Monday morning on Valencia Street. Photo by Lydia Chávez

Mission Local has learned that, come 1 p.m., six bay area counties will announce a shelter-in-place order, to take effect at the stroke of midnight.

The purpose of “social distancing,” mandatory or not, is to “flatten the curve” — to reduce the number of people infected with COVID-19 simultaneously, which overwhelms hospital resources. In short, the curve has not been flattened. “Santa Clara County went off the hook over the weekend,” we’re told. This order follows that grim development and will last at least three weeks.

The order covers San Francisco as well as Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Health officials and elected leaders are expected to make the announcement in all affected areas at 1 p.m. Differing levels of urgency in different parts of the state led Bay Area officials to act in what is a patchwork confederation of several of California’s more populous counties.

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Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open — along with banks, gas stations, and other “essential” sites —  but, following earlier acts, bars and nightclubs will close and restaurants will be takeout-only. Public transit will run, but it is expected that only necessary trips will be made.

Everyone is, again, urged to stay at home, use “social distancing” of six feet or greater when in public, and wash and/or sanitize hands frequently. Don’t touch your face.

A series of “recommendations” have been issued in recent days, but those mere recommendations haven’t been effective enough.

“We have to take a community-wide time out. We can’t afford to overwhelm our healthcare systems,” says Sen. Scott Wiener. “It’s going to be painful. But we’d rather have short-term pain than long-term pain.”

Wiener described the days leading up to this one as “the calm before the storm.”

The 1 p.m. press conference may help answer several immediate questions. Such as: What constitutes a “necessary” trip? How extensively sheltered-in-place must people be (can pets be taken for walks, etc.)? And how, exactly, will all this be enforced?

That last one could be hairy. Per the order, “the Health Officer requests that the Sheriff and the Chief of Police in the County ensure compliance with and enforce this Order.  The violation of any provision of this Order constitutes an imminent threat to public health.”

As for what constitutes “essential” travel, the list includes “travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons”; “travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services”; and “travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the County.  Individuals are strongly encouraged to verify that their transportation out of the County remains available and functional prior to commencing such travel.”

“The irony of this is, if it all works, people will say we overreacted,” says Supervisor Aaron Peskin. “To quote someone else, everything we do before a pandemic seems alarmist and everything we do afterward seems inadequate.”

2020.03.16 Final Order C19-07 – Shelter in Place by Joe Eskenazi on Scribd

Update, 1:10 p.m.: Mayor London Breed, standing in the midst of city leaders spaced six feet apart, urged San Franciscans to  not panic — but to also not blow off the seriousness of sweeping new mandates.

“Today’s new public health order will require San Franciscans to remain at home with exceptions only for essential outings,” she said. “These measures will be disruptive to day-to-day life, but there is no need to panic.”

As the mayor and health director were announcing sweeping restrictions on public gathering and movement, a line of permit-seekers stretched out the door of the Department of Building Inspection and down Mission Street. Snapped at 1:40 p.m., this photo was taken during the press conference in which the mayor and health director urged “social distancing” and for people to stay home unless conducting essential duties.

Dr. Grant Colfax, the head of the Health Department, announced today’s move as a “new phase” in the response to COVID-19, a response steeped in “data and facts … now is the time to implement this step. We are ordering that everyone who can remain at home until April 7. This is a critical intervention that can reduce harm and save lives.”

When asked how this will be enforced, police chief Bill Scott said his department will take “a compassionate approach. … we are looking for voluntary compliance. This order, by law, is enforceable by law, but that is an absolute last resort. This is not about a criminal justice approach to a public health issue. … If ‘social distancing’ is being practiced, there’s really no reason to stop anybody.”

Homeless people are not included in the shelter-at-home order, but are urged to “find shelter.” As Mission Local reported today, San Francisco has not ceased breaking down homeless encampments and, in effect, scattering homeless people — both a questionable humanitarian and epidemiological move.

Finally, yes, “you will still be able to walk your dog,” noted Colfax, “Or go on a hike alone, or with another person, as long as you keep six feet between you.”

See more updates here. 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. What if the other person I go on a walk with is a spouse or significant other? Do I still have to put 6’of space between us? Also, I am homeless. Where am I going to get food now that the hoarders have bought all the non-perishables? If it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve stashed some baby wipes I wouldn’t be able to wipe my butt!