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Everything You Need To Know About Shelter In Place Orders

Can I go to the grocery store? What about exercising?

On Monday (March 16) everyone in San Francisco and five other counties in California’s Bay Area were ordered to “shelter in place,” a similar tactic to the lockdown measures taken in places like Italy, Spain, France, China, and Prague to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. And in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the 8.6 million people who live there may soon be required to adhere to the mitigation strategy. But just as soon as those directives hit the internet, so did plenty of questions: What does it mean to shelter in place? And how drastic is it?

A shelter-in-place order can sound scary because it’s a term that’s used by officials in times of emergency and disaster. But don’t panic: While sheltering in place may differ depending on your location and the specific regulations put forth by local leadership, it’s likely not all that different from the social distancing you’re already practicing.

What does it mean to “shelter in place?”

Sheltering in place is basically a governmental order to stay in your home and not leave unless it’s necessary. According to a FAQ released by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, the intent of the order is to “ensure that people remain in their residences and minimize social interactions outside of their immediate family unit.” Basically, sheltering in place is an opportunity for you to hunker down, really get to know your roommates, and pick up an at-home hobby. You can keep living your life, but you will limit your interaction with anyone and anything outside of your home.

What is the difference between “sheltering in place” and “social distancing?”

Sheltering in place is basically just a more rigorous version of social distancing, according to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. You’ll still want to maintain the principles of social distancing, like staying 6 feet away from everyone else and washing your hands often, but you’ll now only leave your home for absolutely necessary activities, and you can’t participate in any gatherings.

Can I leave my home at all?

Yes! You can go grocery shopping, pick up your mail, and walk your dog. According to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, you can leave your home to do anything outdoors that doesn’t involve any close contact with other people: So go for that run, but don’t hang out at your buddy’s house after.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health made this easy by listing out five “essential activities” that residents can do while they’re sheltering in place unless they are already sick, in which case they’ll need to stay home to avoid spreading the virus. These five exceptions include: taking care of your own wellbeing (go pick up that medicine); obtaining supplies or delivering supplies to others (go grocery shopping if you need to); working out, as long as you stay 6 feet away from everyone else; taking care of your animals (like taking your dog for a walk); or going to work at an essential business, like as a medical professional.

Do I need to stock up on food and medicine?

While it’s always a good idea to have the food and medicine you need, essential retailers like pharmacies and grocery stores will still be open — so there’s no need to buy all the toilet paper. (Seriously: Doctors don't know why you're doing that, either.) That said, you’ll want to limit your exposure outside, so if you do go to the grocery store, make sure you’re productive and get everything you need for as long as you can.

What other places will be open?

Hospitals, grocery stores, farmers' markets, food banks, convenience stores, pharmacies, gas stations, banks, garbage collections, hardware stores, and laundromats will all be open, among others, according to CNN. That means you can access pretty much everything you’ll need.

What if I don’t follow the rules?

As is the case with most governmental orders, if you don’t follow the rules, you’ll likely face some consequences. In the Bay Areas, that’s a misdemeanor, USA Today reported. It’s up to your specific state or city to give you guidance for the kind of trouble you’ll get in if you don’t abide by the regulations. Perhaps worse than legal trouble, though, you’ll be putting your neighbors at risk. So if this guideline is put into place in your community, do your best to follow along.

You can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Not everyone has the option to stay at home, but if you can, you should! Social distancing is the new normal, and we’re here to help.