States are starting to order millions of residents to stay indoors to slow the spread of coronavirus — here's what that means

By Jason Duaine Hahn
March 20, 2020 06:23 PM

As the United States continues to work to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, California, New York and Illinois have taken additional measures this week by asking tens of millions of residents to stay indoors as much as possible — and many other states could soon follow suit.

As of Friday afternoon, the coronavirus, officially termed COVID-19, has sickened at least 15,650 Americans and 202 people have died.

In response, the governors of those three states issued “stay at home” orders for all non-essential workers over the last 24 hours. This has also been referred to as a “shelter in place” ordinance, but there has been backlash against the phrase, particularly from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who said that term is more restrictive and potentially damaging to people’s mental health, and should be reserved for “active shooter” or “nuclear war” situations.

What the stay at home order entails is slightly different for each location, but the goal for all is to slow the rate of infection among residents to “flatten the curve,” and avoid overloading medical centers. Here’s how each state is enforcing the order.

California

On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order for 40 million residents to stay at home, which went in effect at midnight on Thursday.

For Californians, this means they should only leave their homes for essential needs, such as buying groceries, purchasing medications and attending veterinarian appointments. Everyone is also being asked to work from home unless they provide essential services; that includes grocery store workers, firefighters, police officers, gas station attendants or pharmacists. The order is in place “until further notice.”

RELATED: How Event Cancellations and Social Distancing Can Reduce Expected Coronavirus Deaths in the U.S.

In the days before the statewide order went into effect, multiple counties throughout California began closing non-essential businesses such as movie theaters, bars, gyms and malls. Counties in the San Francisco Bay Area had already banned non-essential activities and gatherings for the next three weeks.

Shortly before Newsom’s announcement, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced his “Safer at Home” initiative, which asked the city’s residents to stay indoors except for essential travel. Guidelines on the city’s website say the order is “legally enforceable” and those who violate it “may be punished by a fine or imprisonment for doing so.”

Still, the mayor encouraged residents to go for a walk and to venture outside for air, albeit while staying at least six feet away from other people.

New York

In New York, Cuomo announced the closure of all nonessentials businesses on Friday, but said the order was not a “shelter in place” because the term is currently used “for an active shooter or a school shooter.

“Words matter,” he said.

An empty restaurant in Ohio
Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

The order, which goes into effect on Sunday night, mirrors what Newsom put in place in California — people can still go get groceries, medications and other essentials, and businesses that provide essential services can stay open. That includes restaurants offering take-out and liquor stores.

RELATED: Social Distancing, Self-Quarantining, Under Lockdown: Here’s What Each Term Means

Residents can still go outside for walks and exercise, but it must be “solitary recreational exercise,” and people need to stay six feet apart.

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

“It’s not laying in a park with 10 other people and sharing a beer — that’s not what this is,” he added.

Under the order, all commercial and residential evictions are suspended for the next 90 days. Mortgage payments are also waived, depending on the resident’s financial situation, and foreclosures will be postponed.

Illinois

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker also implemented a statewide stay at home order on Friday, which is he said will start on Saturday evening and run until April 7. Inslee also ordered municipalities to halt all evictions and directed more support to the state’s homeless population.

“I want to say to be clear, this is not a lockdown, it’s not martial law,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters during a Friday press conference. “There’s absolutely no need to change your normal purchasing habits. Please, the grocery stores will remain open and stocked. So please be mindful of your neighbors and do not hoard. Remember, this is the new normal, for now.”

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 CDCWHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

Advertisement