How Are Curfews Helpful During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The outdoor patio at Rocco’s in West Hollywood, California, remains open a few hours before a COVID-19 curfew that closed LA County restaurants in November 2020. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local officials explored ways to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus without instituting long-term full lockdown measures. There were, of course, a few exceptions to that mindset in the U.S.

Notably, San Francisco, California, erred on the side of caution. On March 11, 2020, the city banned public gatherings of 1,000 people or more; two days later, gatherings of 100 or more people were banned; and by March 16, 2020, a shelter-in-place order, effective March 17 at midnight, was announced for six Bay Area counties. Although San Francisco never faced the kinds of COVID-19 surges places like New York and Seattle did during the spring and summer, the city remained cautious.

Over the summer, its phased reopening — first, non-essential medical services, outdoor dining and so on — started and stuttered several times. By the fall of 2020, San Franciscans could head to indoor salons and, with limited capacities and mask mandates in place, eating at restaurants became a possibility — but the holidays threw a wrench into things. To mitigate the risks associated with holiday shopping, travel and dining, the city reinstated a stay-at-home order, further limiting retail shopping.