Update: Wednesday evening, Napa County and Solano County joined the rest of the Bay Area in ordering residents to keep in their homes as much as possible.
Napa County Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio issued a shelter-at-home order due to take effect at midnight on Friday. Solano County’s Dr. Bela Matyas followed suit hours later, that order effective immediately and valid through April 7.
Both counties’ guidelines are very similar to those in effect throughout the rest of the Bay Area (in many places the language is verbatim), with “essential businesses” like grocery stores, gas stations, auto shops, banks, television and radio stations, and government services remaining open, along with non-profits and community groups that provide similar services, while others are ordered closed.
“This order is mandatory. All persons and other entities are required to comply if they do not fall within the exemptions that are specified in the order,” the Napa writ warns, adding, “It is a misdemeanor to not comply.”
Napa County currently has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, but Relucio warns that the area could have undiagnosed cases, including many people who may not realize they’re sick and contagious. Solano County may have its first case of person-to-person transmission.
Nearby Sacramento, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties are working under similar orders. Most are due to expire in early April, but health officers may extend or curtail the prohibitions as they see fit.
A seventh Bay Area county is under a shelter-in-place mandate after Sonoma County put out the order Tuesday, telling nearly half-million residents to stay indoors and avoid all unnecessary travel and socializing in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Interim Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase (who only took the job a few days ago) called the order a “proactive action to curtail the spread of the virus” and to keep the healthcare system from becoming overrun.
Sonoma County has six confirmed cases of COVID-19, fewer than other Bay Area counties adopting similar measures (San Francisco has 43 as of Tuesday). Speaking on Northern California Public Media Tuesday night, Mase said that Sonoma County was a day behind other Bay Area communities taking this step because, until Saturday, the area had only two cases.
The order is similar to the one currently in effect in San Francisco, which states that “all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a household or living unit are prohibited.” The order directs residents to stay at home as much as possible.
“Essential businesses,” like pharmacies and grocery stores, will remain open. Restaurants and cafes are on take-out-only status. Construction jobs, particularly those related to affordable housing, will continue.
The order also exempts the area homeless population.
Sonoma County residents can leave the house for activities like “without limitation, walking, hiking, biking, or running,” but should stay six feet from each other. Flouting the order is a misdemeanor, although the county’s FAQ includes a notice that “the intent is not for anyone to get in trouble.”
Mase set the duration of the guidelines through April 7, but may adjust them later.
The role of health officers, like Mase and San Francisco’s Tomas Aragon, in county government is an obscure job, but at times like these, such positions can exercise vast power over government policy.
According to the California health and safety code, “The health officer may take any preventive measure that may be necessary to protect and preserve the public from any [...] local emergency.”
A local emergency can include “epidemic,” as well as the likes of fires, floods, riots, drought, energy shortages, earthquake, volcanic eruption, air pollution, cyberterrorism, but specifically not from “labor controversy.”
Solano and Napa counties are the only Bay Area regions that are not currently implementing shelter-in-place rules. Napa County Public Health Officer Karen Relucio has curtailed gatherings of 50 people or more this week. Solano County Public Health Officer Bela Matyas issued a statement Tuesday reemphasizing “social distancing” guidelines from the state.