Alameda County, along with Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties have all issued a “shelter in place” order to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the Bay Area, and to prevent hospitals and health clinics from being overwhelmed.
The unprecedented and dramatic public safety response, affecting more than 7 million people, was announced by health officials from seven Bay Area counties on Monday, in addition to Sana Cruz, and the cities of Oakland and Berkeley. Napa County was considering a similar order as of Tuesday.
The order requires residents to shelter at home for three weeks, and for all non-essential businesses to close through April 7. The duration can be either shortened or extended by the County Health Officer or the State Public Health Officer.
“This joint action we are demonstrating today in unity is to show the importance of coming together as a community and as a region to protect our most vulnerable,” said Dr. Erica Pan, Alameda County’s Interim Health Officer. “We are here to protect the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. Together, we can slow the spread of disease to protect our parents, our grandparents and those who need us most to help protect them from serious illness and hospitalization.”
The sweeping order followed an advisory issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom at a press conference on Sunday, telling seniors over 65 to stay home and urging bars, nightclubs, brewery tap rooms, and winery tasting rooms across the state to close immediately due to the public health emergency.
Unlike Newsom’s advisory, which requested voluntary compliance, Tuesday’s order from Bay Area health officials is mandatory. Violations constitute a misdemeanor. Although, at press time, no serious discussions of enforcement or potential penalties have been made public.
The order limits activity, travel and business functions to only the most essential needs. The guidance comes after substantial input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and best practices from other health officials around the world.
Essential activities are defined as those necessary for the health and safety for individuals and their families, such as grocery shopping, purchasing medication and going to medical appointments.
Public transit is mostly running on a regular schedule, although Amtrak California announced it will likely make significant changes to its regular Capitol Corridor train and connecting bus service starting March 21. ACE has decided to suspend its Saturday service pilot program.
As of press time, outdoor activity that does not involve close contact with other people, such as going for walks, is allowed, provided people adhere to social distancing requirements. This means, while outside your home, trying to stay at least six feet away from other people you do not live with.
Scientific evidence shows social distancing is one of the most effective approaches to slow the transmission of communicable disease.
You will still be able to get mail and other deliveries at your home, and leave home to purchase necessary items at grocery stores, pharmacies, and hardware stores. Banks, laundromats, dry cleaners, gas stations, auto repair shops and business supply stores will remain open. Restaurants will also remain open, but only for takeout and delivery. Day care centers may remain open, though many have chosen to close.
Officials are urging people to purchase normal quantities of food to ensure that there is enough for everyone.
The shelter in place order comes on the heels of new data showing increasing community transmission of COVID-19. As of March 17, the eight counties had more than 300 confirmed cases with at least four deaths.
This does not account for the rapidly increasing number of assumed cases of people infected through community transmission. Community transmission means the affected patient had no evidence of having associated with anyone who had been diagnosed with the virus. The CDC confirmed the Bay Area’s first community transmission of COVID-19 on Feb. 26.
As testing capacity increases, the number of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases is expected to markedly increase.
Below are some of the ways the COVID-19 response is affecting the Tri-Valley.
Hospitals, Clinics Set Rules for Patients, Visitors
Kaiser Permanente: Kaiser is encouraging patients to call the advice nurse before coming physically to a medical center. David Witt, National Infectious Disease leader, said that patients with Covid-19 symptoms “will in most cases be isolated in our medical centers.” When patients are otherwise healthy and have mild symptoms, they may be sent home “to convalesce in isolation from others” with regular monitoring by clinicians. “Most infected people will recover on their own,” he said.
Kaiser also announced it was providing $1 million to increase capacity for preventing and treating cases of COVID-19 within the homeless population. It was not clear if any Alameda County agencies would be recipients. The initial recipients were in Santa Clara County, Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland.
Stanford Health Care and Valley Care: Visitors are no longer allowed in their hospitals, clinics and outpatient locations until April 30. The policy exempts visitors for patients under 18 or those supporting people with disabilities. Visitors must stay 6 feet apart, perform hand hygiene as ordered, and keep visits short.
John Muir Health: Potential patients will be screened by telephone. The centers are not taking walk-ins and have temporarily disabled an online scheduling system, according to the JMH website. Patients should first call a primary care doctor, but then call an urgent care center if the doctor is not available. John Muir Health has also established visitor restrictions “for the safety of our patients and staff.” Any visitor who is feeling sick should stay home, and all visitors will be screened for cold, flu-like and respiratory symptoms.
