Quick Take:

Residents are allowed to leave their homes during the curfew, so long as they avoid interaction with others to curb the spread of COVID-19, the order states. Those experiencing homelessness are exempt.

Citing an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases across California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced a nightly curfew on nonessential activity in all purple tier counties, which include Santa Cruz County and most of the rest of the state.

The Limited Stay-at-Home Order takes effect at 10 p.m. Saturday. It will run from 10 p.m to 5 a.m. daily through the morning of Dec. 21.

“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. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a statement. “It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges. We’ve done it before and we must do it again.”

Residents are allowed to leave their homes during the curfew, so long as they avoid interaction with others, the order states. Those experiencing homelessness are exempt.

Walking the dog, going to the grocery store and getting takeout from a restaurant are all allowed during curfew hours, Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Health and Human Services Secretary, said during a virtual briefing Thursday.

How strictly the curfew will be enforced remains to be seen.

Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills said he was just learning of the new order Thursday afternoon and planned to consult with his counterparts across the county to ensure a consistent approach.

“All of us want to get over this COVID thing so if it takes people staying at home, then they need to stay at home,” Mills said. “I think the main thing is this really has to be a system where people have to choose to follow the law.”

Noting the curfew’s broad exemptions and his officers’ other pressing priorities, Mills discouraged residents from rushing to call in their neighbors. “They certainly have the right to do that — but that is going to consume police resources responding to this stuff,” he said.

On Monday, Santa Cruz County slid from the red tier to the most restrictive purple tier as COVID-19 cases surged and the state pumped an “emergency brake” on reopening. The vast majority of Californians — about 94%, in 41 of 58 counties — live in a purple tier county.

Santa Cruz County’s 14-day case rate hit a record high Wednesday, an analysis of state data shows, with an average of 44 cases reported daily over the prior two weeks. Before November, the county’s 14-day average had never exceeded 30 cases per day.

A total of 3,685 COVID-19 cases and 27 deaths have been reported within Santa Cruz County since the start of the pandemic in March, according local health officials’ online tracker. More than 1,050,000 cases, and 18,466 deaths, have been reported statewide.

A combination of factors — colder weather, recent mass gatherings, more socializing indoors, and increased travel — are likely driving California’s recent surge, according to Ghaly.

“We’ve had some things to celebrate, some things to protest, coming together in ways that we don’t usually do — all of those things create opportunities for the virus to spread,” he said.

Follow Nick Ibarra on: Twitter. Ibarra has a track record of reporting that has shone light into almost every corner of Santa Cruz County. Raised in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he came to journalism from...