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