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Sheltering in Place: What You Need to Know

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A mostly vacant pedestrian walkway on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, on March 13, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

This post is no longer being updated. Read more about how counties are loosening shelter-in-place restrictions here and find our latest coronavirus coverage here.

Updated May 4 at 4 p.m.

Regional shelter-in-place orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus have been extended through May 31, according to an announcement from seven public health jurisdictions. This order applies to the six Bay Area counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, as well as the City of Berkeley, an independent public health jurisdiction.

California has been under shelter-in-place orders since March 19, when Gov. Gavin Newsom directed all residents to stay at home and leave only for essential activities in an aggressive bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. The statewide order does not currently have an end date.

Just days before the statewide order was issued, the same six Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley were already leading the charge with regional shelter-in-place directives that rolled out March 16. They've also taken the lead in defining and clarifying what makes effective social distancing.

The latest order, which takes effect May 4 in the six counties, acknowledges that progress has been made in slowing the spread of coronavirus and therefore eases some restrictions on "a limited set of additional activities and ... a limited set of additional businesses associated with the lower risk of COVID-19 transmission."

Namely, businesses that are primarily conducted outdoors will be allowed to reopen and outdoor activities that don't involve shared equipment or physical contact can resume. The order also allows summer camps to operate, under certain conditions.

On May 4, Newsom announced that much of California's retail sector could resume business starting May 8, but with major modifications. The latest state order will allow for the reopening of scores of nonessential businesses — including clothing stores, bookstores, florists, as well as related manufacturing and supply chains — that are able to offer curbside pickup service.

"This is a very positive sign," Newsom said, who noted that the decision was based on encouraging statewide data trends.

The upcoming order also gives individual counties greater leeway to open more services if they can demonstrate the capacity to do so safely, Newsom said. But counties can also choose to maintain current restrictions, as some in the Bay Area are likely to do. Residents should abide by whichever order is more strict, whether it be state or local.

Here is a quick guide to what you need to know about sheltering at home:

What is considered an essential activity?

You can leave your residence to do the following things:

    • Buy food, groceries or supplies
    • Obtain medical care
    • Work at a business that’s deemed essential
    • Maintain an essential governmental function or essential infrastructure
    • Care for a family member or pet in another household who has no other source of care

It's also OK to engage in outdoor activities, such as walking your dog or going for a run, as long as you stay at least 6 feet away from other people. And while you’re allowed to go hiking or visit parks, read this first.

Many outdoor facilities like basketball courts and enclosed dog parks have been ordered to close. Effective May 4, some outdoor activities like golf courses, skate parks, and athletic fields will be allowed to reopen, as long as they comply with social distancing and public health protocols.

Essential infrastructure and governmental functions include:

  • Health care operations
  • Airports, roads, public transit
  • Water, sewer, gas and garbage collection services
  • First responders and law enforcement
  • Telecommunications, including cellphone and internet services
  • Construction, but only to help keep people housed or for health care projects directly related to addressing the pandemic. Effective May 4, construction projects may resume if they comply with safety protocols as laid out for large projects and small projects.

Public transit, like BART and bus lines, is open and running, but on reduced schedules — check 511.org for the latest service updates. People should only use transit if they’re engaging in activities or work deemed essential.

Essential businesses include:

  • Hospitals, health care operations, pharmacies
  • Grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks
  • Agriculture and food cultivation
  • Restaurants and other facilities that prepare food, but only for delivery or take-out
  • Airlines, taxis and ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber
  • Gas stations
  • Banks
  • News media
  • Hardware stores, car mechanics, laundromats
  • Services required for the essential operation of a home, including plumbers, electricians and exterminators
  • Mailing, shipping and delivery services
  • Legal and accounting services
  • Schools and colleges, as long as instruction is done remotely
  • Child care facilities, under special health and safety protocols
  • Residential facilities and shelters for seniors, adults, and children, as well as hotels and motels
  • Home-based care for seniors, adults or children
  • Effective May 4, businesses primarily operated outdoors, such as plant nurseries or landscaping services, can reopen. Defined as "outdoor businesses" in the order, they do not include outdoor restaurants or bars.
  • Effective May 8, Newsom said California's retail sector can resume business if they can offer a curbside pickup service. But counties can choose to continue to prohibit this, as some in the Bay Area are likely to do.

All businesses not deemed essential must shut down their facilities and only allow workers on site to perform "minimum basic operations" like ensuring that the building or inventory is secured. Otherwise, if employees can do their jobs from home, they can continue working.

