What Does It Really Mean to Shelter in Place? - COVID-19 Clinical Trial
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What Does It Really Mean to Shelter in Place?

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    The coronavirus has introduced many previously unfamiliar terms and phrases into our regular vocabulary, including social distancing and distance learning.  

    Now “shelter in place” is in the spotlight as hundreds of cities around the country are instructed to do so. What exactly does it look like to shelter in place during the coronavirus pandemic, and what should Americans expect? 

    The Definition of Shelter in Place 

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the specific requirements of a shelter in place order depend on the emergency. Until the coronavirus pandemic, most shelter in place orders occurred during severe weather events, active shooter situations, or chemical threats.  

    The CDC outlines three steps that residents should take upon a shelter in place order: 

    • Get inside with emergency supplies, family members, and pets 
    • Find a safe spot 
    • Stay in place until officials say it’s safe to leave 

    The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has created a unique shelter in place situation. Unlike severe weather and active shooter situations, the coronavirus threat cannot be resolved in a few hours or days. Since it’s not realistic for every American to stay inside for the next 14-30 days, shelter in place rules are evolving.  

    Life During a Coronavirus Shelter in Place Order 

    San Francisco, California was one of the first cities in the country to mandate a shelter in place order. According to its shelter in place guidelines, “Everyone is required to stay home except to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care, or go to an essential job.” 

    As of March 31, 2020, the following activities became prohibited in San Francisco and other Bay Area counties until May 3: 

    • Use of playgrounds, outdoor gym equipment, and barbecue areas 
    • Use of enclosed dog parks 
    • Use of shared recreational facilities like golf courses, tennis courts, and basketball courts 
    • Sports activities that use shared equipment (i.e. soccer, frisbee, basketball) unless by members of the same household 
    • All construction, unless related to health care projects, affordable housing, and other exceptions 
    • Exercise that requires public transportation or driving 

    As the guidelines emphasize, “This is a critical intervention to reduce harm from the spread of the coronavirus in our community. This is a mandatory order.” 

    Governor Murphy of New Jersey, Governor Lamont of Connecticut, Governor Pritzker of Illinois, and Governor Cuomo of New York have also implemented shelter in place orders. In New York, residents have been ordered to close all non-essential businesses and stay home as much as possible through April 29.  

    “While the numbers look like they may be turning, now is not the time to be lax with social distancing- that would be a mistake and we all have a responsibility and a societal role in this,” Cuomo explained. Any businesses that do not comply may face fines or enforcement measures.  

    Non-essential businesses including malls, movie theaters, gyms, casinos, sporting events, barbershops, nail salons, and tattoo parlors. The essential businesses permitted to stay open, which include grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, banks, mail delivery, trash collection, auto repair, and news media, must take proactive measures to ensure social distancing at all times.  

    Though extended shelter in place orders have caused concern and frustration, Governor Newsom of California reminded everyone of the bigger picture: “This is not a permanent state, this is a moment in time. We will look back at these decisions as pivotal.”  


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