With the coronavirus pandemic rapidly spreading throughout communities around the nation, city leaders are taking the unprecedented step of placing San Francisco on lockdown for three weeks beginning Tuesday at midnight.
The City will legally prohibit residents from leaving their homes except to meet basic needs including visiting the doctor, or buying groceries or medicine, until at least April 7, Mayor London Breed announced Monday.
The dramatic restrictions, imposed under a city-issued Public Health Order, will also require non-essential businesses like bars and gyms to close. But pharmacies, banks and other businesses that perform an “essential” role for society will be allowed to remain open.
In a statement ahead of a City Hall press conference with city officials, Breed urged the public to remain calm and emphasized “that all essential needs will continue to be met.”
“This is going to be a defining moment for our city,” Breed said. “We all have a responsibility to do our part to protect our neighbors and slow the spread of this virus by staying at home unless it is absolutely essential to go outside.”
Police Chief Bill Scott said at the press conference that violations of the order are punishable by a misdemeanor, but “that is an absolute last resort.”
“We are going to take a compassionate, common-sense approach,” Scott told reporters. “We are looking for voluntary compliance.”
“This is not about a criminal justice approach to a public health issue, this is about educating the public,” Scott added.
San Francisco is joining five other Bay Area counties in issuing a shelter-in-place order. City officials decided to take the drastic measure after closing public schools and prohibiting large gatherings last week.
The other counties are Contra Costa, Marin, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo.
In a joint statement, Sen. Scott Wiener and assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu called the orders a “critical step to combat the pandemic.”
“We are in unprecedented times,” the state officials said. “We know that people are hurting, financially and otherwise. This short-term pain will help us avoid much more severe long-term consequences.”
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in San Francisco reached 40 on Monday morning, nearly two weeks after the first case of the virus was diagnosed in The City on March 5.
The hardest-hit county in the Bay Area thus far has been Santa Clara County, where the latest count sits at 114 confirmed cases.
Under the order, San Francisco residents will still be allowed to take a walk, exercise or take a pet out to use the bathroom as long as people remain at least six-feet away from others who are not a member of their own household.
Essential government services including fire, police, transit and health care will also continue to operate.
Homeless people are not subject to the order, but are encouraged to seek shelter.
Restaurants will still be allowed to serve customers through takeout and delivery.
Dr. Grant Colfax, the head of the Department of Public Health, urged all residents and businesses to comply with the order and said San Francisco is entering a “new phase in our response.”
“Based on what we can predict, now is the time to do everything that we can to prevent the situation from getting much worse in a matter of days or weeks,” Colfax said at the press conference. “Every hour counts.”
Colfax said non-essential travel is prohibited under the order, meaning that people who leave San Francisco on vacation between midnight Tuesday and April 7 would be considered out of compliance.
But people could still return home to The City during that time, Colfax said.
Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee cautioned residents that “this is not a game at all.”
“We can give orders, but if you don’t follow it, it’s useless,” Yee said at the press conference. “We all must do our part.”
Supervisor Matt Haney told the San Francisco Examiner that the order is the “right thing to do” to protect lives.
“We also know it will put an unimaginable burden on workers, businesses and every single resident in our city,” Haney said. “We’ve got to be flexible, understanding and be there for each other during this time.”
With the support of the Board of Supervisors, Breed has already enacted a moratorium on evicting tenants who cannot pay rent because of the coronavirus. The mayor has also allowed small businesses to delay making city tax payments and other permit fees until next year.
Haney called on local as well as state and federal authorities to “step up in a huge way.”
“This is going to take a massive investment of resources particularly in support of our most impacted small businesses and workers,” Haney said.
At the press conference, Breed said the federal government has had a “terrible” response to the virus.
“But sadly, now is not the time to point fingers,” Breed said. “It’s the time to come together and provide as many resources as we can locally.”
Effective at midnight, San Francisco will require people to stay home except for essential needs.
Necessary government functions & essential stores will remain open.
These steps are based on the advice of public health experts to slow the spread of #COVID19.
— London Breed (@LondonBreed) March 16, 2020
This developing story has been updated.