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Bay Area Institutes Significant Coronavirus Restrictions


Of all the changes to American life in the past few days, some of the biggest are coming to the San Francisco Bay Area. Starting today, more than 7 million people in six counties have been told to shelter in place for three weeks. Sam Liccardo is the mayor of San Jose.


SAM LICCARDO: We must move aggressively and immediately. The time for half measures is over, and history will not forgive us for waiting an hour more.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eric Westervelt joins us now from the east side of San Francisco Bay.

Eric, are you at home?

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: I am, at a home studio.

INSKEEP: OK. Sheltering in place - what are the rules?

WESTERVELT: Well, you know, this order, Steve, it bans all nonessential gatherings, all nonessential travel by any means. I mean, the order says, you know, by bike, by scooter, by car. It lists about everything but a horse. You know, they want people to stay indoors as much as possible. Grocery stores will remain open. You can go out and get food, medicine, gas. Restaurants can do takeout. Banks will be open.

And you know health authorities, Steve, have encouraged people, you know, go out, enjoy a walk, a jog - get some fresh air. But they're asking, you know, if you do that, do it alone or only with a few family members. And for any activity in which you absolutely must leave your home, you know, keep six feet apart. Keep that social distancing, as they're saying.

And you know, the Bay Area is one of the hardest-hit areas in the nation after Seattle. Santa Clara County, where San Jose is, saw its coronavirus cases really shoot up over the weekend. That was part of the impetus for this quite dramatic order.

I was out reporting in Oakland last night, Steve. A few hours before this order took effect, I talked with a mom named Stacia Williams (ph). She was stocking up on some food supplies. She told me, look - I'm ready to hunker down for 14 days, but my 14-year-old daughter is not. She said she wants to have a big sleepover at a friend's house.

STACIA WILLIAMS: Yeah, she wants to go out with her friends. And it goes to show some parents or some families don't take it as seriously because she's like, well, her mom said you can - we can all come over there and hang out. And I'm like, but it's a shelter-in-place; everybody should remain with their own DNA. Like - like, we don't know when it's going to hit really bad.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The idea is to keep it from hitting too badly - or at least to spread out the pain a little bit. How does this affect people who obviously need to show up for work - first responders, local government, that sort of thing?

WESTERVELT: The big issue, Steve, authorities are working through is trying to get some child care for first responders and for the front-line health care workers, you know, who might need it, given that all the schools are closed. Day care centers are exempt. They can stay open but only in groups of 12 children or fewer. Airports and public transit are open, but few people will be using them unless it's for essential travel. Remember, you know, any business that doesn't provide a so-called essential service, they want you to send the workers home and close your doors.

INSKEEP: Is there any special measure here for the people who are considered most vulnerable to the virus, which, we'll remind people, it tends to be the elderly - people over 70 - or people with some underlying health issue?

WESTERVELT: Yeah. And authorities are saying for those people, you know, don't go outside your home if at all possible. Try to get your friends or neighbors or someone else to, you know, get your food or medicine if you can. And you know, officials, in announcing this, told people, you know, stay calm; there's no need to panic. But certainly, there's intense anxiety.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask? Is this the law, meaning that people could be arrested for defying this, or is it really just the moral authority of the government asking people to obey?

WESTERVELT: No, it has the force of law. I mean, you can be declared under this a, quote, "menace to public health." And that's, you know, technically a misdemeanor. You could get a fine or jail time. But I spoke with police officials in Oakland and San Francisco. And they said, look, we're looking to educate the public. You know, if an officer does run into a bar or a gym that's remaining open, they're going to essentially remind them of the order and say, you need to get in compliance.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's NPR's Eric Westervelt.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.