Lawmakers in these areas have told residents that they must stay home, except for essential tasks

By Julie Mazziotta
March 28, 2020 10:30 AM

As the number of new coronavirus cases rises across the U.S., legislators throughout the country are trying to slow the spread with “stay at home” orders. While the exact details of these regulations vary by location, the goal is the same: to reduce the rate of COVID-19 infection by requiring residents with non-essential jobs to stay in their homes, and only leave for necessary errands, like buying groceries or picking up medications.

President Donald Trump and his coronavirus task force have decided not to institute a national stay at home order as other countries with major outbreaks, like China, Italy and Spain, have done. Instead, they’ve left that decision up to individual states.

As of Saturday, the governors of 24 states have opted to place their entire state under a stay at home order. California was the first to do so, on March 19, and New York and Illinois followed the next day.

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo notably emphasized that the order is called “stay at home” — not a “shelter in place,” as others had suggested, because that is used “for an active shooter” situation, and could harm people’s mental health.

“Words matter,” Cuomo said on March 20.

Along with the state-wide orders, many cities and counties have put their areas under similar regulations, notably Denver, Dallas, Atlanta and Miami Beach.

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Under most, people with essential jobs — such as doctors, firefighters, police and grocery store workers — are allowed to go to work. Everyone else must stay at home and work from there if possible. Residents are allowed to leave to get groceries and other essentials, and in most, can go outside for walks or exercise, but must stay six feet apart from other people.

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“It’s running. It’s hiking,” Cuomo told reporters. “It’s not playing basketball with five other people.”

While the order varies, the goal for all is to slow the rate of infection among residents to “flatten the curve,” and avoid overloading medical centers.

As of Friday morning, there are at least 102,636 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and 1,646 people have died.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.