County issues ‘shelter-in-place’ directive, city plans to implement its order

Los Altos residents, along with the rest of the Bay Area, will be spending a lot more time at home following a Monday directive (March 16) from health authorities to shelter in place. The dire measure comes as local and regional leaders struggle to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus. 

Residents of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties are under legal order not to go out outside for anything other than “essential services” to minimize coronavirus exposure.

The order, composed by seven health officers and their respective counsel, will be in effect for a minimum of three weeks. It goes into effect Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. (March 17).

“Essential services” are defined as those critical to one’s health and safety, such as those providing food and medication.

Los Altos reaction

Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea said Monday that city department heads and supervisors had met several times in the past week to discuss the ever-evolving situation and will continue to meet. According to Galea, city manager Chris Jordan met with officials to determine how best to provide the public with essential services while also protecting city staff and the community at large.

“Every time it seems like we have it, things change,” Galea said. “The biggest thing is we all recognize that we’re all in this together, and we at the city staff and police department have to be very patient and flexible.”

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Courtesy of the CDC
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.

As a result of the shelter-in-place order, the police department will now take reports over the phone and send documents via electronic or regular mail, and is encouraging investigators who only have report writing responsibilities to spend as much time away from the station as possible.

“The biggest concern of every police chief is having a virus outbreak impacting their patrol force,” Galea told the Town Crier.

Understanding many businesses will close entirely if they are designated as “nonessential services,” Galea said police will begin to identify which businesses those are and pay special attention to them during patrol.

“It’s a very legitimate concern,” he said, responding to business owners’ fears of potential theft or looting during the lockdown. “Where we are maybe reducing some services in some areas, we are well aware that there are individuals, unfortunately, that will try to take advantage of situations. … We will spend time in those areas.”

In a Monday statement to the Town Crier, Los Altos Mayor Jan Pepper said she is “hopeful that the shelter-in-place will greatly slow the transmission of the virus, allowing those who are healthy to stay healthy, and those who are sick to get the medical assistance they need to fully recover.”

“There will be a big impact to many of our businesses and their employees, as well as for our residents whose work is impacted, Pepper said. “Is there a silver lining? Perhaps staying at home and going on walks around the neighborhood (a social distance away from each other) provides an opportunity to more regularly see our neighbors, check in with each other, and help those in need.”

More details

New county edicts discourage public assembly while encouraging social distancing. Specifically, according to county health officials, this means keeping at least a 6-foot distance from another person.

Travel and business functions are limited to most essential needs. Grocery stores will remain open. Restaurants are being asked to operate with to-go, curbside and/or delivery services only. Hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, veterinary clinics, hospitals that treat animals and other related institutions will all remain open as essential “healthcare operations,” officials said. Fitness and exercise gyms will close. 

Some activities are allowed to continue, including public works construction, construction of housing – in particular affordable housing or housing for individuals experiencing homelessness – and public transit.

Other allowed operations include: food cultivators; media such as newspapers, radio and television stations; banks and related financial institutions; hardware stores; plumbers; electricians; exterminators; mailing and shipping services; educational institutions; laundromats; dry cleaners; businesses that supply products or services that help people work from home; airline and other transportation providers; home-based care; and residential and child care businesses.

According to Jordan, Los Altos city staff had been working remotely since the virus count began escalating. All first responders will continue work as usual. ex

The root of the reasoning

Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody said Monday’s order was driven by the increasing number of coronavirus cases popping up. As of Sunday, there were 273 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus across the seven counties and Berkeley.

“We know Santa Clara County is the epicenter in the Bay Area, and that (the coronavirus) is spreading rapidly,” Cody said.

As of Monday afternoon, Santa Clara County accounted for 138 of those cases, with 52 hospitalized. A total of 63 cases were caused by presumed communal transmission, reasoning for officials to continue to ask people to stay home and not attend large gathering spots such as bars, brewpubs and wineries. Late Monday, health officials took to the department's social media to report two more novel coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the county total to four.

Cody said officials acknowledge that the exemptions to the code, such as the homeless population in the respective areas, are “complicated.” She and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo both predicted it would take public agencies and private businesses alike days to develop a solution for how they would operate under the order. Frequently asked questions will be written up and published on each county’s and city’s public health department webpages.

“We realize this is unprecedented, and if I thought Friday’s announcement was hard, this one is exponentially harder,” Cody said. “But we must come together to do this.”

Marin County public health officer Matt Willis reminded the public that social distancing and shelter-in-place do not mean disconnection. He encouraged residents to exercise, and use calling, texting and online communication to keep up with loved ones, especially seniors, who could be especially prone to isolation. .

For more information on the order, visit

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