Cities Cancel Meetings, Limit Services
Livermore: On March 13, Livermore City Manager Marc Roberts declared a local emergency to strengthen the city’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a special Livermore City Council meeting March 13, the emergency declaration was ratified. Mayor John Marchand was the only elected member physically at the Council Chambers during the meeting. The rest of the City Council, all who fall within the medically vulnerable population at the greatest risk from the virus, attended the meeting remotely via Skype.
"The situation is very serious and changing rapidly,” said Livermore Vice Mayor Bob Woerner. “Everyone should do as the health experts advise and comply with government directives. The city is partnering with all relevant agencies. The city’s website has important information and links to trustworthy sources for the latest information."
All City Council and advisory board meetings are cancelled through April17. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for April 27. All “non-essential” city-sponsored events with an anticipated attendance of more than 25 people until the end of May were also cancelled.
Most city facilities will remain open and essential services will continue. However, the city is asking people who need to do business with a city department to first call (925) 960-4000 or check the city’s website, www.cityoflivermore.net, to see if they can complete the task over the phone, online, or via email, rather than in-person.
Pleasanton: The only city services to remain open will be police, fire, and paratransit to medical appointments and grocery stores.
“We must all do our part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 within our communities and across the region,” Pleasanton City Manager Nelson Fialho said. “Limiting city services will help maintain public health and safety of our residents and employees.”
Limited City Services and Staff Will Be Available to Assist with:
• Utility billing via phone at (925) 931-5500 from 7:30am to 3:30pm or through SEW online portal. Utility billing drop box locations will also be available in front of 3333 Busch Road and 200 Old Bernal Ave.
• Permits for emergencies relating to health and safety associated with sewer, water or utilities by calling (925) 931-5650 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
• Building inspections for emergencies relating to health and safety by calling (925) 931-5650 between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dublin: City Manager Linda Smith declared a State of Emergency, which will be ratified by the City Council by next week. The declaration will allow for the City to qualify for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to seek other state or federal relief for expenses incurred during this emergency.
Dublin city officials further stated they’ve been in close contact with the governor’s office and state health officials. “We are following all of their guidelines to keep the citizens of Dublin safe through this unprecedented time,” said Dublin Councilwoman Jean Josey. “I would like to reiterate that social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 is crucial. Slowing the spread and ‘flattening the curve’ will help keep us from overwhelming our hospitals and will save lives. Please heed Governor Newsom’s order.”
All meetings have been cancelled until further notice. While Dublin City Hall will be closed, essential City of Dublin staff will remain working at City Hall in order to be available to answer the public’s needs. For more information, please visit www.dublin.ca.gov/coronavirus or call (925) 833-6650.
Senior Meals Will Continue
Open Heart Kitchen: Meals will be offered as to-go lunches only, and will distribute pre-ordered to-go lunch bags from an alternate entrance of the Robert Livermore Community Center, 4444 East Avenue in Livermore. For the most up-to-date information on meal service, visit www.openheartkitchen.org/seniormeals.
Labs Staffs Working from Home
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: LLNL is following a protocol called Minimum Safe Operations. This means keeping enough qualified people on-site to ensure safety and security, with most others working from home. “All employees who can effectively telecommute should plan to do so beginning Tuesday, March 17,” said director Bill Goldstein in a memorandum early this week. He also urged employees to “adhere to the county shelter-in-place orders” and follow basic health, hygiene and social distancing standards
Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore: Sandia is also working with as few on-site people as possible consistent with safety, security and essential (“mission-critical”) work requirements. Director James Peery, based at the main Laboratories site in Albuquerque, has instructed all employees who can do so to work from home. Sandia has expanded paid leave normally based on family illness to include leave required because of school or daycare closures. A statement late last week called Sandia’s “top priority…to keep employees, and by extension its communities, safe and healthy.”
Public Transportation Keeps Running
While public transportation is expected to remain open for people performing essential roles, such as those pertaining to law enforcement or health care, health officials remind people to adhere to social distancing requirements as much as possible.
Tri-Valley Wheels: The Public Health Officer’s order defines public transportation as part of the “Essential Infrastructure.” Accordingly, Wheels announced it will continue to operate its regular fixed route services and Dial-a-Ride paratransit. Supplemental school services have already been suspended until school resumes. To reach Dial-a-Ride call (925) 455-7510.
