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The Bay’s “Shelter in Place” Order: What Does it Mean?

All non-essential gatherings and travel banned through April 7th
By - posted 3/16/2020 No Comment

On Monday afternoon, six Bay Area counties (plus Berkeley) announced a 3-week “Shelter in Place” order on March 16th effective 12:01am on Tuesday.

Yes, you can still go outside if you need fresh air. Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, running, taking a pet outside to go to the bathroom is allowed, as long as at least six feet of social distancing is maintained.

Please note this is an evolving news story and updates will be provided shortly as more information becomes available.

Currently this order is “voluntary” – although it technically it would be a misdemeanor, the but the police department is not (currently) interested in arresting anyone.

So what does the “Shelter in Place” order actually mean?

Thanks to the San Francisco Chronicle for providing a great list of questions about the order.

Which Counties are Affected

San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Santa Clara Counties are all participating along with the City of Berkeley. Sonoma, Solano and Napa have not been included during the initial order.

When Does this Start? How Long Does it last?

The Shelter in Place order is effective for three weeks starting 12:01am on Tuesday, March 17. 

The public health order is intended to be in place until April 7, 2020, but may be extended or reduced.  

What’s Closed? What’s Open

  • Bars, nightclubs, gyms must shut down
  • Restaurants & coffee shops open for take-out / delivery only (no dine-in)
  • Hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations, banks and pharmacies will remain open.
  • “Routine medical appointments” and elective procedures should be canceled or rescheduled.
  • Daycare centers and veterinarians will remain open with some restrictions
  • Laundry services remain open
  • All non-essential gatherings of any size are now banned.

Can I Still Go Outside?

Yes, you can still leave your homes to handle essential business in limited circumstances — like buying groceries or picking up medicine — and to get fresh air. But when people do need to leave their homes, health officials are requiring they maintain at least six feet from other people. Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, running, taking a pet outside is allowed – just maintain 6-foot distance from others.

Will I Get Arrested For Violating the Order?

It’s highly unlikely (for now). The police department has stated that although technically violating the order would be a misdemeanor that they are considering this order to be voluntary and just want to educate the public.

What About Public Transportation?

  • Airports, taxis and public transit (including Muni and BART) will remain operational but only for essential travel and where it’s possible to maintain 6-feet apart.
  • Non-essential travel “on foot, bicycle, scooter, automobile or public transit” is prohibited.
  • People may travel for shopping for necessary supplies, accessing health care, and providing aid to family and friends who need assistance, and for non-residents, returning to their home outside the Bay Area.

San Francisco Issues New Public Health Order Requiring Residents Stay At Home Except For Essential Needs

Essential government services to remain open, such as transit, police, fire, and healthcare services, as well as essential stores like grocery markets, pharmacies, banks, and gas stations.

Restaurants limited to take-out and delivery only; bars, gyms, and non-essential stores to close

Mayor London N. Breed today (3/16)  announced that the Health Officer of the City and County of San Francisco has issued a Public Health Order requiring that residents remain in place, with the only exception being for essential needs. This measure is necessary to slow the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community. The Order is effective as of midnight on Tuesday, March 17th and is effective until April 7th, 2020, or until it is extended.

“We know these measures will significantly disrupt people’s day to day lives, but they are absolutely necessary,” said Mayor Breed. “This is going to be a defining moment for our City and we all have a responsibility to do our part to protect our neighbors and slow the spread of this virus by staying at home unless it is absolutely essential to go outside. I want to encourage everyone to remain calm and emphasize that all essential needs will continue to be met. San Francisco has overcome big challenges before and we will do it again, together.”

The Order directs all residents to remain at their place of residence, except to conduct Essential Activities, Essential Businesses, and Essential Government Functions (defined below). When conducting an allowed activity, people must maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing from everyone other than household members.

  • All businesses, other than Essential Businesses and Essential Government Functions, are required to cease all operations.
  • All public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single family or living unit are prohibited, except for the exemptions listed below.
  • All travel, including but not limited to walking, biking, driving, or taking public transit is prohibited, except to perform Essential Activities, operate Essential Businesses, or to maintain Essential Government Functions.

Individuals may go on a walk, get exercise, or take a pet outside to go to the bathroom, as long as at least six feet of social distancing is maintained. People riding on public transit must maintain at least six feet of social distancing from other passengers.

Homeless individuals are not subject to the shelter in place order but are encouraged to seek shelter, and the City will be working with the State, following up on the Governor’s announcement yesterday, to maximize available resources for the homeless population.

Essential Activities (exemptions to the shelter in place order) include:

  • Tasks essential to maintain health and safety, such as obtaining medicine or seeing a doctor;
  • Getting necessary services or supplies for themselves or their family or household members, such as getting food and supplies, pet food, and getting supplies necessary for staying at home;
  • Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, or running is allowed – provided that you maintain at least six feet of social distancing;
    Performing work providing essential services at an Essential Business or Essential Government function (defined below);
  • Caring for a family member in another household;
  • Caring for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.

Exemptions. Individuals may leave their place of residence to:

1) Operate an Essential Business, which includes:

  • Healthcare operations, including home health workers;
  • Essential Infrastructure, including construction of housing and operation of public transportation and utilities;
  • Grocery stores, farmers’ markets, food banks, convenience stores;
  • Businesses that provide necessities of life for economically disadvantaged individuals and shelter facilities;
  • Pharmacies, health care supply stores, and health care facilities;
  • Gas stations and auto repair facilities;
  • Banks;
  • Garbage collection;
  • Hardware stores, plumbers, electricians, and other service providers necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences and other essential businesses;
  • Educational institutions, for the purposes of facilitating distance learning;
  • Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers;
  • Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, and goods directly to residences;
  • Childcare facilities providing services that enable essential employees to go to work;
  • Roles required for any Essential Business to “maintain basic operations,” which include security, payroll, and similar activities.

2) Perform an Essential Government Function:

  • This includes all services needed to ensure the continuing operation of the government agencies and provide for the health, safety and welfare of the public.

“As the coronavirus situation continues to change rapidly in our city and region, I want to make sure that all San Franciscans understand that we are entering a new phase in our response. Our response has been grounded in data, science, and facts,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of Health. “Based on what we can predict, now is the time to do everything we can to prevent the situation from getting much worse in a matter of days or weeks. Every hour counts. We need and appreciate the cooperation of everyone who lives and works in San Francisco—and across the Bay Area—to act immediately.”


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