Sonoma County residents ordered to shelter in place for 3 weeks to combat coronavirus spread

Sonoma County

Sonoma County Health Officer Issues Shelter-In-Place Orders



For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Sonoma County's public health officer has ordered residents to stay home for three weeks - apart from crucial errands - and limited all but essential business and government operations, a mandatory and unprecedented directive that went into effect Wednesday and is aimed squarely at the growing threat of the coronavirus to the community.

Daybreak begins an uneasy era for Sonoma County, as public life is largely set aside to limit the virus' spread and avoid health crises like those that have unfolded across the globe, such as in China, Italy and Iran.

Beyond trips to the grocery store, the doctor, the bank or other core errands, people should stay home. Essential work may continue to maintain the basic systems of modern life, from running water and trash collection to electrical and Internet systems. Restaurants may offer takeout or delivery only. Residential construction may continue. These orders remain in effect until April 7 but could be extended at any time.

Interim Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase announced the order late Tuesday, saying that even the limited testing done so far has proved the virus has begun spreading within the community. With only four cases of COVID-19 contracted in the community so far detected, the county has the opportunity to take aggressive measures to slow its spread, Mase said.

“If we don't put in any preventative measures, we would have this peak of cases,” Mase said, saying every sick person is going to infect three others. “The worry with this is that our health care system capacity would be surpassed.”

The order went into effect before dawn Wednesday, aligning Sonoma County residents with about 7 million others under shelter-in-place orders across the Bay Area, the epicenter of coronavirus cases in California.

The measures are the strongest mandatory limits on travel and businesses enacted in the United States to combat the coronavirus.

The order follows a series of instructions from public health officials urging for

people to distance themselves from others and the official closure of most schools into April.

It's unclear how temporary these disruptions will be.

Gov. Gavin Newsom late Tuesday said he didn't expect schools will

to reopen during this academic year, a startling statement that at once signaled the gravity of the unfolding infectious disease crisis and that major disruptions to life could become a drawn-out ordeal.

Sonoma County Office of Education Superintendent Steve Herrington said he is bracing for an unparalleled upheaval in the lives of children, aggravating lasting traumas from wildfires, floods and power shut-offs.

“It will have a generational impact because of the loss of that much learning and the compounding of everything else that has gone in this county,” Herrington said.

Sonoma County's eight-page shelter-in-place order states the county's mission to “ensure the maximum number of people self-isolate” while allowing essential services to continue and details the types of services and business that may continue operations.

Essential businesses include a diverse range of operations the county deems essential to community life, such as laundromats, veterinary clinics, taxi services, legal and accounting businesses and educational institutions providing distance learning or environments with little human contact. The county will allow small child care providers that serve workers who provide an essential service and cannabis dispensaries, which may only offer curbside or delivery service.

The order also includes exceptions tailored to the county's top industries and agricultural sector, allowing some businesses like dairies, wineries and breweries to stay operational while closing any public-facing parts of the businesses.

A violation is a misdemeanor crime enforceable by deputies and police. The county counsel's office has authority to interpret the order and is urging consistent, “compassionate enforcement” of the policy, meaning “there is some leniency in terms of enforcement,” according to Robert Pittman, assistant county counsel.

But the directive is not a lockdown, even though even small private gatherings are strongly discouraged. People are still free to go outside, walk around the block, take hikes or ride their bikes, as long as they steer clear of others.

Sonoma County Emergency Management Director Chris Godley said he hopes the order will buy time so the county can explore ways to build additional facilities to prepare for an influx of cases. Currently, the county has just 800 hospital beds and 76 intensive care unit beds, 90% of which are typically in use, Godley said.

Sonoma County

Sonoma County Health Officer Issues Shelter-In-Place Orders



For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

“We're at a point in time when we're having more cases - and we expect to have more and more,” Mase said. “It's a good time to put in place a mitigation factor like shelter-in-place to flatten that curve.”

Since testing began at the county's public health laboratory Thursday, 168 people have been tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, including six people who received positive results.

Three of those people with cases of coronavirus work in health care, including one person who is an employee at the Rohnert Park Health Center, a nonprofit clinic. Two people were local passengers of a February voyage to Mexico on the Grand Princess cruise ship that is now moored in San Francisco Bay.

