SAN FRANCISCO—The usual morning bumper to bumper traffic disappeared from freeways and streets. Previously congested bridges are empty. Cities are significantly quieter and emptier, resembling ghost towns.
On Monday, seven Bay Area health officials ordered shelter in place in six counties. People are required to stay home and should only go out when it is essential to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.
The order (PDF) went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on March 17, and goes through April 7, 2020. For three weeks, people living in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties, including the City of Berkeley, should only go out for essential needs and travels.
Essential businesses like healthcare, grocery stores, gas stations, banks, laundromats, post offices, and the media can continue to operate.
“Sheltering in place is a core strategy,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, public health officer of the City & County of San Francisco. “By staying home, you reduce your risk of becoming exposed, which means that we reduce the risk of transmission, we reduce the risk of illness and severe disease, we reduce the demands on our healthcare system, and thereby we improve the health and social impacts in the long term.”
The homeless are exempt from the order, but are encouraged to seek shelter.
“These measures will be disruptive to day to day life, but there is no need to panic,” said San Francisco mayor London Breed at the press conference on March 16. “Essential government services like our police, our fire, our transit, and sanitation will continue. So your garbage will be picked up, police officers will be out there on the front line.”
Restaurants that offer food delivery service can remain open, as well as other businesses that supply and support those essential businesses, allowing them to function.
“We’re going to use some non-traditional approaches as well,” said Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose at the San Jose press conference. “We’ll certainly rely on private sector players. We’ve reached out to DoorDash, and others and we’re going to do this the Silicon Valley way. And we’re going to do this in a way that integrates everyone working together to ensure that none of our residents is left behind.”
Non-essential businesses like bars and gyms will be closed.
“It’s important to remember that social distancing and sheltering at home does not mean disconnection. You can get your medicine from your pharmacy. You can still visit your doctor if you have an urgent medical need. You can even take your dog for a walk,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County public health officer. “Let’s be innovative and stay connected with our neighbors, our friends, and our vulnerable elders through calls, texts, and online communication.”
In shared spaces or outside, people are asked to stay at least six feet away from each other, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer, and not shake hands.
“If you have symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath, or any of those symptoms of getting a viral infection…you must stay home,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara county public health officer. “Especially if you are an essential worker, you must stay home and self-isolate, and not spread.”
Dr. Cody said it isn’t possible for everyone with symptoms to test as of now, but the testing capacity is expanding each day.
Transportation like BART, a transit line in the Bay Area, still has regular service during shelter in place, but it has seen a significant drop in riders.
According to BART, “BART ridership for Monday, March 16, 2020 was 118,572 representing a 70% drop compared to an average Monday in February 2020.”
Major tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Intel, and Cisco were among the first in the Bay Area to ask employees to work from home.
David Wong is a technician at a high tech company in Santa Clara. “I am working (on a volunteer basis); I feel safe to do so. I have to be extra vigilant watching what I touch and how close I stand next to someone when meeting them.” said Wong.
Mike Kushner works in outsourced IT support at BACS Consulting Group in Mountain View. All the company’s employees are working from home. When asked how he deals with the current situation, Kushner explained he had to wait for 30 minutes in a self checkout line at the store yesterday. “The line was down the whole isle and around. Really frustrating to buy milk, butter and eggs. Also, almost completely sold out of eggs. Got the last dozen.”
“Otherwise, staying home as much as possible,” said Kushner. “But kids are bored out of their minds.”
Diane, a nurse in the Bay Area, says she would like people to not wear gloves in the grocery store.
“That’s just contaminating other people and other things. Yes, they may be protecting themselves, but they’re making it even worse for other people. And they’re not even washing their hands,” says Diane.
She is also a bit disappointed that she can’t run certain errands she wants. “And now that my husband is at home…sometimes, he drives me even more crazy,” she jokes.
It’s not bad news for everyone, some can view it in a good light.
“I like working from home, being around with my dog and my wife,” says John, who works at a non-profit in the Bay Area. “You don’t have to be at work, and you get to spend more time with your family. And that’s the best I can really see it. For it to be positive.”
David Lam and Steve Ispas contributed to this report.