A coalition of six Bay Area counties announced sweeping restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus started Tuesday, with residents ordered to stay at home until April 7, and leave only to carry out "essential" activities.
The announcement by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department marks some of the most stringent measures in the nation in order to reduce transmission of the virus, or COVID-19, affecting millions of residents. Numerous local businesses have temporarily shut down, and restaurants -- though permitted to stay open -- have switched to a take-out only model to adhere to strict policies on social distancing.
As of Tuesday, nearly all city-run facilities have been closed to the public, including the Mountain View Public Library, the Mountain View Senior Center and The View Teen Center. Last week, all performances at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts had been canceled through the end of the month.
All city services deemed non-essential will be "paused" starting Tuesday, March 17, with only essential functions including emergency police and fire services as well as water and sewer operations. A comprehensive list of temporary staffing cuts by department was not immediately available.
The city has created a page with coronavirus information and links here.
The full order by public health officials requires residents to stay at home and only leave when needed to perform "essential activities." As outlined in the order, people may leave home to take care of family or pets, buy groceries or supplies and engage in outdoor activities like walking and hiking.
The only caveat is that when people do go out in public, they must comply with social distancing requirements -- staying 6 feet away from other people, washing their hands frequently and covering coughs and sneezes.
The list of essential businesses allowed to remain includes health care providers, grocery stores, restaurants, laundromats, media outlets, gas stations, banks and financial institutions. Post offices and companies providing mailing services will also be permitted to stay open.
Food businesses including restaurants, cafes, coffee and tea shops can stay open but are prohibited from providing dine-in services. Gyms and health clubs are not permitted to operate, along with bars, night clubs and theaters. Places of worship, including churches, synagogues and mosques, are not allowed to hold live services, but can provide remote access via email, streaming and teleconference.
Violating the order is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine or jail time. But in a statement Monday, Mountain View police officials say the department sees arrests as a "last resort."
"We will be focused on educating the public and asking for compliance," according to the statement. "Our officers are being trained to communicate the shelter in place rules and ask for compliance."
Deputy Police Chief Chris Hsiung said the department is trying to avoid using criminal enforcement of the new rules as much as possible, and is not planning proactive sweeps of businesses or creating checkpoints to ask people why they are out in public. The overall philosophy is to use discretion, he said.
Hsiung said the vast majority of residents and businesses in Mountain View have been complying with the order. Police officers simply aren't seeing any bad actors flagrantly defying orders, he said, including limits on mass gatherings.
"To my knowledge we haven't had a case where we found a business or an establishment that was purposefully trying to evade or circumvent the rules put out by the public health department," he said.
The county's order prohibits travel for non-essential activities, but local public transit agencies are still operating, to help people get to those essential activities. VTA announced Monday that bus, light rail and paratransit services will continue to operate on a regular schedule (except for school routes), while Caltrain's weekday service has been reduced as of Tuesday, March 17.
The Mountain View Community Shuttle remains in service through the end of the week, and will be re-evaluated on a weekly basis, according to city spokeswoman Shonda Ranson.
Speaking to the Voice shortly before the announcement, Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga said the city is taking it day-by-day to make changes based on the latest guidance from county health officials, and that she believes the latest order is the right direction.
"It seems drastic, it's uncharted territory but in light of all the medical experts and what they've been saying I think this is the right course to take. It will be challenging, but it will help to bring the situation to resolution sooner," Abe-Koga said.
She encouraged residents to take the county's guidance seriously while also remaining calm, and for residents to check in on each other while also adhering to the new rules on isolation.
Monday's shelter-in-place order is the latest in a series of escalating restrictions by county public health officials aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 cases, starting with a ban on mass gatherings and, more recently, the closure of public schools until April 10. As of March 16, the county had 138 confirmed cases of the virus and four deaths. Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County's public health director, described the county in a Monday press conference as the "epicenter" of the outbreak in the Bay Area and that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly, necessitating swift action.
Cody said she understood the gravity of the decision, and that it was a far more difficult decision for the regional coalition of health officers than the Friday, March 13, decision to close down schools.
"I recognize that this is unprecedented, and if I thought last Friday's announcement was hard, this one is exponentially harder. But we must come together to do this," Cody said "We know we need to do this, and we know we need a regional approach."
A lengthy FAQ has been posted to answer common questions about what the order does and does not prevent. The full list can be found here.
The city of Mountain View also recently launched a new, daily brief for local updates on the coronavirus pandemic. Residents can text the word MVCOVID to 22828 to sign up for the email digest, called "The Briefing."
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.