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Coronavirus shutdown: What the shelter-at-home order means for Palo Alto residents

Answers to readers' questions about permitted activities, enforcement and more

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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 editor@paloaltoonline.com. We'll continue updating this page with our responses over the next few weeks.

Find answers:

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.

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Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Lisa Berkowitz
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 22, 2020 at 10:01 am

Correction regarding contact lens and even glasses. Email or phone your optometrist to order contacts. Contact lenses can be mailed directly to you from the manufacturer. Most contact lens companies have waved shipping fees. Eyeglasses can be ordered online. If you have an ocular emergency, contact your eye care professional and you will be directed to offices treating ocular emergencies.


35 people like this
Posted by Oliver Stephens
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 22, 2020 at 10:51 am

Can we please stop pretending there is a lock-down? Nobody is respecting the rules. I see people outside in large groups walking, talking, without keeping any distance. It's like they're treating this as a joke.


38 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2020 at 11:25 am

I have seen many instances of people outside in large groups, including people who are clearly friends or otherwise don't live together. Most people do not observe social distancing. When I was out walking yesterday I would say that 90% of people walked past me from behind and made no effort to move, even though I was in an outdoor walking area (park) where there was plenty of space. People walked in the middle of walking trails, instead of off to the side. Absolutely zero effort to distance. Zero. I saw many people (mostly younger) that were out with friends and could tell not only because it was obvious or that I overhead conversations but I saw people hugging in the parking lot saying things like "it was fun hanging out, lets do it again soon". This is completely ridiculous. I am all for being able to go outside for exercise and hiking but something needs to be done about these people that are completely disregarding the shelter in place order.


7 people like this
Posted by Midlander
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2020 at 11:27 am

@ Oliver Stephens

When I'm walking, I see occasional couples or families, but rarely more than that. If people are sharing a house and eating together, then there is no real need for them to suddenly walk 6ft apart when they go outside. But I agree that larger groups, who don't live together, are undesirable.

Also, keep in mind that even if occasional people are skimping on the rules, all those of us who are doing social distancing are still helping to slow down the spread of the virus.

So, yes, it's annoying to see occasional people being silly, but we can still help by following the rules ourselves.


27 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2020 at 11:52 am

@Midlander

The reason that you may only be seeing a few people on your walks is because most everyone is at local parks, hiking trails, and nearby beaches. Some of those places are not only packed, but more packed than ever. Think hundreds and hundreds of people walking around in larger groups, taking no precautions. I've seen it myself.


33 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2020 at 11:59 am

Yesterday, I noticed a youth soccer practice going on at the Mayfield Soccer Complex (the facilities on the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill). It is kind of hard to practice "social distancing" while you're practicing soccer and wiping sweat from your face.


22 people like this
Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 22, 2020 at 12:41 pm

This morning I had a somewhat startling experience as other customers and I waited respectfully for the opening of Whole Foods' doors at 8:00 A.M. I happened to be first in line while other customers voluntarily started a line in front of and around the corner of the store.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, an elderly man appeared and stood directly in front of the doors. As other customers and I kindly mentioned the customer line to him, he started ranting and raving about why he would not get in line, and why the COVID-19 virus was a complete hoax. When the doors finally opened, he wanted to enter immediately; however, I was able to let the store worker know that the man should get in line. The store worker did his job thoughtfully and walked the man toward the end of the line, while he was still loudly spouting his unhappiness with the whole situation.

It makes me somewhat sad to have to write about this incident when so many other people have gladly adhered to general guidelines. This is the kind of person who will not respect and who can possibly infect others.

Kudos to Whole Foods. The store's shelves were packed with beautiful wares, from vegetables to meats. And all of the workers went out of their way to be of service. Thank you from my heart.


24 people like this
Posted by Trump fired the national pandemic team
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 22, 2020 at 2:48 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Kathy Sam
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 22, 2020 at 2:53 pm

The steps you take to avoid the flu and other respiratory infections will also help protect you from the coronavirus:
• Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 to 30 seconds, always after coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have access to running water, use an alcohol-based hand cleanser that is at least 60% alcohol.
• Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
• Stay away from people who are sick or have been in contact with someone who is sick.
• Don’t share makeup, food, dishes or eating utensils.
• Take your daily asthma medicines to keep your asthma under control.

source; Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by chrisk
a resident of University South
on Mar 22, 2020 at 4:08 pm

The National Guard has now been authorized. They can take care of the people who are flouting the orders.


5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 22, 2020 at 4:41 pm

^ National Guard? Crosby Stills Nash & Young are around to write another song.


12 people like this
Posted by Oliver Stephens
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 22, 2020 at 4:44 pm

Nobody is respecting the social distancing orders, that is clear from observation. The problem with social distancing is it only works if it's 100%. It doesn't work if some people don't follow it.

