San Francisco is ordering residents to “shelter in place.” All major cities should do that.

San Francisco mayor London Breed. Image: ABC News
San Francisco mayor London Breed. Image: ABC News

Update 3/17/20: The rules of the Bay Area’s “shelter in place” order are now available online.

It’s getting real folks. Today San Francisco will become the first major U.S. city to institute a lockdown, ordering residents to stay in their homes for three weeks except to commute to crucial jobs, do critical errands, and get exercise, starting Tuesday at midnight. It’s probably only a matter of time before Chicago does the same thing, and all other big cities should follow suit to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

As reported by the San Francisco Examiner’s Joshua Sabatini and Michael Barba an hour ago, San Francisco mayor London Breed was expected  to announce that the city will ban residents who aren’t doing critical work to keep the city running from leaving their homes except to make trips to key destinations like grocery stores, healthcare, pharmacies, and banks. Transit will also continue to operate.

In a statement, Breed assured the public that “all essential needs will continue to be met… This is going to be a defining moment for our city. We all have a responsibility to do our part to protect our neighbors and slow the spread of this virus by staying at home unless it is absolutely essential to go outside.”

So far, the Bay Area has been hit much harder by the pandemic than Chicagoland has. The Examiner reported that there were 40 confirmed cases in San Francisco as of this morning, and 114 patients in nearby Santa Clara County. As of this afternoon there have been 105 cases in the entire state of Illinois, but if we don’t take decisive action to prevent transmission, that number will surely skyrocket.

Under the San Francisco rules, residents will be permitted to take walks and do other forms of exercise, which includes going for bike rides, as long as they remain six feet away, sneezing distance, from people who aren’t family members or housemates.

Breed has already put in place a prohibition on evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent due to the pandemic, the Examiner reported. Here in Cook County, Sheriff Tom Dart has also placed a temporary moratorium on evictions. San Francisco is allowing small businesses to defer city tax payments and permit fees until 2021. Yesterday Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker ordered all restaurants, bars, and cafes to end dine-in service by this evening, and there have been calls to offer emergency unemployment benefits and rent and loan abatement for affected workers, plus tax relief for small business owners.

It’s probably only a matter of time until Pritzker and/or Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot enact a similar lockdown here, and it’s the right thing to do. While relatively young and healthy people are unlikely to get seriously ill form the virus, if the pandemic goes unchecked elderly and vulnerable people will contract the disease in large numbers and our healthcare system will be overwhelmed, without enough hospital beds and ventilators for all the patients. That would mean many more people would needlessly die, so it is our moral imperative to keep that from happening.

The best way to do that is to drastically limit our exposure to people we don’t live with. That’s going to be challenging for many Chicagoans, such as those with children, but it’s got to happen if we’re going to “flatten the curve” and avoid overtaxing local hospitals. Many people aren’t going to be willing to do that voluntarily, so it makes sense for our leaders to mandate this self-seclusion.

For many of us it’s not going to be easy, but if we do a good job with this now, before we’re left with no choice, the emergency will be over sooner than later. Be sure to practice self-care during this time and try to keep a positive attitude. And remember that there are lots of productive and enjoyable activities you may be able to do in your home, and plenty of relatively safe and fun ways to get healthy recreation outside.

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