Just how dystopian is the coronavirus crisis going to get?
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Tuesday that martial law isn’t off the table as the Golden State cracks down on the spread of COVID-19. “We have the ability to do martial law…if we feel the necessity,” the Democrat governor said, according to Fox News.
Martial law in America?
At a press conference Tuesday, Newsom gave a blunt assessment of the challenges facing his state and the rather extreme responses they may require. He warned that the state could fall short as many as 20,000 hospital beds and could run out of money to respond to the crisis as COVID-19 threatens to crush California’s hospital system, Fox reported.
In the meantime, the state is working with hotels to free up as much space as possible for patients and the homeless, and they have already made two vacant hospitals available, Newsom noted. California is also mobilizing the National Guard to prepare for the worst-case scenario — including, apparently, a breakdown in public order extreme enough to require martial law.
“If you want to establish a framework of martial law, which is ultimate authority and enforcement, we have the capacity to do that, but we are not feeling at this moment that is a necessity,” Newsom said Tuesday, according to the U.K.’s Independent.
Under martial law, the ordinary law is suspended and the military takes control. Civil liberties may be suspended, like the right to free association, free movement, and freedom from unreasonable searches.
Martial law has been seldom imposed in American history; it was last established in Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attack. But while it seems improbable, the deadly coronavirus has already shattered many people’s expectations of just how much society can change in a short time.
California at the forefront of crackdowns
Indeed, Newsom, for his part, had written off the scenario only two days before, according to the Independent, showing how quickly the crisis is evolving. California has already taken drastic steps to control the movement of its people, including “shelter in place” orders in places like San Francisco, where seven million people have been asked to stay home.
The governor has also asked all bars and restaurants to close, and people older than 65 and those who have serious health problems are being asked to remain isolated in their houses. In another sign of how fast the crisis was developing, Newsom conceded Tuesday that schools in the Golden State will likely remain closed for the rest of year.
It came as southern California’s famously nightmarish traffic came to a surreal stop. The Interstate 405 was almost empty of cars Tuesday morning, the Los Angeles Times reported.
COVID-19 turns the world upside-down
While causing unprecedented disruptions, COVID-19 is also bringing about a rare show of bipartisan cooperation. Gov. Newsom is one of several liberal governors who have praised Donald Trump’s response to COVID-19, despite the two having feuded over sanctuary cities and the state’s homelessness crisis.
But the state’s homelessness crisis is just one problem that is waiting to get worse. Even before COVID-19 surfaced, the state had struggled to find a solution to take care of its homeless population of roughly 151,000, the largest of any state in the country. Filthy conditions in California’s homeless communities have spawned outbreaks of diseases like hepatitis before, Fox News notes.
Still, Brian Ferguson, spokesman for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, sought Wednesday to dampen the martial law talk, saying, according to a local Fox affiliate, “We don’t want this to be scary for people. This is a humanitarian mission to support health and safety.”