Pleasanton Paratransit: Pleasanton Paratransit will remain operating during the shelter-in-place, according to a press release from the city. However, service will be limited to medical appointments and grocery stores. To schedule a ride, call (925) 931-5376.
BART: BART is running regular service for essential workers during the shelter in place order. Cars have been added to trains to allow for social distancing. There was no crowding during the Tuesday morning commute, according to the transit agency. Ridership for March 16 was 118,572 representing a 70% drop compared to an average Monday last month.
ACE Rail Altamont Commuter Express: As of press time, all four weekday Monday through Friday round-trips will remain in operation, according to ACE.
Due to the evolving nature of the public health emergency, ACE suspended the Saturday Service Pilot Program, following several weeks of reduced ridership, ACE announced.
Amtrak Capitol Corridor: The Capitol Corridor is considered an “essential service” for many travelers who are exempt from the shelter in place order, and is expected to maintain its regular train and connecting bus service through Friday, March 20. It has been running longer trains to allow passengers to follow social distancing requirements.
Outdoor Activities Are Still Allowed
The order in Alameda County specifically includes outdoor activity as a permitted activity that is essential to health.
While many public parks and recreation programs like swim centers and classes have been cancelled out of concerns for public safety, places like Sycamore Grove Park remain open to the public to get fresh air and enjoy nature.
To avoid spreading the virus, public health officials urge people who visit parks to remain at least six feet away from people who are not part of their household.
LARPD: Effective March 13, Livermore Area and Recreation Park District closed the Robert Livermore Aquatics Center, The Robert Livermore Community Center, and Recreation Building, and cancelled all recreation programs, events, classes and rentals.
The park district will provide refunds to customers for programs and services impacted by this cancellation. Call (925) 373-5700 or visit www.larpd.org for more information.
Phone-in and online registration for summer activities and camps opens March 18. Staff from the park district will answer phones between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. To register, call (925) 373-5700 or visit https://apm.activecommunities.com/larpd.
East Bay Regional Parks: Out of an abundance of caution, all visitor centers, rental facilities, swim facilities, and campgrounds are closed, East Bay Parks announced Monday.
In the Tri-Valley, this means the closure of the Sunol visitor center, and the campgrounds at Del Valle, and Sunol, and swimming at the Shadow Cliffs beach in Pleasanton.
East Bay Parks also cancelled all school, recreational, and naturalist-directed programs until April 12.
Regional parks and trails remain open to the public. East Bay Parks urges visitors to be prepared by bringing their own water and hand sanitizer.
“We understand that nature is a great place to get exercise and rejuvenate your mind, body and soul – especially in time of crisis,” East Bay Parks wrote in a statement on the COVID-19 response. “A walk on a trail, around your neighborhood or private backyard will allow you to breathe fresh air and help to reduce stress and anxiety.”
Libraries to Close for Weeks
Livermore: The Livermore Public Library closed its public service areas March 17 and is exploring options for providing cardholders access to library books and other physical materials.
In the meantime, the Library’s Digital Library, which offers free access to downloadable e-books, audiobooks, magazines, newspapers, such as The New York Times, and thousands of streaming movies, is available around the clock at: www.cityoflivermore.net/citygov/lib.
Pleasanton: Pleasanton’s library is also closed to the public, although phone calls and emails will be answered during regular business hours, according to the library’s website.
Checked out library materials can be returned to the outside book drop next to the library entrance, kept longer by calling the library to extend the due date, or returned through the library’s online ZenDesk service. Outstanding materials checked out through the Link+ library consortium can be returned or kept until the library re-opens. The library will waive any late fees.
The library’s digital offerings of e-books, magazines, newspapers and streaming content remain available at: www.cityofpleasantonca.gov/gov/depts/lib.
Alameda County Public Library, Dublin: Alameda County Library closed its Dublin branch and nine other locations on March 15 and has tentative plans to reopen April 8.
“We will be assessing continually. It is a heart-breaking thing to close a public space, particularly in an emergency, but we cannot keep the libraries open and maintain the State/County social distancing recommendations of 6 (feet) of space per person,” Alameda County Library’s wrote in a statement announcing the closures.
Reporters Aly Brown, Larry Altman and Jeff Garberson contributed to this story.
For the full language of the shelter-in-place order and for FAQs, see the Alameda County Department of Public Health's website at: www.acphd.org.