PD Editorial: Putting some teeth in stay-at-home orders

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Here in Sonoma County, we love our parks, our beaches, our open spaces.

However, for the foreseeable future, we need to stay away. To slow the spread of the coronavirus in the Bay Area and across the country, public health experts are unequivocal: we must stay home, venturing out only when it’s truly necessary.

Too many people ignored that message.

Over the weekend, beaches in Marin and Sonoma counties got so crowded that the gates were closed — because parking lots were full. Many beachgoers ignored the recommended social distance of 6 feet to prevent the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, entire families browsed in local stores, not looking for essentials but because they were feeling cooped up after just a few days at home.

In response, local governments clamp downed. They didn’t have any alternative.

Since Tuesday, city, county, state and national parks in the North Bay have been closed. Rangers are on patrol to ensure that people don’t ignore the closures as they did social distancing guidelines. For now, they’re asking people to leave, but they are prepared to write citations.

“Right now is the time to really reinforce to our community how serious our situation is,” Sonoma County Regional Parks director Bert Whitaker said, “and we need to ask for everybody’s cooperation to get through this crisis we’re in.”

Dr. Scott Morrow, San Mateo County’s public health officer, didn’t mince words about his frustration with people flouting the guidelines: “You spit in our face, and you will contribute to the death toll that will follow.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, Sonoma County had recorded 37 cases of COVID-19, the contagious respiratory infection caused by the coronavirus. But public health officials are anticipating a wave of new cases in the coming weeks.

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s interim health officer, has warned that 20% to 40% of residents in county, which has a population of more than 500,000, ultimately could be stricken.

Many of those cases will be mild, but a sharp increase in serious cases could quickly overwhelm local hospitals. And a shortage of protective equipment could put health care providers and other front-line personnel at risk. Four law enforcement officers already have tested positive.

If too many people irresponsibly ignore orders to stay home, it will undoubtedly hasten the spread of the virus.

President Donald Trump isn’t helping with hints that he’s preparing to lift national restrictions, not because the crisis is passing but because he’s putting the impact on the economy ahead of public health needs.

We’re hearing from readers upset about the decision to close the parks, pointing out that Mase also has encouraged people to get some fresh air during the lockdown.

We still can. The Joe Rodota and West County trails are open for pedestrians, but not bicycles or horses. People also are free to walk, or cycle, in their neighborhoods.

We’d like to be at a park or a beach, too, but right now, the top priority is flattening the curve. And staying away from public parks is a small sacrifice to ensure that more people live to enjoy them later.

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