Public health officials have stressed the importance of isolation, even in low-risk groups, in protecting seniors and others most vulnerable to the disease. On Friday, Mase banned family visits to nursing homes.

The risk of serious cases is great in Sonoma County, which has more than 130,000 residents age 65 or older - about 27% of the population, according to Marianne McBride, chief executive editor of the Council on Aging. The nonprofit runs Meals on Wheels programs for Sonoma and Marin counties, and they are preparing to ramp up the number of free meals they provide for homebound seniors who cannot drive. The organization typically delivers between 800 and 1,100 meals every day. Marin County has already increased its Friday orders from 900 to 2,100, she said.

“We're here, we want to serve people who need to be served,” McBride said. “If you have other options we'd ask that you utilize other options. We really need to focus on those people really in need.”

County officials do not yet have accurate modeling data to forecast the virus' spread locally, but Director of Health Services Barbie Robinson said they're working to hire a consultant to do that work.

Sonoma County's economy will take a hit. The wine industry alone supports 54,000 local jobs.

A three-week closure for two of Sonu Chandi's downtown Santa Rosa restaurants, Bollywood Bar & Clay Oven and Beer Baron Whiskey Bar & Kitchen, puts incredible pressure on his company and uncertainty for 61 employees who work at the two sites. Chandi said he and his partners are still evaluating what they will do.

“There are so many families, so many businesses that are losing a lot in this,” said Chandi, president and CEO of Chandi Hospitality Group. “And this is not just here, this is worldwide so you feel like we're in it together with other people.”

Chandi said delivery and takeout services may not be practical for restaurants not known for or built for that service. Chandi's group also operates 13 Mountain Mike's pizza shops across the North Bay, and they will likely increase capacity at those restaurants where they expect delivery and takeout orders to rise.

Behind the scenes, the county's wine industry pushed to get wineries and vineyards included in exemptions to the order, citing the connection to agriculture. County supervisors carried that message forward at Tuesday morning's Board of Supervisors meeting, urging Mase to craft an order reflective of Sonoma County's unique circumstances and economy.

Although not a food staple, wine is an economic engine for the region, employing thousands of people directly and indirectly.

“Between all of our companies, we employ over 700 people in the county,” said Pat Roney, chief executive officer of Vintage Wine Estates, which owns wineries from Bodega Bay to the Sonoma Valley. “If we can't make the wine and we can't ship the wine, we're basically out of business.”

Supervisor Shirlee Zane said she was concerned about the mental health of the community, and stressed the importance of communicating clearly to residents which services would be considered essential and allowed to operate.

“I am deeply concerned about the mental health of our community, especially given the fact that we still have a tremendous amount of residue from the trauma we've experienced with these fires and floods,” Zane said.

Still, the county is well-positioned to slow the spread of the infectious disease, according to Dr. George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco, adding that Sonoma County - and other Bay Area counties who have ordered residents to shelter in place - are doing the right thing at the right time.

“This was a very timely and very accurately aimed measure,” Rutherford said. “There's obviously community transmission, and we need to put our foot down and stop it as soon as we can.”

Rutherford said it's not too late to change the trajectory of the coronavirus spread, saying he and other researchers have been “modeling like crazy.”

“We think we're a week or so behind Washington state, which gives us a real opportunity to stop it,” he said. “This could prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.”

Rutherford also praised other Bay Area counties for foresight in closing down social activities ahead of St. Patrick's Day, an annual, booze-fueled party that brings people together in close quarters and in large numbers.

“I don't know if that entered into anybody's consciousness or not, but if it did, it was brilliant,” he said. “It took a lot of mixing off the table.”

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins praised what she called the county's proactive approach. Other counties, she said, took much longer to reach a shelter-in-place order after their first case of community spread.

“Santa Clara County took two weeks to get to this point; we are doing it in four days,” Hopkins said. “I feel we are on the leading edge.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem. You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or

The Press Democrat wants to know what stories you see emerging and what you're experiencing locally during the shelter-in-place order. Reach out to us at

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette