at least 35 in his state. "Accept it, and realize it, and deal with it."

Cuomo said that, starting Sunday, all workers in nonessential businesses must stay home as much as possible, and all gatherings of any size will be banned in the state of over 19 million people. He acted after California all but confined its 40 million residents Friday in the biggest lockdown in the nation.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday ordered all state residents to remain in their homes except for essentials, joining similar dramatic efforts in California and New York to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Pritzker's order, which takes effect Saturday, still allows the state's 12.6 million residents to seek essentials, including groceries and medicine.

"Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, these sources of fundamental supplies will continue to operate," he said. "There is no need to run out and hoard food, gas or medicine. Buy what you need within reason. There is enough to go around as long as people do not hoard.

N.Y. and California also made exceptions for vital jobs and errands, such as grocery shopping, as well as exercise.

The increasingly drastic measures in the U.S. came as gasping patients filled the wards of hospitals in Spain and Italy, and the global death toll surpassed 11,000, with the virus gaining footholds in new corners of the world.

Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe, reported 627 new deaths Friday, its biggest day-to-day rise since the outbreak began. Italy has seen over 4,000 deaths — more even than China — and 47,000 infections. The soaring numbers came despite a nationwide lockdown.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Thursday, in a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, that if strong action isn't taken, more than half the state's residents could contract the virus over the next eight weeks. A spokesperson for the governor later clarified that the figure did not take into account the aggressive mitigation efforts that have been made.

The Democratic governor said he doesn't expect police will be needed to enforce his stay-at-home order, saying "social pressure" already has led to social distancing throughout the state.

"I don't believe the people of California need to be told through law enforcement that it's appropriate just to home isolate," he said.

Newsom, who is barely a year into his first term, also called up 500 National Guard troops to help distribute food. The move comes after panic buying led to massive lines at some grocery stores.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced California's mobility restrictions at a Thursday news conference. They were soon followed by a similar order in New York. (Rich Pedroncelli/The Associated Press)

"I can assure you home isolation is not my preferred choice; I know it's not yours, but it's a necessary one," Newsom said, at an evening news conference streamed on social media.

He assured residents that they "can still take your kids outside, practising common sense and social distancing. You can still walk your dog." Restaurant meals can still be delivered to homes.

Newsom also outlined a series of steps aimed at providing more space for hospital patients.

He said the state has taken over a 357-bed bankrupt hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area, will soon announce the purchase of a similarly sized hospital in Southern California, and may use dormitories at the state's public colleges and universities. He also asked Trump to dock the U.S. navy's 1,000-patient Mercy hospital ship in the Port of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, left, prays in an empty hall at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Thursday. Gov. Newsom has told California's 40 million residents to stay home indefinitely and venture outside only for essential jobs, errands and some exercise. (Mark Terrill/The Associated Press)

Cuomo's corresponding order will severely restrict the ability of more than 19 million N.Y. state residents to gather and socialize. It will also require workers in non-essential businesses to stay home. Those restrictions will come into effect Sunday night.

Cuomo, also a Democrat, said the "drastic action" was needed to check the rapid spread of the coronavirus virus in a state with more than 7,000 confirmed cases, the most in the nation.

N.Y. officials said more than 1,200 people have already been hospitalized since the outbreak, and new restrictions are needed to keep the health-care system from being overwhelmed.

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Non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size or for any reason are cancelled or postponed, including parties and celebrations. Essential workers will be able to gather and people will be able to walk outside or take part in non-contact activities, but no "playing basketball with five other people," Cuomo said. 

"You can't say to someone, 'You must be locked in your apartment 24 hours a day for the foreseeable future.' Look what you're saying to people. This could be going on for months," he said.

The restrictions will ban parents from bringing kids to play dates at friends' houses and ban parents from bringing kids to potentially crowded playgrounds. Local officials could help enforce the rules and break up gatherings, according to Cuomo's senior adviser, Richard Azzopardi, though he said individuals won't face civil fines. 

Public transit will keep running, but individuals besides essential workers can only use public transportation when absolutely necessary under the state's new rules. 

People will need to stay about two metres away from other people when they are out in public, Cuomo said.

The N.Y. and California orders both came without announced end dates. Newsom said California's restriction is "open-ended" because it could raise false hopes if he included an end date.

However, he did offer a glimmer by saying he didn't expect it would last "many, many months."

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. It can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, for some people, especially older adults and those with existing health problems.

Most people recover — those with mild illness — in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks, according to the World Health Organization.

Also Thursday, Newsom asked U.S. House and Senate leaders for $1 billion US to support state and local health systems. He said that money would be needed to do things like set up state-run and mobile hospitals, housing options to help people socially distance, and testing and treatment for people without health insurance.

He also asked for assistance so the state can extend unemployment benefits beyond the usual 26-week limit, expand food assistance programs, resources for the homeless and tribal communities, and boost child-care programs. He further asked for assistance for schools, aid to local and state budgets and transportation relief.

"While California has prudently built a sizeable Rainy Day Fund over the past 10 years, the economic effects of this emergency are certain to mean that the state and its 58 counties will struggle to maintain essential programs and services," he wrote.

Newsom earlier announced $150 million of a $1-billion emergency state appropriation would go toward getting homeless people off the streets. He has estimated up to 60,000 of the state's homeless could get infected.

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