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Pandemic Diary 16 March 2020: Shelter in place order issued for the Bay Area

Tweet from @kashanacauley that reads "Ask not what staying at home on the couch can do for you. Ask what staying at home on the couch can do for your country."

Twitter is more of a dumpster fire than usual right now, as you might expect, but at its best it is a source for humor and hope. Thank you @kashanacauley.

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that as of midnight tonight, a shelter-in-place order will be in effect for six Bay Area counties, including San Francisco, Santa Clara (where we are), San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda. It’s not exactly a lockdown, as we are allowed to leave our homes without explicit permission, but it’s a significant change in our daily lives.

Why the new restrictions?

Schools have been closed since Friday. Over the weekend, California Governor Gavin Newsom asked all the bars in the state to close and restaurants to reduce their in-house dining capacity. On Sunday, the CDC asked that gatherings of more than 50 people be stopped nationwide. Nursing homes across the country are restricting visitors.

A tweet from NBC News New York. Image shows an elderly man holding up a glittery sign that reads: "I've loved you for 67 years and still do. Happy Anniversary." Caption for the image reads: "Due to coronavirus precautions, Bob Shellard isn't allowed to visit his wife in her Connecticut nursing home. So he stood outside her window and held up a sign that said 'I've loved you 67 years and still do. Happy Anniversary.'"
Another beautiful thing I found on Twitter. We can do this. (Source: NBC New York)

Despite all this, the number of cases in the Bay Area has climbed to 251, with more than half of those new cases being confirmed in the last four days. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, infectious disease experts think that given the relatively low testing rates, this could mean that hundreds or thousands more are walking around as-yet-undetected.

Hence the shelter-in-place order. If we can limit the rate at which people infect one another, we might be able to limit this outbreak to a level our hospitals are equipped to deal with.

This Washington Post article does a great job of explaining how social distancing measures can transform an outbreak from an acute calamity in which medical care systems are overwhelmed and as a result many, many people die, to a slower, if longer process that our healthcare systems are better equipped to deal with — saving lives overall. The article, “Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially and how to ‘flatten the curve’,” includes several simulators that show how disease can spread through a population and how different kinds of social distancing measures can interrupt them.

What does shelter-in-place look like?

First responders, health care workers, utility providers, and other essential service providers will continue to go to work as needed. Grocery stores, pharmacies, veterinary services, gas stations, auto repair shops, hardware stores, banks, and laundry services will remain open. Restaurants can stay open, but only provide take-out. Everyone else is to either stop working or work from home.

Those of us who fall in this stay-at-home category don’t need permission to leave home, but we are being asked to only go out to obtain necessary supplies, access essential medical care (no routine appointments or elective surgeries), and help friends or family members. We can take walks or exercise outside, as long as we keep six feet away from anyone who doesn’t already live with us.

Oh, and while this isn’t part of the official requirements, some dog owners would like us to stop petting their dogs.

Tweet from @MarkWitton reads: "Social distancing PSA: Please resist the urge to pet other people's dogs while they're being walked. It's nice to have your pet admired, but we need to avoid any and all unnecessary contact atm, and that includes touching the same animals."
Mark Witton points out that petting the same animal is another way to potentially give people COVID-19. (Source: Twitter @MarkWitton)

Older people and people with chronic underlying health conditions are asked not to leave their homes at all, except to see their doctors. If possible, folks in these categories should ask someone to do their shopping and run their other errands for them.

Potential economic assistance still being worked out

What assistance, if any will be provided for people who can’t work from home, yet still need to continue paying their rent / mortgage, utility, and other bills during this period is not yet clear. Newsom is expected to announce new statewide guidelines on evictions to help protect California renters dealing with a loss of income during this period, but as of this writing, I don’t know yet what those guidelines will be.

Homeless people are exempt from the new rules, but are still being asked to seek shelter. This seems like an impossible problem for them to solve on their own. Which no doubt is why yesterday, the Sacramento Bee reported that California was planning to use private hotels and motels in the area to provide emergency shelter for the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s… a lot of change for one day

It’s a little surreal, because for now, it still seems a lot like living through a sunny version of a blizzard. Michael is working from home, and The Thirteen-Year-Old and I have a set of educational activities and other chores to finish before the lazy part of the afternoon hits.

I recognize that this is because it’s still early days. Our pantry is full enough for now, and we haven’t yet run through the supply of soups and other easily reheatable meals I made over the weekend. (The brownies are gone though. Shocker.)

We also have plenty of books, jigsaw puzzles, cooperative games, and crafting supplies on hand to keep us content with each other’s company. Admittedly, Mommyo’s attempt at homeschooling has been rocky, but that’s a post for another day.

Most likely, this feeling will pass as March drags into April, the economic costs of shelter-in-place become more apparent, and even our proven ability to huddle up at home wears thin, but so far, we have been profoundly fortunate, and I am grateful for every day that remains the case.

Cat sleeping contentedly in a furry cat bed in front of a bookshelf full of books.
Canelo demonstrates how this shelter-in-place thing is supposed to be done. (Photo: Shala Howell)

What about you? What’s happening in your part of the world?

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