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What Does 'Shelter in Place' Mean and Could it Happen Everywhere?

Gettyimages | Justin Paget
By Robin Zabiegalski

On Monday, officials from several counties in the San Francisco Bay Area announced that residents in their counties would be required to comply with a shelter in place order. The order states that all residents of the Bay Area counties need to stay in their homes, only leaving to perform essential activities.

The shelter in place order is aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus in the San Francisco area. These restrictions are the most extreme measures currently being taken to address the coronavirus crisis. What does shelter in place really mean? Could it become the norm throughout the U.S.? Here's what we know.

What Does Shelter in Place Really Mean?

Church service with very few people
Gettyimages | Mario Tama

The shelter in place order basically makes social distancing an official mandate. Residents are being required to stay in their homes as much as possible. This means working from home if possible, not attending any social activities, only leaving the house to perform essential activities, and leaving six feet between people when out in public.

Places where people tend to gather - restaurants, bars, and clubs - have all been forced to close. Restaurants are allowed to stay open for take out or delivery business only. The only other businesses allowed to remain open are ones that provide essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies.

Is Shelter in Place a Total Lockdown?

Man working from home wearing a medical mask
Gettyimages | Justin Paget

Shelter in place isn't the same thing as the lockdowns that European countries are imposing to control the spread of coronavirus. People are still allowed to go to the grocery stores and pharmacies as they please, go outside to walk the dog, get some outdoor exercise in, and go to jobs that are deemed essential.

On Tuesday, the first full day of the shelter in place order, many Bay Area residents were taking advantage of the "outdoor exercise" exemption, just for a chance to be outside their homes.

Are Other States Considering Shelter in Place?

Woman wearing a medical mask staring through a window
Gettyimages | Justin Paget

The shelter in place order in the Bay Area is the first of its kind in the country.

Soon other cities and areas may follow the Bay Area's lead. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is reportedly considering a shelter in place order. He said on Tuesday that the decision would be made within the next 48 hours.

Other cities in California, like Palm Springs, are now issuing shelter in place orders as well. In the near future, shelter in place could be the norm throughout the country.

Why Are Cities Considering Such Extreme Measures

Graph explaining the concept of 'flatten the curve'
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flatten_the_curve_-_coronavirus_disease_2019_epidemic_infographic.jpg

The shelter in place order is extreme. So, why are cities like NYC thinking of taking such extreme measures? Because social distancing has been proven to slow the spread of a pandemic.

At the rate coronavirus is spreading throughout the country, the number of people needing treatment will soon surpass the number of hospital beds in the entire country. Hospitals are already beginning to run out of essential medical supplies.

In order to ensure hospitals can treat patients, the spread of coronavirus needs to be slowed. Enforcing social distance through an official mandate will help spread out the number of cases over a longer period of time, putting less strain on the hospital system.

Though the shelter in place order or orders will certainly change people's lives in a big way, they will also save lives in a big way.

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