Officials in six Bay Area counties are about to institute the strictest measures seen yet in the U.S. in an effort to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus infection in the region. The “shelter in place” order requires all residents in those counties to stay in their homes and away from others as much as possible for the next three weeks and it calls for the sheriff or chief of police to “ensure compliance.”
From San Fransisco Chronicle:
The directive begins at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and involves San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda counties — a combined population of more than 6.7 million. It is to stay in place until at least April 7. Three other Bay Area counties — Sonoma, Solano and Napa — were not immediately included.
Maybe the most alarming thing about these new restrictions is that they are the first to explicitly direct people to stay indoors as much as possible and the first to outright ban non-essential gatherings of any size. Homeless people are exempt from the order but are being encouraged to find shelter, according to SF Chronicle. (Yes, you read that right: “encouraged to find” not “provided with.”)
“The scientific evidence shows that at this stage of the (coronavirus) emergency, it is essential to slow virus transmission as much as possible to protect the most vulnerable and to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed,” the order states. “One proven way to slow the transmission is to limit interactions among people to the greatest extent practicable.”
Non-essential travel “on foot, bicycle, scooter, automobile or public transit” has also been banned in the six counties, but people are still allowed to travel as long as they are shopping for essentials, accessing healthcare or providing aid to family and other close acquaintances who need it. Non-residents who are returning home from the area are also still free to travel as airports, taxis, and other public transit such as BART will remain in service.
While residents are still given space to take care of their health, be it through travel to seek medical assistance or being outside for walks and other exercise (as long as they keep six feet away from anyone they don’t already live with), the order calls for all elective procedures as well as “routine medical appointments” to be canceled or rescheduled.
“To the extent possible, all health care visits that are not canceled or rescheduled should be done remotely,” the order states.
The order also greatly affects the workforce in those six Bay Area counties. People who are able to work from home are required to do so and those who don’t are being told to stop working unless they provide an essential service such as police, firefighters, EMTs and other emergency responders. Plumbers, electricians, sanitation workers and other utility providers are also free to work.
People who work in grocery stores, pharmacies, auto repair, gas stations, home supply shops, banks, veterinary services and laundry services will also be able to go to work as all of those establishments and places of business may remain open. Restaurants are also allowed to keep their open but only for takeout orders. While there are no restrictions on how many people establishments may have inside, any businesses that remain open are being asked to keep staff and customers six feet apart from each other even when standing in line to check out. Daycare centers may also stay open but it is required that children be kept in groups no larger than 12 and they must stay with the same group of children every day. (Wow.)
Announcements of the new restrictions came just one day after Gov. Gavin Newsom advised that all bars in the state be closed and that restaurants reduce capacity.
Since the outbreak began, the Bay Area has had a reported 251 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection. What’s scarier is that more than half of those cases came just in the last four days. Making matters worse, a shortfall of testing resources, which is a nationwide problem, meaning there may be hundreds or even thousands of infected people who are going undiagnosed.