The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has already forced local governments across the US to start enacting swift and severe preventative measures. The San Francisco/Bay Area has just taken a page out of the WHO playbook and enacted the strictest policies in the US hoping to replicate the success containing the virus in Wuhan. Residents in six Bay Area counties are now living under a “shelter in place” policy.
What Does “Shelter in Place” Mean?
“Shelter in Place” encompasses a variety of policies that are similar to the full lock downs in place in Europe. The directive does not require complete isolation, however, everyone is being told to stay in their homes and away from others “as much as possible.” The directive includes the enforcement of these suggestions from local authorities. However, SF/Bay Area police departments have said they will not “rush to enforce” the policy so that residents can get adjusted.
In addition to the preventative home quarantining, business that are not deemed “essential” are required to close during this period. That means retail outlets and the like will be shut down, expanding on the closing of bars and nightclubs we saw over the weekend. What will be allowed to remain open are grocery stores, pharmacies and hardware stores. If they are not for supplies, they are considered non-essential.
Restaurants will be allowed to operate although they will not be allowed to serve food on their premises and must adhere to a delivery only policy. All workers except for those in health care, emergency services and utilities, will be required to work from home, if possible. If not, they will be facing a forced vacation that will be handled by their employers on a case-by-case basis.
Public transportation will still be operational, but only for essential travel, such as getting supplies or healthcare. The directive makes clear that non-essential travel “on foot, bicycle, scooter, automobile or public transit” is banned.
The SF/Bay Area legislature is wasting no time putting this policy in effect. As of 12:01AM on Tuesday, March 16th, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda counties will have their 6.7 million residents one step away from a full lock down until April 7th.
San Francisco Prepared to Fight the Economic Impact of COVID-19
In an effort to combat the potentially crippling economic impact this virus outbreak — and in turn, the “shelter in place” policy — could have on its citizens, SF mayor London Breed is designating $10 million for relief efforts. The city will also cover an additional five sick days for private sector employees based in SF.
In a statement, Breed emphasized that this decision was not only to help stifle the economic burden on SF citizens, but to help prevent community spread. She said, “Public health comes first in this crisis, but we know that many people have less flexibility to stay home and keep paying their rent if they do get sick … We want everyone to know that staying home to take care of themselves and their families is the most important thing they can do, not only for their own health but also to slow the spread of this virus in our community.”
The aid does come with some caveats. It is open for application from all SF businesses, however, it is geared towards small businesses with a staff of 50 or less. The aid will be distributed at an hourly rate of the local minimum wage, which is $15.59, and will cover up to 40 hours. The net difference between an employee’s actual wage and the government aid will need to be covered by the employer. The SF Chronicle further breaks down the requirements and policies surrounding the aid, as well as sources for the funds, in an in depth article.
Why Such Swift Action?
The SF/Bay Area local governments are combating the virus outbreak as best they can. Santa Clara County, the home of Silicon Valley, saw an additional 24 cases come to light overnight from Sunday to Monday, bringing the total to 138 cases. The Bay Area as a whole has 251 reported cases as of this publication.
Health Officer for Santa Clara County, Dr. Sara Cody, addressed the rapid growth at a press conference on Monday. She said, “We were seeing a tipping point here in Santa Clara County with exponential growth of our cases … Over the weekend, I had a discussion with fellow health officers in the Bay Area and we realized that we are one region, and that what’s happening in Santa Clara County today will soon be happening in the adjacent jurisdictions. We decided collectively we need to stake swift action as soon as possible to prevent further spread.”
All in all, while these preventative measures seem drastic, they are necessary. Perhaps not nationwide as of now, but certainly for the SF/Bay Area. We must be grateful that local jurisdictions are taking action and acting with leadership in these uncertain times.
It is also a good sign that local governments are addressing the issue as a whole, working to combat not only the spread of the virus, but the economic destruction it is leaving in its wake.