BREAKING: Santa Clara County announces ‘shelter in place’ order

Ryan Wisowaty and Allie Feitzinger

A “shelter in place” order will take effect 12:01 a.m. Tuesday for residents in Santa Clara County and surrounding Bay Area communities to help stop the spread of COVID-19, county and Bay Area officials announced at 1 p.m. today in a joint news conference.

The order will last for at least three weeks, officials said, and directs residents to stay indoors, cancel all non-essential travel and maintain social distance when outside. Travel for essential purposes, including to grocery stores, health care centers and to aid family members, will continue to be permitted.

According to the order, “violation or failure to comply with this Order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.”

Five additional counties in the Bay Area, and the City of Berkeley will enact similar orders, officials announced. The affected counties include: Santa Clara County, Marin County, Alameda County, San Francisco County, San Mateo County and Contra Costa County, in addition to the City of Berkeley.

The seven jurisdictions issued the order in response to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody cited 273 cases across the jurisdictions as of 5 p.m. Sunday, and acknowledged Santa Clara County to be the epicenter of the outbreak within the Bay Area. Statistics are currently limited, however, and are expected to expand once testing becomes more widely available. 

“We all must do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure our essential services remain intact and open,” Cody said.

The order prohibits social gatherings outside of households or living units, though it does contain specific language regarding exemptions.

According to the order, individuals are instructed only to leave the house for “essential activities.” These activities include those considered “essential to their health and safety, or to the health and safety of their family or household members” and those required for gathering “necessary supplies.” Individuals may also leave the house “to engage in outdoor activity,” “ to perform work providing essential products and services” or to provide care to family members of and pets in other households. 

The order urges compliance with “Social Distancing” procedures, ordering individuals to remain six feet apart, thoroughly and frequently engage in proper handwashing procedures, and observe proper hygiene techniques in social environments. 

Individuals experiencing homelessness are exempt from the “shelter in place” order, but are encouraged to seek shelter if possible.

The order further directs the closure of non-essential businesses beyond “Minimum Basic Operations,” not including grocery stores, banks, utility providers, healthcare providers and other businesses the county has deemed “essential.”

“Minimum Basic Operations” are defined by the order as “the minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of the business’s inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions” and the least activity required to allow employees to work remotely.

“Our intent is to preserve essential infrastructure,” Cody said. “At the same time, we are also trying to maximize Social Distancing to the greatest degree possible, because we know that this is moving so fast, and we needed to take very, very swift action.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said he anticipates compliance from most members of the community.

“We expect most folks will be following the direction without the need for law enforcement,” Liccardo said. 

According to San Jose City Manager Dave Sykes, the police department is ultimately responsible for enforcement, though the city hopes it will prove unnecessary.

“I think it’s going to be important that we don’t rush to that [police] enforcement,” Sykes said. “That we set up the systems and processes in place so that the community understands what is expected of them before we rush to that enforcement. But, ultimately, all jurisdictions will have that responsibility. 

The public health officers from the Bay Area urge residents to adhere to the measures put into effect.

“This is the time to unite as a community, come to each others’ aid, and dig really deep,” Scott Morrow, San Mateo County public health officer, said. “Find your best inner self, and pull out all the compassion and gratitude and kindness you can.”

This story has been updated to reflect new information.