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What Does ’Shelter in Place’ Mean? Here’s What Life Is Like Under the Mandate

9 minute read
Updated: | Originally published:

COVID-19, which has killed more than 8,000 people as the disease sweeps across the world, has prompted cities and areas everywhere to take action, ordering quarantines and lockdowns in an effort to keep people indoors and curb the spread of the coronavirus.

On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a statewide “stay at home” order in an attempt to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in the state. The move, which asks all Californians to remain at home unless they have essential reason for going out, comes after officials in the Bay Area introduced some of the U.S.’s most stringent restrictions by announcing a “shelter-in-place” mandate on Monday. Since Tuesday, affected Bay Area residents have been required to stay inside and can go out only for necessities. For now, the mandate, which affects nearly 7 million people across six counties, will last for three weeks, until April 7.

“This is a critical intervention to reduce harm from the spread of the coronavirus in our community,” reads a guide to the mandate from the city of San Francisco. “This is a mandatory order.”

Residents in the counties of San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda have been ordered to shelter in place. Santa Cruz County is also under lockdown until April 7, and residents have been ordered to shelter in place. On Wednesday, public health officials in Colorado’s San Miguel County also ordered a shelter-in-place mandate, prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, among other rules.

One Bay Area resident says the mandate has been impactful because it forces people to actively monitor and change their behavior to keep others safe.

“We have to be mindful about giving people space,” Angela Hockabout, an Alameda County resident, tells TIME. “Everyone is trying to get used to it.”

Here’s what to know about sheltering in place, and what you can and cannot do.

What is shelter in place?

Essentially, sheltering in place means staying at home, the order from San Francisco’s Department of Public Health says. Nearly 300 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the Bay Area, as well as at least three deaths, according to the department.

“Widespread testing for COVID-19 is not yet available but is expected to increase in the coming days,” the mandate says. “This order is necessary to slow the rate of spread.”

People should stay in their homes unless they need to leave for “essential” activities and work. The mandate went into effect on March 17 and will continue until at least April 7.

The order details that violating the mandate is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment or both. The San Francisco Police Department tells TIME that actively enforcing the order to ensure people stay inside is a “last resort.”

“We want people to use common sense and to think about how their actions can put others at risk,” says Robert Rueca, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department. “Voluntary compliance is our goal and most of the city seems to be responding.”

On the East Coast, the concept of “shelter in place” has been the subject of debate between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. After de Blasio indicated on Tuesday that New Yorkers might soon be ordered to shelter in place, Cuomo argued against using that particular turn of phrase to describe the current situation.

Restrictions similar to those in the Bay Area have been enacted in New York — like requiring businesses to keep at least 75% of their workforces at home and closing restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other places where people gather in large numbers. But Cuomo said a phrase like “shelter in place” recalls rules from the Cold War era and could be frightening.

“‘Shelter in place’ is a scary term for people,” Cuomo said during a news conference on Thursday. “I believe communication is important, and I believe words are important. Say what you mean and don’t say what might alarm people.”

What does a shelter-in-place order prohibit?

In the Bay Area, the mandate prohibits going outside, with certain exceptions for different groups of people. Vulnerable people, which include the elderly, minors and people with disabilities, should not go out at all, according to the order. Anyone who is at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is also urged to stay inside.

People are barred from gathering outside the home. To that end, all restaurants, bars, cafes, nightclubs, gyms and recreation facilities have been ordered closed. Places that serve food can continue delivery and takeout services.

All travel is prohibited — including walking or biking places, taking a car, scooter, or motorcycle on the road, or using public transit — unless classified as “essential.” Anyone who has a job that is not considered “essential” should work from home.

Who is exempt from a shelter-in-place order?

The Bay Area mandate details several exemptions from the shelter in place order. People can leave their house for “essential activities,” which include getting medical supplies, going to the doctor or getting supplies needed to adequately work from home. They can also go out to get groceries.

People can also go out to run, walk or hike as long as they maintain the requirements of social distancing and stay at least six feet away from other individuals.

Those whose work is considered “essential” are also permitted to leave the house to continue their work. Essential businesses include health care facilities, grocery stores and other food markets, banks, media services, hardware stores, laundromats and delivery services, among others.

The homeless population across the Bay Area counties is not subject to the order, though it is not clear what those experiencing homelessness can do to properly shelter themselves. The local government has urged unhoused individuals to “find shelter” and told agencies to “take steps needed to provide shelter,” according to the order. More than 150,000 individuals are homeless in California. State Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that he would spend $150 million in an effort to protect the population — the money will be used in part to boost services for the homeless and to buy trailers and lease hotel rooms to house people.

What does life look like under a shelter-in-place mandate?

For Lindsey Parker, the co-CEO of the Dog Social Club Cooperative, a dog daycare and boarding center in Alameda County, the shelter in place mandate has changed everything about her day-to-day.

Parker is currently sheltering at the dog daycare facility, and using her office as a bedroom in order to continue taking care of the pets of frontline workers battling COVID-19, such as doctors and other healthcare professionals. At the moment, Parker is helping to care for at least 10 dogs along with a coworker and her coworker’s husband.

“It’s funny to wake up and walk downstairs to feed the dogs. There’s no going home and Netflix-ing,” Parker tells TIME as she plays fetch with a dog.

While the Dog Social Club is not itself an essential business, under the mandate, Parker can still provide services for workers whose jobs are considered essential.

“We want to be here to serve those people,” she says. “It’s a big resource to enable people to do their jobs well, and if we can support the greater problem in that way, that means a lot.”

At Angela Hockabout’s home in Alameda, Calif., the shelter in place mandate has a range of people staying in one house, including Hockabout, her husband, her 79-year-old mother-in-law and her two children, aged 10 and 8. Since being ordered to shelter in place, Hockabout says she’s noticed a personal transition.

“People should know there’s shock you experience when anything in your life changes overnight,” she says. “This is really scary, and I’ve been having panic attacks. It’s really real. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to feel your feelings.”

The mandate has clarified for Hockabout that people really do need to stay inside, and if they do go out, to adhere to the social distancing requirement of staying six feet apart from each other. While she’s glad the government has stepped in to stop people from going out in large groups, Hockabout says people need to do more. Her mother-in-law, for example, keeps running to answer the doorbell when people come by to drop off or pick up supplies — which is not ideal when older people have been told to protect themselves.

“I’m like, ‘lady, you should not answer the door,'” she says. “We need to prevent this contact as much as possible.”

Other Bay Area residents have practiced the mandate’s stipulations well before the government announced the order. Mary Jeanne Oliva, 70, and her husband, Stephen Estes, 69, who live in Santa Clara County, say they began self-isolating four days before the mandate was implemented. For Oliva, being alone has meant an increased use of social media.

“I’m an extrovert, and I miss hanging out with people,” she says. “I’m doing three times more on Facebook and the internet than I normally do.”

Estes, a senior systems analyst at Stanford University, has been working from home for basically all of March in an effort to be cautious. “We know we’re like, 70 years old, and susceptible,” he says.

For the couple, the main concern is the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Estes says he’s keeping an eye on their 401k and 403b savings accounts to see how they’re impacted by a decline in the stock market.

“The tradeoff between safety and economic recession is very tough,” he says. “The only thing I can see to help us through this is to get used to the fact that we live in a hazardous environment.”

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Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com