In the face of the new coronavirus pandemic that's now killed six people in Santa Clara County, residents, employees and the homeless of Palo Alto are all left with the same option — cope.
A sweeping order issued Monday by health officials of six Bay Area counties, including Santa Clara, instructed everyone to stay at home and limit all outside traveling to essentials such as grocery shopping or picking up medication.
It doesn't mean people aren't allowed to step outside. And that's especially true for employees of businesses that local county officials have labeled as "essential" and can continue to operate.
Outside of Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels shop on California Avenue, which has limited its operation to takeout and delivery orders, Clyde Salazar was eating his lunch on Tuesday and taking a break from his current construction project at 2515 El Camino Real, where 13 housing units, including a space for businesses, are in development. Because the site includes housing, the construction is considered essential under the county order.
"I can't work from home," Salazar, 46, said. "I'm a commercial plumber."
It wasn't stated as a gripe. Even as someone who is considered an essential worker, Salazar says the construction crew of around 70 people was slashed by half on Tuesday; he doesn't know what happened to the rest of the employees. But he knows he's lucky.
"My wife — she's not working, she had to file for unemployment," Salazar said. "She's in construction, also, as an office manager, and her company said, 'All nonessential personnel — stay home.'"
Near the Southgate neighborhood, David Nitoff was working through his usual 12-hour shift as a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, which the county considers essential.
"Gotta keep food on the table," Nitoff said. "Everyone's still out and about (and) we've been short-staffed for a while, in general."
With a spike in online shopping — significantly localized in Amazon.com, which is now temporarily prioritizing "high-demand products" such as household necessities and medical supplies — Nitoff says parcel volumes have gone up in the past two weeks, most likely due to the coronavirus.
So besides following the public health recommendation to keep a 6-foot distance from other people, Nitoff will be using disinfectant wipes to clean everyday objects he runs into during his route.
For many parents, the adjustment will not only have to include working from home, if the option is available, but also attending to their children's "distance learning" programs rolled out as schools shut down.
Lisa Rende Taylor would normally be operating her nonprofit organization Issara Institute, which aids vulnerable migrant workers across the globe, from the office. But with her 5-year-old twins out of Laurel School in Menlo Park, she was taking some time on Tuesday afternoon to play trackball at Eleanor Pardee Park as part of her sons' recommended physical education period.
"We have our instructions from the school; we've been working remotely for the past few weeks for work anyway, so we're just trying to keep it business as usual," Taylor said.
The city of Palo Alto has created a webpage with information on local, state and federal resources available for businesses during the pandemic.
On Tuesday, Ruqayyah Ernestine, who is homeless, stood outside the Bluemercury cosmetic store in downtown Palo Alto, hoping to get enough money for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If she's lucky, she'll have some leftover funds to set aside for a new job-interview outfit from clothing store T.J.Maxx.
"I gave myself a goal," the former nursing assistant said. "I want to save three $20 bills over what I originally saved. I had two $50 bills and nine $20s — this was 12 weeks ago."
Ernestine, like other individuals experiencing homelessness, is exempt from the stay-at-home order. Though officials strongly urged homeless persons to find shelter, she prefers to stay out in the cold because she was once attacked in a shelter in New York City.
"What am I doing about all the craziness?" she asked rhetorically. "Doing the same thing. Nothing is different for me."
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.