(CN) – Six San Francisco Bay Area counties ordered residents Monday to stay in their homes, except for essential services, to contain the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.
“Remain at home for all but the most essential outings,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Monday. “This will be disruptive to our day-to-day life, but there is no need to panic.”
The order – just short of a full lockdown – involves the six major Bay Area counties of Alameda, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara as cases continue to spike across the nation and President Donald Trump warned people may have to practice social distancing well into the summer.
Santa Cruz County announced similar shelter in place measures later in the afternoon.
Residents have been asked to shelter in place beginning Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. until April 7, although officials said they are allowing flexibility to truncate or extend the order.
“The coronavirus is spreading in our community and we need to slow it down,” said Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of public health. “Now is the time to do everything to prevent the situation from getting much worse in the next days or weeks.”
The order is the most aggressive action taken by any jurisdiction in the United States to date and reflects a growing sense of alarm among public health officials that the clock was ticking on avoiding some of the worst-case scenarios that have befallen China and Italy.
There were 251 confirmed cases in the Bay Area as of Monday morning. California has seen 490 cases of the virus and there were about 3,600 in the United States as of Monday.
Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, remains the epicenter of the outbreak in California, which the county’s public health officer Sara Cody acknowledged during a Monday press conference.
“We know that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly,” Cody said.
The county added 24 more confirmed cases Monday afternoon, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 138. The slow pace of testing is still encumbering public officials from understanding the true extent of the outbreak, meaning the number of cases is likely quite a bit higher.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo joined county officials in asserting the vital and urgent need for aggressive measures to protect the community from the virulent disease.
“As the mayor of the Bay Area’s largest city, I support the actions of health officials throughout the Bay Area to enact a “shelter in place” mandate,” Liccardo said. “We must move aggressively. This is not the moment for half-measures. History will not forgive us for waiting an hour more.”
Officials acknowledged the shelter in place order is radical, though people are still allowed to go outdoors as long as they maintain six feet of social distancing from other people.
Essential services like grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and banks will remain open, but nonessential businesses are ordered to shutter.
The order also bans nonessential travel for all but a few exemptions spelled out on each county’s respective website.
“We are in a rough place,” said Scott Morrow of the San Mateo County Public Health Department. “Going to have difficult times ahead of us. These measures are temporary, but they will last longer than any of us want.”
All officials urged residents not to panic, assuring them food and other supplies will be readily available throughout the lockdown.
“Please do not rush out,” Colfax urged.
State legislators also professed support for the measures, saying such drastic action was required to quell the rapid spread. Three Democratic representatives from San Francisco — state Senator Scott Wiener and Assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu — released the following statement:
“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. We fully support this action by our county health authorities, and we ask that our constituents please respect this directive.”
Worldwide, the coronavirus has infected more than 167,000 individuals in 151 countries, resulting in approximately 6,600 deaths.
Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, continues to see hundreds of deaths daily and its health care system is completely inundated with sick patients. The Italian government instituted a nearly full lockdown last week.
Fears that a lack of drastic action on behalf of elected officials in the United States could lead to a similar situation has led to increasing calls for a shelter in place approach.