A stay-at-home order for Santa Clara County and most of the Bay Area issued March 16 has essentially shut down a majority of activities across the region, affecting millions of people. A few days later, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a similar measure for the state. Many Weekly readers have sent us emails asking how these directives will impact their daily lives and we're answering them. Below, you can find our responses to some of those messages. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll continue updating this page with our responses over the next few weeks.
Are landscapers allowed to work under the order?
Gardeners/landscapers, plumbers and electricians are allowed to perform essential work needed to maintain the safety of a property only. This means landscapers can work to remove a downed branch, for example, but not to plant flowers or mow a lawn, according to the Palo Alto Community Support Call Center.
If I think I have symptoms, how can I get tested?
You can contact your healthcare provider; or complete an online COVID-19 screening based on guidelines from public health officials at projectbaseline. Based on the responses and testing appointment availability, you will learn whether you qualify for testing through this program.
Will Rental "forgiveness" also be granted by the banks to landlords who cannot pay their mortgage if rent is not received?
Many banks are working with clients on a case-by-case basis to offer a range of hardship programs, including payment modifications. Some, including Bank of America, have temporarily paused foreclosure sales, evictions and repossession. Contact your local bank for specific details.
Are we allowed to walk dogs and go to parks?
Yes. According to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department's order: "You are allowed to leave your home for specified reasons to make sure you have the necessities of life … such as getting food and medical supplies. You are also allowed to go outside to take care of pets, go on a walk, and just get outside, so long as you do not congregate in a group and maintain at least six feet of distance between you and other people."
While Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District preserves and trails remain open to the public, the agency has put new safety measures in place: restrooms are closed effective Friday, March 20; areas with high use will be intermittently closed without notice to promote safe social distancing; group gathering areas are closed; and group activities are suspended.
Can I bring my kids to the playground?
The county's public health order mandates everyone to stay off public playgrounds: "While we encourage use of parks, we strongly discourage the use of playgrounds because they include high-touch surfaces, and because it is typically not possible to maintain social distancing at playgrounds."
Can I leave home to exercise?
You can exercise outdoors and not in close contact with other people, but fitness centers and gyms are not permitted to operate during the stay-at-home orders.
Can I still get mail and deliveries?
Yes. You will still be able to get mail and other deliveries at your home. The order identifies businesses that deliver goods or services directly to residences as "essential businesses" that may continue to operate.
Will eye doctors, dentists and doctor offices be open? Will I have the ability to get contacts and glasses?
According to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department: "You should postpone these if possible. If it can wait, then wait. Check with your provider of routine care for specific guidance. They may cancel services. You should not expose yourself or others by pursuing health care or maintenance care that can wait a few weeks."
According to Palo Alto optometrist Lisa Berkowitz, most optometrists have electronic records and will accept emails, phone calls and messages during the shutdown. Contact lenses and glasses can be ordered online and shipped directly to patients. In the case of an ocular emergency, patients should call their optometrist.
Will the Palo Alto Police Department be out making sure people are just exercising and walking their dogs and doing nothing else? Is there a penalty for those who break the public health order?
The public health order, issued under the authority of California law, is mandatory. Residents are required to comply, and it is a misdemeanor crime not to follow it. The city of Palo Alto issued a statement on Wednesday, March 18 underscoring that while public health orders can be enforced criminally, that is a measure of absolute last resort for the Police Department.
"The priority for our police officers will always be to educate and then ask for compliance with any public health order, and we are confident that our residents, businesses, and visitors will do their part to comply with temporary restrictions," the announcement states. "The Palo Alto Police Department's patrol division will continue to be out and about in the community, ready to respond to any calls for service that may come in."
Does anybody know how this impacts construction projects?
Construction of housing is permitted in Palo Alto as long as it's carried out in compliance with social distancing requirements (at least 6 feet apart), according to the city's website. City inspectors will continue to inspect housing projects and are available through the Development Center.
If I have questions related to the coronavirus, who can I talk to?
Palo Alto launched a Community Support Call Center, which allows the public to find answers to coronavirus questions. The center can be accessed at 650-272-3181. It will be open Monday to Friday, between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.