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In San Francisco Bay Area, compliance with ‘shelter in place’ order is uneven

Empty Geary Boulevard in San Francisco
A dog runs down the middle of an empty Geary Boulevard in San Francisco, California. Seven San Francisco Bay Area counties have ordered residents to shelter in place in an effort to reduce social interaction and slow the spread of COVID-19.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Hair stylists canceled clients. Gardeners and construction crews showed up to work. A dog grooming business deemed itself essential and kept its door open. Some liquor stores closed. Others didn’t.

All the time, cases of the coronavirus kept creeping upward.

During the first day of a “shelter-in-place” order in seven Bay Area counties Tuesday, compliance was generally strong but uneven in places, with some businesses uncertain whether they required to close.

The order issued Monday requires residents to stay home until at least April 7. They may leave their homes only for essential needs, such as visiting grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors and relatives. Officials say the order seeks to prevent COVID-19 from overwhelming the healthcare system of a region where 7 million people live.

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All nonessential businesses were ordered to close.

San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine said the order will likely be modified to clarify whether some businesses, such as lawn care, home construction and autism support, are affected.

“My gardener called this morning and asked if he could work,” said Pine.

Because gardeners and small construction crews generally work outside, they are unlikely going to pose a health risk, he said.

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San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed announced a declaration that would waive some civil service and charter rules for hiring health workers, including nurses.

Typically, the city’s hiring process for nurses takes six months or more, she said. The change will allow the city to hire them “on the spot.”

Breed told a news conference that San Francisco’s streets were “fairly empty” Tuesday with fewer bikes and cars, but more people out walking “enjoying the outdoors.”

“So far its been OK,” she said, ````but this is day one, and we have three weeks to go and maybe even longer. And it is important that people understand we probably need to be prepared for the long run.”

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Freeways throughout the Bay Area bore only light traffic. Parking spaces were abundant at commercial centers.

At Crissy Field in San Francisco, only a few joggers, dog walkers and families took advantage of the clear sunny day to go to the beach. A lonely heron stood in a field with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

A lone heron enjoys the view at Chrissy Field in San Francisco on Tuesday.
(Susanne Rust / Los Angeles Times)

Diyar Borak, a rug store owner from Mill Valley, was standing on the pier, fishing rod bent in a tight, almost half circle. “It could be a halibut,” he said to a curious onlooker. “I got one here a few days ago.” He counted only six other fishermen, a fraction of those who normally show up.

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As he talked, the line broke on his rod. “Oh, well. maybe it was the big one,” he said with a shrug. “I just hope whatever it was, the lure isn’t stuck in its mouth. We don’t need anyone or anything else getting sick right now.”

In the East Bay city of Walnut Creek, the normally bustling downtown was mostly deserted Tuesday as were shopping districts in Oakland and the South Bay.

Palo Alto’s University Avenue was a ghost town. All nonessential shops were closed, and restaurants were empty. The only visible lunch eaters were two sitting outside a Pizza My Heart.

Businesses and residents are subject to citation for violating the order, but elected officials said law enforcement was much more likely to issue warnings than citations.

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Still, the threat of a sanction proved effective in some cases.

Janine Hedlund, 37, a hair stylist who works on one client at a time at her shop in Lafayette, texted clients Tuesday that she was canceling their appointments.

“What if somebody sees me doing hair and then call the police on me?” she said. “I want to abide by the rules.”

If Palo Alto police see a group of 20 construction workers huddled together, they plan to issue a gentle reminder, not a citation, said Mayor Adrian Fine. The San Francisco Police Department tweeted overnight that it would visit bars and nightclubs to ensure they were shut down.

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Businesses that deemed themselves essential included Menlo Park’s Abbey Flooring, which reduced hours. Bow Wow Meow, a high-end pet product and grooming shop also had its doors open.

“We provide pet products and services that people need,” said Amy Bearg, an executive assistant at the shop’s anchor store in San Francisco, describing services such as anal gland expression and hot spot shaving. “For some animals, these services are essential,” she said.

Stay at home as much as possible, officials say, but there are exceptions, like to go out and get food, pick up medicine, buy gas, go to the bank and check up on relatives.

No region statewide has been hit harder by the coronavirus than the San Francisco Bay Area. As of Tuesday evening , authorities had reported 356 cases and six deaths in the counties where shelter-in-places orders were issued Monday — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara, as well as the neighboring county of Santa Cruz.

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Overnight, the number of cases in Santa Clara County rose to 155 from 138, San Mateo County rose to 64 from 42 and in San Francisco, rose to 43 from 40. Five of the deaths were in Santa Clara County, all people who were in their 50s or older. One death was in San Mateo County.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, city health authorities ordered cannabis dispensaries closed on Tuesday morning. One of them, the Apothecarium, announced on its website that its three San Francisco dispensaries were closed until April 7, “or until further notice.”

Later, the city reversed itself, stating in a tweet that cannabis “is an essential medicine for many San Francisco residents.”

Dr. Rohan Radhakrishna, Contra Costa County deputy health officer, said an association of Bay Area health officers held telephone conferences throughout the weekend to draft the order.

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He said each county communicated with its city leaders. In Contra Costa County, some of the mayors were concerned about the order’s impact on the economy, but eventually agreed it was appropriate.

“We felt strongly that viruses cross borders, people cross borders and public health mitigation measures must also cross borders to be effective,” Radhakrishna said.

Without mentioning names, he predicted that other counties will follow suit as more cases develop.

Solano and Napa have both issued advisories, but not orders as aggressive as the other Bay Area counties. Sonoma, Monterey and San Benito counties, as well as the city of Palm Springs in Riverside County, issued their own shelter-in-place orders modeled on the Bay Area order Tuesday.

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“It is hard to convince your political leaders to really shut things down if you don’t have any cases yet,” Radhakrishna said. “We wanted to start with counties that were ready to come on board with this level of shelter in place. Early action is essential to flatten the curve.”

He said the counties decided that BART trains should continue to run because they carry many essential workers.

San Mateo Supervisor Pine confessed he was “scared as to whether we can prevent an Italy-like situation despite our best efforts.”

“Ideally, we should have done this two weeks ago,” he said, but he was not sure anybody was ready for it then.


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