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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.

Neighboring Santa Cruz and San Benito counties followed suit, announcing similar orders on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

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

On Monday, March 16, all Santa Clara County schools began a three-week shutdown.

Gilroy fatality

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 on March 15 announced two more deaths from COVID-19, then announced another death on March 17, bringing the total number of deaths in the county to five. A man in his 80s was hospitalized on March 7 and died on March 15. A man in his 50s was hospitalized on March 12 and died on March 15. A man in his 50s who had been hospitalized on March 9 died on March 17.

On Monday, March 16, the Gilroy city council affirmed a local emergency proclamation to prepare for the growing spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community. The proclamation is in effect through April 5.

Gilroy City Hall is closed until that date, and most city services are suspended.

Except for City Council meetings, all board and commission meetings are canceled.

All recreation programs including adaptive, adult, preschool, sports and youth programs have been canceled. All senior programs are canceled. Box lunches and the Second Harvest Food Bank Brown Bag will continue to be provided. All special event permits are canceled.

Newsom, Trump

The original six-county order was announced one day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged all seniors over 65 years of age to “self-isolate” for an indefinite period, and at the same time 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.

Brewpubs, wineries

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.

Violation is misdemeanor

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 counties’ order directs “all individuals living in the county to shelter at their place of residence except that they may leave to provide or receive certain essential services or engage in essential activities and work for essential businesses and governmental services,” and directs directs all businesses and government agencies “to cease non-essential operations at physical locations in the county” and prohibits “all non-essential gatherings of any number of individuals and ordering cessation of all non-essential travel.”

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.”

Social distancing

“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.”


Essential businesses whose employees may be exempt from the “stay at home” order are:

  • Healthcare operations and essential Infrastructure
  • Grocery stores, certified farmers’ markets, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, food banks, convenience stores and other establishments engaged in the retail sale of canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pet supply, fresh meats, fish and poultry and any other household consumer products (such as cleaning and  personal care products). This includes stores that sell groceries and also sell other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences
  • Food cultivation, including farming, livestock, and fishing
  • Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals
  • Newspapers, television, radio and other media services
  • Gas stations and auto-supply, auto-repair and related facilities
  • Banks and related financial institutions
  • Hardware stores
  • Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation and essential operation of residences

Essential Activities, and Essential Businesses

  • Businesses providing mailing and shipping services, including post office boxes
  • Educational institutions-including public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities-for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing essential functions, provided that social distancing of six-feet per person is maintained to the greatest extent possible
  • Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers
  • Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery or carry out. Schools and other entities that typically provide free food services to students or members of the public may continue to do so under this order on the condition that the food is provided to students or members of the public on a pick-up and take-away basis only. Schools and other entities that provide food services under this exemption shall not permit the food to be eaten at the site where it is provided, or at any other gathering site;
  • Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home
  • Businesses that supply other essential businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate
  • Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences
  • Airlines, taxis, and other private transportation providers providing transportation services necessary for Essential Activities and other purposes expressly authorized in this order
  • Home-based care for seniors, adults, or children
  • Residential facilities and shelters for seniors, adults, and children
  • Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities
  • Childcare facilities providing services that enable employees exempted in this Order to work as permitted. To the extent possible, childcare facilities must operate under the following mandatory conditions. Childcare must be carried out in stable groups of 12 or fewer (“stable” means that the same 12 or fewer children are in the same group each day). Children shall not change from one group to another. If more than one group of children is cared for at one facility, each group shall be separate. Groups shall not mix with each other. Childcare providers shall remain solely with one group of children.

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