SACRAMENTO — California is imposing an overnight curfew on most residents as the most populous state tries to head off a surge in coronavirus cases that it fears could tax the state's health care system, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday.

What officials are calling a limited stay-at-home order requires nonessential residents to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Saturday.

It affects counties with the most severe restrictions, 41 of the state's 58 counties that are in the "purple" tier under California's color-coded system for reopening the economy. That covers 94% of the state's nearly 40 million residents.

The move comes only days after the state imposed restrictions limiting business operations in those 41 counties, which have the most significant increases in virus cases.

"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.

The order will last one month, until Dec. 21, but could be extended if infection rates and disease trends don't improve.

While nonessential businesses must close by 10 p.m., restaurants will be permitted to offer takeout food and people can perform some routine activities like walking the dog, officials said. They will still be able to get medical care, pick up prescriptions and take care of other essential needs.

Officials said overnight movements are more likely to involve social activities that bring increased risk of infection, particularly if people drink and let down their guard on basic safety precautions like wearing masks and staying a safe distance apart.

It follows the state's more sweeping lockdown in the spring that affected all residents, day and night.

"We know from our stay at home order this spring, which flattened the curve in California, that reducing the movement and mixing of individuals dramatically decreases COVID-19 spread, hospitalizations, and deaths," California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a statement. "We may need to take more stringent actions if we are unable to flatten the curve quickly. Taking these hard, temporary actions now could help prevent future shutdowns."

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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