My friends said in NYC people are cramming the streets like it's a festival


9 people like this
Posted by Really
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 23, 2020 at 3:00 am

The 6 feet of social distancing is not easy. It’s mainly important if someone is sneezing or coughing so the droplets don’t reach you. As long as someone is 3-4 feet away and not breathing in your face or sneezing/coughing, it should be safe. The government needs to set simple guidelines for the public and it’s just easier to state 6 feet rather than have a bunch of exceptions.

I go to The Market on Embarcadero Rd behind the Shell gas station. It’s fully stocked with fresh meat, eggs, produce and all other foods and isn’t as busy as other chain stores. It’s actually easy to keep the 6 feet distance. I love that store, there’s so much selection!


7 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 23, 2020 at 9:41 am

Do we know how many Covid-19 cases there have been in Palo Alto? And do we khow how many have tested positive so far?


8 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2020 at 12:01 pm

> As long as someone is 3-4 feet away and not breathing in your face or sneezing/coughing, it should be safe.

That is totally wrong and even dangerous to imply. Droplets with the virus can linger in the air for as long as 2 hours.

The new coronavirus can likely remain airborne for some time. That doesn’t mean we’re doomed: Web Link
> The reason the measles is so, well, viral, is that the microbe is so small and hardy
> that it is able to stay suspended in the air where an infected person coughed or
> sneezed for up to two hours, making it one of the only viruses that can exist as a
> true aerosol.

The weight of the evidence suggests that the new coronavirus can exist as an aerosol — a physics
> term meaning a liquid or solid (the virus) suspended in a gas (like air) — only under very limited
> conditions, and that this transmission route is not driving the pandemic. But “limited” conditions
> does not mean “no” conditions, underlining the need for health care workers to have high levels
> of personal protection, especially when doing procedures such as intubation that have the
> greatest chance of creating coronavirus aerosols. “I think the answer will be, aerosolization
> occurs rarely but not never,” said microbiologist and physician Stanley Perlman of the University
> of Iowa. “You have to distinguish between what’s possible and what’s actually happening.”

CDC - Transmission of Measles: Web Link
> Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person.
> It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. Also, measles virus can live for up to two
> hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed.

> If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes,
> noses, or mouths, they can become infected. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it,
> up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.

Do not take the recommendations lightly!


8 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2020 at 12:09 pm

More information on the airborne transmission of 2019-ncov / coronavirus: Web Link

Is coronavirus airborne like measles?
Airborne transmission is “plausible,” according to a study published in the print edition in the peer-reviewed The New England Journal of Medicine this week from scientists at Princeton University, UCLA and the National Institutes of Health. The researchers concluded that the virus could remain airborne for “up to 3 hours post aerosolization.”

The scientists found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the new disease COVID-19, was detectable in the air for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. For those reasons, officials recommend washing hands, cleaning surfaces and “social distancing” in public spaces.

--

In the absence of a preponderance of clear scientific proof, everything one does to err on the side caution could pay off in less transmission and fewer cases. Do not take this lightly.


5 people like this
Posted by Carlito waysmann
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2020 at 2:54 pm

Catching the covid19 through the air? As some folks here have posted, and there is some scientific evidence as well as actions enacted by the Chinese and south koreans: yes , it is possible


We are better off if we assume that everyone is carrying the virus, so a mask and goggles would keep those viruses from flying all over the place. Heavy penalties were handed down by China and South Korea for anyone caught walking without a mask .

In America the scientific community interviewed on every cable news network were and are still adamant, lecturing people not to wear N95 masks, they say it doesn't help, and "special training " is required to wear it right, they say only to be used by those who are sick already.
How about those who are infected but are asymptomatic. and just keep shedding the virus everywhere, at the same rate as the ones that are full blown sick?

Now, our officials want you to give out your masks, goggles, gloves, to the hospitals or medical clinics because they are the ones that really should be using them?

I see big trouble folks.

In God we trust , now more than ever.


4 people like this
Posted by DTNResident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2020 at 9:13 pm

Those of you worried about people not social distancing should recognize that when the three weeks is over, we'll just start building cases all over again like we did two months ago. We're not going to stop someone flying in from an area that did not shut down. It's just going to restart.

That is, until so many people have already gotten it and gotten immunity that it can no longer really spread because when one person gets it, everyone else she can spread it to has already gotten it (i.e. herd immunity). Only then will it truly die out. So if the people you see get it early in the 3 weeks because they weren't keeping sufficient distance, it's only to your benefit. One only needs to worry about ones self.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident DTN
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2020 at 9:58 pm

I live across the street from Johnson Park, and now work in my home office facing the park 8h a day, so see people moving about in a "busy" street. Never once in the past 7 days I have seen anyone break the social distancing rule; I see families walking together, once in a while friends walking together, and keeping > 6 feet apart; when I walk outside people cross the street to not get too close; not sure where others are seeing these gatherings, this is not my experience at all and as I said, I look into the street and park many hours a day.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident DTN
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2020 at 10:04 pm

The new coronavirus can likely remain airborne for some time. That doesn’t mean we’re doomed
By SHARON BEGLEY @sxbegleMARCH 16, 2020

The weight of the evidence suggests that the new coronavirus can exist as an aerosol — a physics term meaning a liquid or solid (the virus) suspended in a gas (like air) — only under very limited conditions, and that this transmission route is not driving the pandemic. But “limited” conditions does not mean “no” conditions, underlining the need for health care workers to have high levels of personal protection, especially when doing procedures such as intubation that have the greatest chance of creating coronavirus aerosols. “I think the answer will be, aerosolization occurs rarely but not never,” said microbiologist and physician Stanley Perlman of the University of Iowa. “You have to distinguish between what’s possible and what’s actually happening.”