Businesses that are considered essential should still maximize the number of employees who can work from home. For a complete list of essential businesses, read the state public health officer's list of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers.

Can I go hiking? What about seeing friends?

  • Yes, you can engage in outdoor activities for your mental and physical health, so it's OK to hike or ride a bicycle for exercise, as long as you maintain 6 feet of distance from all other people. However, a recent flood of visitors at popular beaches and parks has prompted officials to shut down several recreation areas. Health officials are now advising people to stay local in their outdoor activities, while many state parks have closed their parking lots to discourage people from crowding the parks. Check out our running list of park closures.
  • Gatherings of any size outside of homes and residences are prohibited, except if they’re for essential functions.
  • And no dinner parties are allowed either: People from different households or living units should not gather, unless they’re conducting essential business.

More Coverage

What if my employer asks me to work, even though my work is not considered essential?

Under the current order, only people who work in or support "critical infrastructure sectors" should leave their homes to go to work. If your job doesn't fall into one of the critical sectors, you are not permitted to go to work, and your employer is not permitted to require you to work.

Workers are allowed to work from home, assuming their jobs can be done remotely.

Many cities and counties are still figuring out how to handle complaints about non-essential businesses that aren't shutting down. Santa Clara County, one of the worst hit so far by the virus, has set up a hotline for reporting complaints. You can also contact the local mayor's office or county sheriff's department.

If you've been laid off, check out the state's list of resources for workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic or read about how to file for unemployment and disability benefits.

How should parents manage children's education while schools are closed?

First, take a step back and realize that this isn't going to be school as usual, says Denise Clark Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education.

“This is not going to be 8 a.m. to 3 p.m,” Pope said. “In the grand scheme, you might want to think about it in terms of playtime, downtime, and family time.”

In that spirit, crowdsourced resources like this Giant List of Ideas for Being Home with Kids can be helpful. The California Department of Education has guidance and examples for online learning on their site, and many local school districts are starting to post lesson plans on their websites.

We’ve collected other tips for distance learning here, including advice on how to talk to kids about the current public health crisis and ways in which KQED’s television programming can help families.

Can my nanny continue to work? What kind of child care is allowed?

Nannies and babysitters caring for a child in the child’s own home can continue working, if they're supporting a worker in an essential sector.

Daycares are allowed to stay open, but only for children of parents working in essential sectors. Effective May 4, the latest order issued by the counties allows schools, educational programs and summer camps to reopen.

All child care programs must operate under the following safety requirements:

  • Children must be in groups of 12 or fewer, and the same children must be in the same group every day
  • If more than one group of children is cared for at one facility, each group must be in a separate room. Groups cannot mix with each other.
  • Childcare providers must also remain with the same group of children — they cannot rotate between groups.

As for playgrounds, six Bay Area counties have ordered them to be closed off because of their many "high touch" surfaces and the difficulty of maintaining social distancing while using play structures.

Even if your county hasn't shut down local playgrounds, health officials say that, right now, it’s best not to take children there.

Does house cleaning fall under the essential business category?

House cleaning services are allowed to continue operating if their services are “necessary for health and sanitation,” according to the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health.

The statewide order is less clear, but it states that "workers ... and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences" can continue working.


Do I have to worry about filing my income tax returns on time?

Both California state and federal tax deadlines have been extended by 90 days — until July 15.

If you're a small business owner, you may be able to take advantage of a one-year deferral period for paying sales and use taxes. Check out our guide to economic assistance and relief measures for small businesses.

A few other things you should know:

  • All non-essential travel during this time should be canceled.
  • The order does not apply to people experiencing homelessness, although they are strongly urged to seek shelter.

What if I don’t heed the shelter-in-place order?

According to state law, it’s a potential misdemeanor to disregard public health orders issued during an emergency like the threat from COVID-19.

But San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said that officers will be looking to educate people, not to make arrests.

“Yes, by law, enforcement is an option, but that is not our desire,” he said. “We intend to adhere to the spirit of what this is all about, in keeping people safe.”

If enforced, a misdemeanor charge carries a fine of $50-$1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.

KQED's Adhiti Bandlamudi, Dan Brekke, Alex Emslie, Marnette Federis, Sam Harnett, Julia and Michelle Wiley contributed to this story.

Are you concerned about the coronavirus? Share your questions with us below or email us at talk@kqed.org to include photos, screenshots, video or a voice memo.


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