Coronavirus

Health Officer: If You Don’t Want to Break the Law, Stay Home

As county issues order, coronavirus leaves service providers scrambling

Dr. Gail Newel, Santa Cruz County Health officer, informs the media Monday about a county-wide shelter-in-place order regarding the coronavirus outbreak. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

If they’re not careful, Santa Cruz County residents who leave home over the next three weeks could be breaking the law.

And if they should find themselves within six feet of anyone else, they might be a double-offender. On Monday, Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel issued a shelter-in-place order directing residents to only leave their house for essential activities. That means trips to the grocery store, bank, gas station, hardware store, pharmacy and certain government offices are all still OK. But whenever they leave the house, for any reason, residents must practice social distancing—e.g. the six-feet rule—even when they’re standing in line. They are allowed to go to work, if absolutely necessary. Newel says these measures are designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, a coronavirus strain that puts the elderly and medically vulnerable populations in particular at high risk.

Newel says unruly residents could technically be arrested for disobeying the order, although she isn’t sure what statute they would be violating or how the specifics work. “People could be arrested, but we’re certainly hoping that our community members abide by these guidelines,” Newel told a press conference of reporters Monday evening.

Newel’s proclamation tells all non-essential businesses to close their doors for now. Newel told reporters that all bars, wineries and brewpubs should close, unless they serve food. And under Newel’s order, restaurants are now only allowed to serve take-out meals and do food deliveries.

Until Monday, many of the major questions surrounding the COVID-19 response had to do with when events would start happening again or when school would resume. Now, everything will be on hold until at least April 7. Newel’s order is in place for three weeks, unless it is extended.

The directive came in conjunction with similar orders around the Bay Area—and just one day after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued his own call for bars to close and for social distancing at restaurants.

In Santa Cruz County, it isn’t clear how enforcement will work. County spokesperson Jason Hoppin suggested Santa Cruzans could call the non-emergency number of their local law enforcement agency if they see businesses violating the order.

On the Monday morning before the county’s directive came out, restaurateur Zach Davis was already preparing to switch over to all take-out orders at his three eateries, Snap Taco, the Picnic Basket and the Penny Ice Creamery. Davis is in the middle of trying to figure out if his business interruption insurance will cover losses during the disruptions. Some of the vague language coming out of the governor’s office hasn’t been helping, he says. Davis adds that he isn’t sure how much the disruptions will slow the opening of the Penny’s much-anticipated Aptos Village location.

Shaz Roth, president and CEO of the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, says health has to be the top priority, but she says the cumulative effect of social distancing and cancelled events has been hard on small business owners—as well as for event planners, caterers and food suppliers. She suggests struggling small businesses look into applying for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.

Santa Cruz County Business Council Executive Director Robert Singleton thinks most businesses will comply with the new orders, but he adds that the disruptions this month will be significant. He suggests that those who want to support local businesses order take-out from restaurants and buy gift cards from their favorite establishments.

GET MEAL

Before the county announced its shelter-in-place order, Gov. Newsom called for the “home isolation” of all California residents 65 years and older, as well as all Californians with chronic medical conditions. “We are doing so with our eyes wide open at the magnitude of what that means, and the need to provide wraparound services to support our seniors in need of medical supplies, in need of meals and the like,” Newsom said at his press conference on Sunday.

On Monday, Meals on Wheels of Santa Cruz County issued a press release saying it was “committed to ensuring that no senior goes hungry during this evolving public health crisis.” All Santa Cruz County seniors over age 60 are eligible to receive home-delivered meals through Meals on Wheels, regardless of income level. A suggested donation of $2.50 per meal is requested, but no senior will be denied if they can’t pay. Those looking to receive home meal deliveries can download an application at communitybridges.org/mealsonwheels and email completed applications to [email protected]

The local nonprofit Grey Bears is closing some of its services—like its thrift store and computer repair shop—in order to focus on healthy food deliveries for seniors. The biggest challenge lately has been the empty grocery store shelves in the wake of mad rushes to the supermarket. “Right now, the biggest problem is people are hoarding food,” says Tim Brattan, the nonprofit’s executive director. “That creates a problem for groups like us. We’ll buy the food, but stores can’t keep their shelves stocked.”

To mitigate shortages and to get as many supplies as possible, Grey Bears is working directly with growers. Additionally, staff recently sent home all volunteers who were over the age of 65, so the nonprofit needs more help, Brattan says.

Those available to volunteer may contact Grace Mora at [email protected] or 831-479-1055 at extension 241.

SHELTERING HEAT

Newel said on Monday that homeless people are exempt from the order, but she strongly encouraged the homeless to seek shelter. “And governmental and other entities are strongly urged to make such shelter available as soon as possible,” she added.

It isn’t exactly clear what shelter may become available, but in his own press conference, Gov. Newsom mentioned a plan to give homeless people places to stay in hotels and motels. (He also issued an executive order on Monday allowing local governments to halt evictions and foreclosures.) Newsom additionally said that the state would send 450 trailers around the state to help shelter people, but he didn’t say where they would be going.

Newel said the county is working hard on this issue. “We have a large group working through that and making some good progress, and we have some definite plans in place,” she said.

Be that as it may, it is not clear what shape those plans will take.

Phil Kramer, the executive director for Housing Matters, doesn’t have any specifics to share regarding additional shelter capacity or motel vouchers.

Kramer says that the Harvey West-based shelter and services hub is setting aside a five-bedroom house in its 40-room Page Smith transitional housing program to quarantine patients with COVID-19, and his executive team has started meeting three times a week to respond to rapidly changing information.

Housing Matters also is cancelling its 21st annual Soupline fundraiser, an April 16 event that would have brought together more than 400 people and was forecast to raise at least $100,000. At this point, Kramer suggests local philanthropists and volunteers read Community Foundation CEO Susan True’s “Three Ways to Take Action” release for suggestions on how to be of service.

Housing Matters also has an Amazon Wish list for items that are always in high demand at the nonprofit.

Kramer tells GT via email, “Community support is critical to filling operating budget gaps and supporting a lean staff, which may be especially true now, with people unable to work because of self-monitoring, self-quarantine, or staying home to care for family and children who are not in school because of mandated school closure.”


Update 3/20/20,1:17pm: Because of erroneous information from Meals on Wheels, a previous version of this story misreported the age at which seniors are eligible for meal deliveries.


Coronavirus Coverage

For continuing in-depth coverage of the new coronavirus and its effects locally, visit goodtimes.sc/category/santa-cruz-news/coronavirus.

To learn about action you can take now, whether you’re seeking assistance or want to find ways of supporting the community, visit goodtimes.sc/santa-cruz-coronavirus-resources.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Jacob Pierce

    March 19, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    Good question, Mary T.
    No, you may get out and exercise, but you’re supposed to stay at least six feet from others.

  2. Mary T.

    March 19, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    Does this mean that we are not allowed to go outside to walk the dog and get exercise?

  3. Josh S

    March 18, 2020 at 11:54 am

    I’m surprised no publications are picking up that soundbite from the first press conference where Newel is asked by a reporter if Santa Cruz County has a precedent for dealing with something like this outbreak and responded “There has been nothing like this since World War II”.

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