What does ‘shelter in place’ actually mean?

Sounds tough, but you can still go outside and get take out

  • Russ Walker/PA Post
PA Post is working with Spotlight PA and other Pennsylvania news media to cover the coronavirus outbreak. Our reporters are filing stories and updates on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. You can find all those stories in one place at papost.org/tag/coronavirus/ and at www.spotlightpa.org/topics/coronavirus/. —Russ Walker, PA Post editor
Virus Outbreak Shelter In Place

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

A sign urges motorists to disinfect as they make their way south on Highway 101 toward the Golden Gate Bridge Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Sausalito, Calif. About 7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area woke up Tuesday to nearly empty highways, shuttered stores and vacant streets after officials issued an order for residents to shelter at their homes and only leave for “essential” reasons in a desperate attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

“Shelter in place.” It’s a term that’s getting plenty of airtime in parts of the country. Pennsylvania isn’t there yet, but it could happen here if the coronavirus outbreak continues to worsen.

Around the country, these orders take different forms:

California: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order “allows Californians to continue to go outside to get food or medicine, to walk their dogs, to care for relatives and friends, to get health care, but generally, the directive is to stay at home. The order is legally enforceable, meaning disobeying can result in a misdemeanor with up to $1,000 in fines or six months imprisonment, although Newsom said social pressures will likely be enough to encourage people not to gather in the middle of a public health crisis.”

Illinois: Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an order Friday that “prohibits any gathering larger than 10 people … [and] bars residents from socializing in-person with people outside their household, meaning even small parties and casual get-togethers should not take place.”

New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shut-down order takes effect Sunday: “The strictest lockdown rule, which Cuomo called ‘Matilda’s Law’ in honor of his 88-year-old mother, mandates that any New Yorkers above 70 stay home at all times and rely on younger people to grocery shop for them, since that age group is at risk of suffering more severe symptoms from the virus. Seniors are also required to wear masks while in the company of others, though they’re discouraged from visiting households with multiple people.”

Washington: Gov. Jay Inslee is so far holding back from issuing a “shelter in place” order, but he says it may be required if residents don’t take the outbreak seriously. Inslee “said he was troubled to hear about packs of teenagers hanging out, dinner parties carrying on and restaurant takeout customers lingering at counters. He pointed to a chart of highway traffic around the state that showed a sharp drop in the Seattle area, but much less elsewhere.”

Writing in New York Magazine, Jesse Singal says officials should stop using the term “shelter in place” because the orders, so far, allow most people to leave their homes: “So it really isn’t a shelter-in-place order at all, and it is likely that many people are confused when they encounter that phrase. There would be many other, more accurate ways to describe the situation, like “limit your excursions, and stay six feet from others if you do go out.”

Here in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf delayed implementation of his statewide shut down order until Monday and clarified the process for businesses to obtain waivers.

Worst-case scenarios

Italy Virus Outbreak

Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP

City police check cars in Rome, Saturday, March 21, 2020. Rome’s municipal police have been ordered to stop all cars at roadblocks to make sure the occupants have a valid reason to move about the city under a national lockdown aimed at containing Italy’s surging number of cases of coronavirus infections. The new directive makes clear that the only reasons people should be driving around the city are to go to work or in “situations of necessity,’’ such as health reasons for food shopping. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)

There’s a very good reason why leaders across the United States are trying to shut down the economy and keep people at home: They don’t want what’s happening in Italy to happen here.

  • From The Intercept: “The Italian health care system is now buckling under the weight of the pandemic. Health care professionals are working day and night to keep critically ill Covid-19 patients alive, while wartime triage conditions have left doctors to decide who lives and who dies. The crematorium in the hard-hit city of Bergamo is so overwhelmed that the army was brought in to deal with the corpses.”
  • In Washington state, hospitals and public health officials are already planning for an Italy-like situation: They “have been meeting to consider what once was almost unthinkable — how to decide who lives and dies if, as feared, the coronavirus pandemic overwhelms the state’s health care system,” The Seattle Times reports.
  • The situation is already dire in Los Angeles, KTLA reports: “The nation’s second-largest municipal health system has told its staff that it is essentially abandoning hope of containing the coronavirus outbreak and instructed doctors not to bother testing symptomatic patients if a positive result won’t change how they would be treated. The guidance, sent by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services to its doctors on Thursday, was prompted by a crush of patients and shortage of tests, and could make it difficult to ever know precisely how many people in L.A. County contracted the virus.”

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