40 Million Californians Ordered to Stay At Home to Contain Coronavirus

The largest state in the country has been ordered to shelter in place.

March 20, 2020, 10:30 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday evening that he had directed the state Public Health Officer to issue a "stay at home" order to protect residents. The order takes effect immediately and will remain in place "until further notice."

The March 19 executive order [pdf] followed press reports that Gov. Newsom expected that 56 percent of California’s population, over 22 million people, would be infected with COVID-19 over an eight-week period without mitigation efforts. 

This Order is being issued to protect the public health of Californians. The California Department of Public Health looks to establish consistency across the state to ensure that we mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Our goal is simple, we want to bend the curve, and to disrupt the spread of the virus.

The actual order [pdf] "to stay home or at their place of residence" was issued by Dr. Sonia Y. Angell, California Department of Public Health Director and State Health Officer.

It follows action that Newsom took last Sunday that requested the closure of bars, reduced occupancy of restaurants, and the self-isolation of seniors aged 65 and older.

However, six Bay Area county public health officers felt that action, which was not in the form of an edict, didn't go far enough, so they issued formal "shelter-in-place" orders affecting 6.7 million residents. By Wednesday, the three remaining Bay Area followed suit, along with neighboring counties to the north and south. And on Thursday, the Los Angeles County Public Health Officer issued a "Safer At Home Order for the Control of COVID-19 [pdf]" affecting over 10 million residents.

All three names—stay at home, shelter in place, and safer at home, are essentially the same. While legal, enforceable orders, they are not "lockdowns," which would require residents to documents upon leaving their homes, as enforced in Italy as well as Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province, China, despite the latter reporting no new additional COVID-19 cases on Thursday. As for Italy, the death toll from the deadly disease now exceeds that of China.

There is one significant way in which Angell's order differs from the county orders—how it deals with the exceptions. It refers to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, specifically the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), that identifies "Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers" during the COVID-19 response.

This guidance and accompanying list [pdf] are intended to support State, Local, and industry partners in identifying the critical infrastructure sectors and the essential workers needed to maintain the services and functions Americans depend on daily and need to be able to operate resiliently during the COVID-19 pandemic response.

As for "essential services" that will remain open, the California Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response webpage (source article) lists:

  • Gas stations
  • Pharmacies 
  • Food: Grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, and take-out and delivery restaurants 
  • Banks
  • Laundromats/laundry services

The state COVID-19 updates indicates that as of March 18, 2020, there were a total of 675 positive cases, third highest after New York and Washington, respectively, and 16 deaths, second highest after Washington, according to the POLITICO live tracker.

Additional reading in media:

Thursday, March 19, 2020 in California Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response

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