A 'Shelter In Place' Order Might Be The Next Step To Contain The Novel Coronavirus

  • The mayor of New York City is considering issuing a “shelter in place order” amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • This follows similar actions take in San Francisco and other Northern California counties.
  • It will require people to stay home for all but “essential” business, travel, or activities.

On Tuesday, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said in a news conference that he is considering issuing a “shelter in place” order for America’s biggest city, following the precedent set by San Francisco mayor London Breed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“New Yorkers should be prepared right now for the possibility of a shelter-in-place order,” de Blasio said, per NBC News. “The decision will be made in the next 48 hours.”

On Monday, Mayor Breed issued a shelter in place order for San Francisco, plus five counties in Northern California, including San Mateo, Alameda, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, and Marin. (Santa Cruz later issued its own similar order.)

Since New York is the largest city in the country, with more than 8.6 million residents, per the New York Times, this could pave the way for other cities to follow suit, so what does a shelter in place order actually mean? In practice, it’s not so different from the lockdowns in place in Italy, Spain, and France.

Here’s what a ‘shelter in place’ order looks like:

So far, San Francisco is setting the precedent for how this will be executed in the U.S. “The intent of this Order is to ensure that the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible, while enabling essential services to continue, to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the maximum extent possible,” San Francisco’s order reads. (The full text can be found here.)

It requires residents to stay home except for performing “essential activities,” “essential business” or “essential travel.” Outside their homes, people are required to stay at least six feet from any other person, similar to how Italians must stand one meter away from each other when they go outside.

“Essential activities” include things like grocery shopping, picking up medication, going to the doctor, caring for a person or pet in another household, going to work at an “Essential Business” and outdoor exercise like running or hiking.

“Essential Business” includes healthcare, grocery stores, media outlets, gas stations, and childcare. Basically, every business necessary to keep people safe and healthy, and keep the city up and running. The full list of businesses legally allowed to remain open can be found here.

“Essential Travel” is any movement related to “Essential Activities” or “Essential Business,” plus going to care for the elderly or otherwise dependent, travel required by the law, or tourists returning home and leaving the San Francisco area.

Restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, and other nonessential businesses are closed with the exception of restaurants open for takeout, so even if someone wanted to gallivant around the city, there’s nowhere, really, to go.

What happens if you break the ‘shelter in place’ order?

Technically, violation of the shelter-in-place order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.

In reality, there are doubts as to how this would be enforced: “There are so many exceptions to this quarantine, to think an officer is going to proactively stop people who are out, and go through a myriad of questions, is absolutely not realistic,” San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia told The Mercury News. “If anyone thinks someone is going to jail just based on this, that’s not happening. No one’s going to jail over this.”

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