Bay Area counties tell citizens to ‘stay at home’ because of COVID-19

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In what they called “a bold, unified step to slow the spread of COVID-19,” public health officials of six Bay Area counties on Monday ordered nearly all citizens to “ shelter at home” for three weeks.

The legal order, effective at 12:01am on Tuesday, March 17, limits all individual activity, travel and business functions to only the most essential needs, allowing an exemption for a range of business and services for communities totalling more than 7 million people.

Grocery stores, healthcare facilities, banks and farmers are among the exemptions listed in the order. Restaurants may only provide food on a take-out basis.

The announcement also capped a flurry of news breaking over the weekend and this week.

  • Monday, all Santa Clara County schools began a three-week shutdown. In neighboring San Benito County, schools began a one week closure, to be reevaluated at mid-week.
  • Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco announced Sunday that an 80-year-old Gilroy woman had become the second county fatality tied to COVID-19. County health officials had announced a second death March 13.
  • The Santa Clara Public Health Department Monday announced two more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths to four in the County. An adult man in his 80s was hospitalized on March 7 and died on March 15. An adult man in his 50s was hospitalized on March 12 and died on March 15.
  • Monday evening, Santa Cruz County joined its Bay Area neighbors with an identical three-week stay-at-home order. Also Monday evening, Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he would seek a similar order.
  • The original six-county order was announced one day after California Gov. Gavin Newson urged all seniors over 65 years of age, to “self-isolate” for an indefinite period, and at the same time that President Donald Trump was encouraging all U.S. citizens to avoid gathering in groups larger than 10 people, and avoid “discretionary travel, bars, restaurants and public food courts.” Trump warned the public to take these steps against “an invisible enemy,” and acknowledged that a recession was a possibility.

The announcements by the governor and the President were not mandatory, but communicated in the strongest terms.

  • Sunday evening, coronavirus questions topped the agenda of a Presidential debate between Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.
  • Also on Sunday, Newsom ordered the shutdown of California bars, nightclubs, brew pubs and wineries to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Newsom also said restaurants should reduce capacity by half and provide “deep social distancing.” Newsom said there should be no hospital visits, unless it was an “end of life” situation.

As of March 16, the state had confirmed 557 cases of the virus and recorded its seventh death. Also Monday, Newsom was expected to announce halting evictions in California related to workers laid off as a result of coronavirus sanctions. 

The order from the local public health officers comes “after substantial input from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and best practices from other health officials around the world,” the officers said in a joint statement. The public health officers of each county—Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo—plus the city of Berkeley, simultaneously issued orders in their jurisdictions Monday afternoon.

In a stunning escalation of the battle against the coronavirus in one of the nation’s hotspots for the pandemic, the health officers mean business: Failure to comply with any of the provisions of order constitutes an imminent threat to public health—a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.

The Bay Area’s combined confirmed number of cases is more than half of California’s case count. This does not account for the rapidly increasing number of assumed cases of “community transmission” occurring in Santa Clara County. As testing capacity increases, the number of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases is expected to increase markedly.

The intent of the counties’ order “is to ensure that the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible, while enabling essential services to continue, to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the maximum extent possible.”
“When people need to leave their places of residence, whether to obtain or perform vital services, or to otherwise facilitate authorized activities necessary for continuity of social and commercial life, they should at all times reasonably possible comply with social distancing requirements,” the order reads.

The “social distancing” requirements of the order states: “To the extent individuals are using shared or outdoor spaces, they must at all times as reasonably possible maintain social distancing of at least six feet from any other person when they are outside their residence.”

All persons may leave their residences only for “essential activities, essential governmental functions, or to operate essential businesses.”

Individuals experiencing homelessness are exempt from the order, “but are strongly urged to obtain shelter, and governmental and other entities are strongly urged to make such shelter available as soon as possible.”

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