In droplet form, the coronavirus is airborne for a few seconds after someone sneezes or coughs. It’s able to travel only a short distance before gravitational forces pull it down. Someone close enough for the virus particles to reach in that brief period can therefore be infected. So can anyone who comes into contact with virus-containing droplets that fall onto a surface. The new coronavirus can survive on surfaces for several hours; hence the importance of hand-washing after touching a surface in a public place.

An aerosol is a wholly different physical state: Particles are held in the air by physical and chemical forces. Fog is an aerosol; water droplets are suspended in air. The suspended particles remain for hours or more, depending on factors such as heat and humidity. If virus particles, probably on droplets of mucus or saliva, can be suspended in air for more than a few seconds, as the measles virus can, then anyone passing through that pathogenic cloud could become infected.

There are strong reasons to doubt that the new coronavirus has anything close to that capability.

“If it could easily exist as an aerosol, we would be seeing much greater levels of transmission,” said epidemiologist Michael LeVasseur of Drexel University. “And we would be seeing a different pattern in who’s getting infected. With droplet spread, it’s mostly to close contacts. But if a virus easily exists as an aerosol, you could get it from people you share an elevator with.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that is not happening. Earlier this month, CDC scientists reported that the rate of symptomatic infection among a patient’s household members was 10.5%. The rate among other close contacts was 0.45%. In the case of one particular patient, none of his five household members, although continuously exposed to the patient during the time he was isolated at home, tested positive for the virus.


3 people like this
Posted by Numbers
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 24, 2020 at 8:25 am

@ Resident DTN

You have a big investment (lots of long posts) in getting a questionable message out. What’s your motivation and interest in trying to get others to increase exposure and clog the Hospitals more than they already are ?

Social distancing is not about stopping the virus. It is about slowing its spread so the health care system does not get overwhelmed. Look at New York for example, right now. People who could survive with treatment aren’t getting any treatment because there is not enough equipment and supplies.

What exactly are you trying to do with your posts ?

I sure hope you don’t get a treatable but potentially deadly illness like appendicitis, concussion, compartmental bleeding, stroke, heart attack, etc right now because the Santa Clare Hospitals are full and don’t have resources to attend to you right now. “One only has to care for ones self”, right ?


4 people like this
Posted by Resident DTN
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2020 at 8:43 am

I actually have decades of experience and training in scientific fields that allow me to understand this and to try to convey some common sense, totally support the ongoing measures as stated, but it is also essential to stay faithful to the truth and not to spread false rumors and panic, but I rest my case...


11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2020 at 1:21 pm

Posted by Numbers, a resident of College Terrace
>> @ Resident DTN. What exactly are you trying to do with your posts ?

There seem to be a lot of DTN/Resident monikers (like "Anons"), so, no point in trying to "personal". Please identify a specific statement that is incorrect or needs clarification.

For example, one of the several DTN/Residents stated, "One only needs to worry about ones self." This statement is clearly false and has already been refuted by events many times over.

Back to the real issue: How to avoid getting infected right now. Problem: Elevators. I've always had a problem with buildings that don't have easily usable stairs. I much prefer to climb up stairs (free exercise) than use elevators, and, now, that goes 100X, because elevators seem like a perfect way to breathe in a virus-containing aerosol from a possibly unseen, previous occupant of the elevator. I would like to see a special study of elevators, and, I would also suggest that people use stairs whenever that is an option. There is no reason why 2-5 story buildings should force people to use elevators instead of stairs.


4 people like this
Posted by Mcm
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 24, 2020 at 4:36 pm

Who decided to lock the playing field at Greene school and why!


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2020 at 9:24 am

With all this working from home and people still wanting to get out for a walk each day, perhaps we should have those with last names beginning at the first half end of the alphabet out in the am and second half of alphabet in pm.

Additionally we could have the first half of the alphabet on alternate days with last half in places like grocery stores. These days seem very much the same to most of us and having our own day to go shopping would keep at least half the population out of them on those days.

Spacing the time we are out and about might make a lot of sense.


2 people like this
Posted by Banks
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 31, 2020 at 1:06 pm

For those interested in the question "Will Rental "forgiveness" also be granted by the banks to landlords who cannot pay their mortgage if rent is not received?" the American Bankers Association website has useful information, Web Link


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