As coronavirus spreads, 7 San Francisco Bay Area counties ordered to shelter in place

Los Angeles Times

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Seven counties in the greater San Francisco Bay Area will be placed under a shelter-in-place directive by public health officials in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a move that will close virtually all businesses and direct residents to remain at home for the next three weeks.

San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals said he believed that the order, announced in a pair of news conferences Monday afternoon, put six counties — San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda — on perhaps the nation’s most restrictive public health footing since the outbreak of the potentially deadly coronavirus.

Later in the day, Santa Cruz County issued a similar order, bringing the total counties affected to seven.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said that, effective at midnight Pacific time, city residents would be required to stay at home “except for essential needs” and that all but essential businesses and public services would be asked to closed, starting at midnight Monday. The order will remain in place through April 7.

“Many people are calling this the new normal,” Breed said. “It’s the new normal, temporarily, in an effort to protect public health.”

“These measures will be disruptive to day-to-day life,” she added. “But there is no need to panic.”

Only police and fire departments, hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations, banks and pharmacies and restaurants serving take-out and delivery customers will be allowed to remain open under the shelter-in-place order, officials said. Residents will be able to go to grocery stores and other essential services, but Goethals urged residents not to rush, adding that stores will remain fully stocked.

In addition, San Francisco announced Monday it will eliminate cable car and historic streetcar services on the E and F lines that run down Market Street and along the Embarcadero. That’s being done to protect the health of their drivers; on other buses and light rail vehicles, drivers can utilize a partition that separates them from the rest of vehicle.

The orders further escalate the economic damage caused by COVID-19, this time hitting the nation’s tech capital and a region that is home to nearly 7 million people. But many health expects say extreme measures are needed to prevent the virus from spreading further and overwhelming hospitals and the health care system.

The San Francisco Bay Area is the region hit hardest by coronavirus in the state. As of Monday afternoon, more than 280 cases had been reported in the six Bay Area counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara, with more than 130 in Santa Clara County. Of the seven deaths reported in California, three have been in the Bay Area —two in Santa Clara and one in San Mateo.

Monday’s orders came from public health officials in the seven counties and from the city of Berkeley.

“Staying home is the best thing that we can do right now,” said Goethals. He said the communities are trying to “flatten the curve” —reduce the speed of the contagion so that there is not a sudden jump in cases that overwhelms hospitals.

Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s health officer, emphasized that there would be some give in the stay-at-home directive.

“You will still be able to walk your dog, or go on a hike alone or someone you live with” or with another person, as long as you keep 6 feet away from one another, Colfax said. He also said that restaurants will remain open for takeout and delivery. And residents will be allowed out to get food and to care for relatives, he said.

“Together we will get through this,” Colfax said.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said police are asking the public to voluntarily comply. While violation of the health order could be enforceable as a misdemeanor, “that is an absolute last resort,” Scott said. “This is not about a criminal justice approach to a public health issue.

“We are asking for voluntarily compliance.”

San Francisco is also suspending enforcement of certain parking rules, such as late fees for failure to pay parking tickets, and suspending peak hour tow-aways and a parking longer than 72 hours on a curbside parking. But rules for street cleaning tickets, blocking of bike lanes, double parking, and parking in transit only lanes and parking meters will be enforced.

Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s public health officer, said that customers will be expected to maintain “social distancing” —even in lines at markets.

Some Bay Area residents were taken aback by the news Monday.

“I am surprised because I feel like I am staying 6 feet away from people and hand sanitizing, and it just seems a little extreme at this point,” said Dr. Nicola Longmuir, 66, a largely retired addiction physician who lives in Contra Costa County and works part time.

“But it definitely makes my life easier because I was going to draft an email to my work saying, ‘I am not coming in.’ Now I can honestly say I can’t come in.”

Edward Collins, 71, a retired police officer who lives in Pacheco, had a different reaction. He called the coming order “a tempest in a teapot.”

“I don’t know how we can stop the virus anyway, how we can slow it down,” he said. “To me this is just a big inconvenience over something that is not much more than a cold.”

In Menlo Park, Israel Torres, a checker at Safeway, seemed both calm and frustrated by the pending announcement.

He said the store, which is open 24 hours a day, was closed Sunday at 10 p.m. and reopened at 6 a.m. That was a first.

“Things have been crazy. They decided they had to close the doors. There’s nothing on the shelves and people were getting angry,” he said.

He wasn’t wearing gloves or a mask. He said management hadn’t supplied workers with these items. He happily accepted a small bottle of hand sanitizer from a customer.

“We’ll have food here. I’m not worried about that,” he said. “The problem is how people are reacting. They’re taking everything.”

Katherine Trent, 28, a Lafayette resident who does public relations for a dentist, welcomed the action.

“Personally I think I would have been more comfortable if it had happened sooner,” she said. “I think we are a little bit behind. I know it’s going to be tough for everyone to stay at home, but it is necessary.”

Scott Santos, 56, an insurance broker in the upscale East Bay community of Walnut Creek, praised the shelter-in-place advisory as a wise preventive measure that might have collateral benefits.

“I see a lot of panic in people’s eyes, but I also see lot of cooperation,” Santos said, “and people willing to help each other. On Nextdoor” —the social networking service —”I saw a lot of people stepping up and offering to do store runs for elderly people and people looking out for each other.”

“So I think it’s just what our country needs,” he went on. “I don’t mean that we need to be sick. But our country needs something like this to come together and heal. It will help us heal.”