SF shuts down; shelter in place ordered

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday March 16, 2020
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The intersection at Castro and 18th streets was deserted Sunday, March 15 at 4 p.m. Photo: Rick Gerharter
The intersection at Castro and 18th streets was deserted Sunday, March 15 at 4 p.m. Photo: Rick Gerharter

San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced several measures March 16 to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, with the most dramatic being a shelter-in-place order that will also be implemented in five other Bay Area counties.

The "shelter in place" order will go into effect at midnight on March 17 and remain in effect tentatively until April 7.

As of Monday, San Francisco officials reported that 40 people tested positive for coronavirus.

Under penalty of misdemeanor, San Franciscans and the residents of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Marin counties will have to remain indoors unless they are conducting essential activities, businesses, or government functions.

"Individuals may go on a walk, get exercise, or take a pet outside to go to the bathroom, as long as at least six feet of social distancing is maintained," according to a news release from the mayor's office. "People riding on public transit must maintain at least six feet of social distancing from other passengers."

Businesses not covered by the order include media, health care operations, pharmacies, grocery stores and food banks, the operation of public transportation and utilities, gas stations and auto repair facilities, banks, garbage collection, laundromats, dry cleaners, and hardware stores.

Restaurants cannot have people dine in. They can offer take-out, however. Gyms and fitness studios will be shuttered.

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott said at a March 16 news conference announcing the move that enforcement will be based on a "compassionate, common sense approach."

"We are looking for voluntary compliance," Scott said. "It is enforceable as a misdemeanor but it is an absolute last resort."

At the same news conference, Breed urged people to remain calm and not panic — stressing people will still be able to get food and medicine and take care of family members.

"This will be disruptive to daily life but there is no need to panic," Breed said. "It is the new normal temporarily in an effort to protect public health."

Dr. Grant Colfax, a gay man and the director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said that the order is based in science. Officials are trying to prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed with coronavirus cases emerging all at once — an effort to, as some medical professionals have put it, "flatten the curve."

"Our response has always been grounded in data, science, and facts and that continues to be the same today," Colfax said. "The evidence tells us that now is the time to implement this step.

"The coronavirus is spreading in our community and we need to slow it down," he added. "Every hour counts."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman backed the stronger measures in a Facebook post shortly after the news broke.

"This is the right decision to ensure public health," he wrote.

The Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District suspended operations, including its Clean Team, according to an email March 17 from Castro Merchants President Masood Samereie.

"The Team's dispatch number is not being staffed at this time," he wrote. "We understand this will add to your concerns. However, we all need to slow the transmission of the virus."

San Francisco's three Democratic state lawmakers, gay state Senator Scott Wiener and Assemblymen Phil Ting and David Chiu, issued a joint statement expressing their support of the six-county Bay Area shelter in place order. They also pledged their help in obtaining necessary state approvals and eliminating any state bureaucratic barriers to implement local measures needed to combat the pandemic.

"We are in unprecedented times. The coronavirus pandemic poses a massive threat to our community's health and well-being, to our economy, and to our way of life. We must confront it with firm and resolute steps to slow the contagion's spread," stated the lawmakers. "Today's six-county public health order directing people to remain at home unless absolutely necessary, and to close all non-essential businesses, is a critical step to combat the pandemic."

They asked that their constituents followed the directive.

"Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, you may still be infectious, and it's important that you stay inside to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system. We know that people are hurting, financially and otherwise," they stated (COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus). "This short-term pain will help us avoid much more severe long-term consequences."

Mayor London Breed. Photo: John Ferrannini  

Sick leave for out-of-work San Franciscans
In a related matter earlier Monday, Breed announced a plan to provide paid sick leave for workers impacted by closures stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Workers and Families First Program includes "$10 million in public funding that will provide businesses with funding to provide an additional five days of sick leave pay to workers beyond their existing policies," according to a news release from the mayor's office.

If fully used the program would provide coverage for up to 25,000 people.

"All San Francisco businesses will be eligible, with up to 20% of funds reserved for small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. The city will contribute up to one week (40 hours) at $15.59 per hour (minimum wage) per employee, or $623 per employee. The employer will pay the difference between the minimum wage and an employee's full hourly wage," the news release states.

"This program will be available only if the employee has exhausted their currently available sick leave, has exhausted or is not eligible for federal or state supplemental sick leave, and the employer agrees to extend sick leave beyond current benefits," it continues.

The city has created a one-stop-shop website both for employers and employees impacted by coronavirus-related closures.

An empty J-Church Muni Metro car traveled outbound Tuesday morning. Photo by Cynthia Laird  

As the Bay Area Reporter reported March 13, Breed announced a 30-day moratorium on residential evictions due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

This came after District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston intended to introduce legislation to the Board of Supervisors establishing such a moratorium. As the B.A.R. reported March 10, a number of supervisors have been working on legislation to blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

To avoid COVID-19, the city's Department of Public Health is advising people to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching their faces, cover their coughs and sneezes, try alternatives to the handshake, and stay home if they are sick.

It is not recommended people wear face masks if they are not sick. The greatest risk is from droplets containing the coronavirus on surfaces.

People over 60, those with chronic medical conditions, and those with weakened immune systems are at particular risk if they contract the coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. More serious cases result in pneumonia.

Matthew S. Bajko contributed reporting.