Sheltering in Place: What You Need to Know

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

Updated March 27.

Just days after nine Bay Area counties instructed residents to shelter at home, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide shelter-in-place order on Thursday, March 19, to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

"There is a moment when we need to make tough decisions," said Newsom.

Residents throughout the state are directed to stay at home and leave only for essential activities. The governor did not specify how long the order would last.

The statewide shelter-in-place order broadly mirrors local directives that began rolling out on March 16 in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma counties, as well as elsewhere around the state. The Bay Area orders are currently in place until April 7.

“We know we need a regional approach,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s public health officer, at a joint March 16 press conference with representatives from several counties. “We must all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure our essential services remain intact and open.”

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
  • Care for a family member or pet in another household

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.

Essential infrastructure and governmental functions include:

  • Health care operations
  • Airports, roads, public transit
  • Water, sewer, gas,  garbage collection services
  • First responders and law enforcement
  • Telecommunications, including cellphone and internet services
  • Construction, including to help house people experiencing homelessness

Public transit like BART and bus lines are open and running, but on reduced schedules — check 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 and serve food, but only for delivery or carry 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 certain conditions
  • Residential facilities and shelters for seniors, adults, and children, as well as hotels and motels
  • Home-based care for seniors, adults or children

All other businesses not deemed essential have been instructed to shut down.

For a complete list, 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 walk your dog, hike or ride a bicycle for exercise — as long as you maintain six 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 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, said 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. County officials have provided additional safety requirements for child care centers:

  • 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, health officials say that, right now, it’s best not to take children there.

“While we encourage use of parks, we strongly discourage the use of playgrounds because they include high-touch surfaces and because it is typically not possible to maintain social distancing at playgrounds,” advises the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

In fact, many playgrounds across the Bay Area have been closed in the interest of public health.

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.

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

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