The Alameda County Superior Court has shut down its operations to meet a Health Department’s sweeping order for residents to “shelter in place” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Hour by hour, decisions this week seemed to change as law enforcement officers, judges and other officials held meetings on ways to slow the COVID-19 illness’ path.
Local police departments and fire agencies are operating normally, with Alameda County firefighters asking on social media for restaurants that takeout, so they can patronize them while on duty.
The Alameda County court system, which had intended to keep some operations in place, closed instead on Tuesday while waiting for California’s Chief Justice Tania Cantil-Sakauye to officially grant an emergency order to keep court business shut down until April 8.
“The Alameda County Superior Court supports the shelter in place order and has determined that it cannot adequately comply with COVID-related guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, County Health, and other authorities and still remain open to the public,” the Alameda court said in a statement.
Late last week, court officials had issued an 8-page order with specifics on which operations would remain open, including ongoing trials, but Monday’s shelter in place order changed that. The county required the chief justice’s approval because courts must meet constitutional requirements for speedy trials. Under the emergency order, the closure period will change court business days to “court holidays.”
During the closure, all evictions set to occur through April 8 will be postponed.
The county Sheriff’s Department, meanwhile, announced that no in-person visitations will be allowed in the system’s jails, but video visitations using tablets will continue. Inmates also have access to telephones to call loved ones and attorneys.
The Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, which houses about 2,600 inmates, has not found anyone testing positive for the virus through Monday, sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said.
All employees and arrestees entering the jail must be screened. Anyone showing symptoms will be denied entry and sent to medical care, Kelly said. Visitors will be asked basic questions, including whether they’ve been around any sick people.
“We have no coronavirus cases as of yet,” Kelly said Monday. “We hope not to get any.”
The jail, the largest in the Bay Area, and employs about 500 staff members. The concern is the virus coming from the outside.
“Jail is unique in that it does give you a better ability to do shelter in place, than maybe other places,” he said.
Some inmates, including homeless, drug addicted and mentally ill, will benefit from remaining in custody during the outbreak because they receive 24-hour medical care they do not receive on the street, Kelly said.
Kelly said arrests across the county appear to be down. Sheriff’s Department officials reached out to fellow police agencies that send inmates to the county jails and asked them to “avoid arrests where we can” to minimize the effect on the jail.
At stations, including Dublin, deputies have the necessary equipment they need to stay safe, including gloves, dispensable masks, and sanitation wipes and sprays, Kelly said.
“We feel pretty comfortable in that area,” Kelly added.
In the field, deputies are functioning differently than normal, concerned about public safety, but not conducting special operations that could lead to numerous arrests, including citation campaigns to stop distracted driving. Traffic stops where deputies must approach motorists at their driver’s window also might be reduced to decrease interactions.
“We’re in a different time as far as policing goes,” Kelly said. “It’s not business as usual.”
Sheriff’s Department station lobbies will stay open, but deputies are eliminating some non-essential tasks, like handing out police reports. Visitors will speak on the telephone to deputies before anyone comes out. Deputies will maintain the 6-foot social distancing recommended by health officials.
Custody handovers will continue in the parking lot.
“It’s keeping our people safe, so we can do our job, so we can keep the public safe,” Kelly said. “We are up for the challenges.”
In Pleasanton, the Police Department was operating normally, including keeping its front lobby open to the public. Many of the city’s public buildings were closed, so the police station was acting as the one open spot for the public to come in and ask questions.
“We have a glass window and the people can talk through the openings,” police Lt. Penelope Tamm said. “It does provide a barrier between the public and our staff.”
Tamm said the department encourages people to use online systems to file reports, but will still take them in the lobby. Custody exchanges can still occur in the station’s front lot.
During the shelter in place, the department has cancelled its Citizens Academy classes and won’t be conducting ride-alongs or special campaigns. Officers are making sure people see them, including driving through neighborhoods and grocery store parking lots, so people feel comfortable.
“Our guys are still out and they are visible,” Tamm said.
Officers currently are stocked with masks, protective suits, gloves and sanitizing wipes and lotions to protect themselves.
In a statement on Facebook, Livermore police said the public might see temporary changes in service, but otherwise officers will respond normally.
“You can expect officers to be utilizing their assigned personal protective equipment like gloves, glasses and masks,” the statement said. “It is our duty to keep you safe as much as we possibly can. In order for us to do that, we need a healthy work force.”
Officers might ask people who call or visit the station to meet outside, or officers might take non-emergency reports over the phone.
“Public safety is a top priority for us and we wanted to ensure you we are doing our part to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” the statement noted. “The Livermore Police Department will continue to serve the public with honor, protection, and purpose. As an essential service working to keep you and your loved ones safe, we want you to know, we are still here.”
Alameda County firefighters, meanwhile, who handle calls in Dublin and unincorporated areas near Livermore, said firefighters are “taking all precautions” to protect their own health while responding to calls, department spokesman Brian Centoni said. Firefighters carry masks for themselves, but also for the residents seeking their help.
Many people are calling with flu-like symptoms, concerned they have the virus. Firefighters ask them if they wish to be taken to a hospital or remain at home and go on their own.
Centoni said he worked a 24-hour shift Sunday where eight of the 12 calls were for flu-like symptoms. Firefighters wear masks during the calls, try to maintain “social distancing,” and clean their gear and take showers between calls.
Firefighters cancelled a pancake breakfast. An Academy class has been delayed for two weeks, but otherwise, fire stations are fully operational.
Food, however, and long lines at supermarkets has created an issue. Firefighters, who are known for their station cooking and are often seen at local markets, didn’t have time between calls for lengthy visits to stores. Instead, their local union, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 55, requested on its Facebook page a list of restaurants they can support during the shutdown.
Firefighters “will look to forego (when possible) our routine of cooking shift dinners in order to support our local restaurants that may be facing economic hardships during this time.”
The post asked for names of restaurants throughout the county that offer “takeout” service.
“We hope that our friends and neighbors will see this list, share it, and collectively help our local businesses and community members during this difficult time,’ the post concluded.