As the coronavirus continues to establish a beachhead in places like San Francisco and New York, cities in its path are taking an increasingly aggressive stance on heading off the virus before it becomes entrenched in the population. The first step was social distancing and simple hygiene. Then came the closures of schools, restaurants, and bars and the suggestion of self-quarantining to avoid contact. Starting Monday, nearly seven million people in the San Francisco Bay area were ordered to shelter in place, and many other communities are following suit. Tuesday afternoon, Orange County (Calif.) banned all public and private gatherings of any number of people taking place outside the single-family home. While New York City is strongly considering going the same route in the next couple of days. Once these larger cities set the precedent, others across the country will do the same.
What Is Shelter in Place?
Simply put, it means stay home! Yale University’s emergency planning department defines shelter in place as “finding a safe location indoors and staying there until you are given an ‘all clear’ or told to evacuate.” These kinds of mandates are normally used for short-term events such as active shooters, tornadoes, and local hazards. People are finding it difficult to adhere to such a novel policy, especially since they don’t see a visible and/or immediate threat; plus, the orders have an indefinite feeling to them.
Shelter in place is not a permanent lockdown. Citizens are not under house arrest. The purpose of these unprecedented polices is to keep people from unnecessarily interacting with one another in the event they accidentally come into contact with a carrier of COVID-19. Traditionally, in times of emergency, the safest place for anyone is in their home. If prepared, there’s no reason to go into the community unless their needs are essential.
What Is Essential?
Residents should remain in their houses unless they are performing what many local officials are calling “essential activities.” These include:
- Medical visits to doctors or pharmacies to obtain needed medication;
- Getting supplies—such as groceries and household goods—and obtaining services, such as appliance repair or refilling propane tanks, for example;
- Taking part in solitary outdoor activities such as walking or hiking, provided they avoid people and maintain social distancing;
- Care of family members (or people with special needs) in another household.
As well, the shelter in place order does not apply to people engaged in several fields; those include sanitation, banking, grocery stores, gas stations, shipping business, hardware stores, and child care facilities.
How to Shelter in Place
If you are not involved in any of the “essential” activities above, remain in your house until told otherwise. Unfortunately, active families will struggle with this the most. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t utilize your backyard, porches, patios, or balconies to be outside. Taking walks around your neighborhood or on local hiking trails is a good way to get fresh air. It also removes you from feeling trapped in one location for an extended period of time.
Americans are not used to being sequestered in their homes for any period of time. We have the Constitution, the right to travel unimpeded, and the deep-seeded notion that we don’t like being told what to do. However, in times of unparalleled and widespread emergency such as a microscopic virus ravaging the world, avoiding contact with other people is the best method to remain healthy. There are countless forms of entertainment available at home, from the latest on Netflix to dusting off board games and long-forgotten puzzles.
And if you need bread to make a sandwich, go to the store and get it. This is still America.
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