A Message From Michelman & Robinson About “Shelter in Place” Orders

With several counties in California’s Bay Area ordering residents to “shelter in place” for at least three weeks to keep coronavirus from spreading across the region, and Orange County (California) now following suit and preventing private or public gatherings, it seems quite possible that other jurisdictions may take these drastic measures as well. Whether you are located in an area now subject to a “shelter in place” order, or are somewhere that has yet to restrict movement, it is helpful to understand the scope of these new mandates, especially as they relate to your business.

We have several clients contacting us and asking, “what might ‘shelter in place’ or similar restrictions like those in San Francisco mean for my company?” Here, in Q&A form, we address some of the questions and concerns that may be on your mind, including important business considerations.

Note that all of the public health orders issued to date that require people to stay home are essentially the same in terms of their content, reach and meaning. That being said, if and when additional “shelter in place” orders come online, their specific language may include information and requirements that are different than what is set forth below.

Q.  Are people in cities outside of the Bay Area and Orange County currently subject to any “shelter in place” orders?

A.  This is evolving as there are rumblings about new “shelter in place” or similar orders in New York and other locations.

Q.  Big picture, what is the scope of the “shelter in place” orders now in effect?

A.  The “shelter in place” orders issued thus far require people to stay home except for “essential needs” (detailed below). Pursuant to these orders, everyone is supposed to remain at home (especially the elderly and vulnerable populations), except to get food or medicines, care for relatives or friends, get necessary health care, or go to an “essential job” (detailed below). As otherwise stated, sheltering at home means just that—staying at home, only leaving for “essential services,” staying six feet or more away from others, and not gathering. The order in Orange County goes so far as to say that gatherings that involve “essential activities” should only be conducted when they cannot be postponed or achieved without gathering. The upshot: when possible, means of communication—other than gathering—should be used even to perform “essential activities.”

Q.  Does this mean people in effected areas cannot go outside their homes?

A.  No, it is okay to go outside for walks and fresh air, but people are not to do so in groups. They should stay at least six feet apart when leaving their homes, for “essential activities” or otherwise.

Q.  How long will the orders be in effect?

A.  As of now, the orders in the Bay Area and Orange County run through April 7 and March 31, respectively, though these dates can be extended.

Q.  What businesses and services may remain in operation in jurisdictions where “shelter in place” orders have been issued?

A.  The list of “essential businesses” that may stay open is a long one. They include:

  • Health care organizations, such as hospitals, medical and mental health clinics, doctor offices, pharmacies, health care supply stores, and other health care facilities
  • Grocery stores, certified farmers’ markets, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, food banks, convenience stores, and other store groceries
  • Food cultivation
  • Gas stations and auto-supply, auto-repair, and related facilities
  • Banks and related financial institutions (including, arguably, insurance-related companies)
  • Garbage and sanitation services and collection
  • Hardware stores, and plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers that maintain safety and sanitation
  • Schools, for distance learning and providing meals
  • Laundromats and laundry service providers
  • Restaurants and other prepared food facilities, but only for delivery or carry out
  • Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home
  • Businesses that supply other “essential businesses” with the support or supplies necessary to operate
  • Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences
  • Airlines, taxis, and other private transportation providers providing transportation services are necessary for “essential activities” and other purposes expressly authorized by the orders
  • Home-based care for seniors, adults, or children
  • Residential facilities and shelters for seniors, adults, and children
  • Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities
  • Childcare facilities providing services that enable employees of “essential businesses” to work as permitted
  • Police stations, fire stations, post offices, jails, courts, municipal transportation, utilities (water, power and gas), and certain city offices

Q.  If I operate one of these “essential businesses,” is it business as usual for me?

A.  Yes, though it would be prudent to take all possible measures to adhere to social distancing recommendations (maintain a distance of six feet from other people, wash hands repeatedly, etc.). However, in Orange County, gatherings that involve “essential activities” should only be conducted when they cannot be postponed or achieved without gathering, meaning that some other means of communication cannot be used to perform the “essential activity.”

Q.  I operate an “essential business” where a “shelter in place” order has been issued, can my employees leave their homes to come to work?

A.  Yes.

Q.  Can these employees take public transportation (buses, subways, trains)?

A.  Yes, but again, only if you are operating an “essential business.”

Q.  What if my business is not considered an “essential business,” does a “shelter in place” order require that I shut down my business facility?

A.  No, not necessarily. You and your employees are allowed to perform the following “Minimum Basic Operations,” provided that employees maintain a distance of six feet from one another to the greatest extent feasible to carrying out:

  • The minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of your business’s inventory, ensure security, or for related functions
  • The minimum necessary activities to facilitate your employees being able to continue to work remotely from their residences

However, please note that the Minimum Basic Operations provision is not provided in the Orange County order.

Q.  Can I allow my employees to work from home while sheltering in place?

A.  Yes, this is so whether or not you operate an “essential business,” though you should have detailed work-from-home policies in place.

Again, as of now “shelter in place” orders are limited to certain Bay Area counties and a similar order is in place in Orange County, California. For businesses in those jurisdictions, or for anyone anticipating similar restrictions that will impact them in the future, we at M&R stand ready to answer your specific “shelter in place” questions or assist with any other coronavirus-related business issues.

This blog post is not offered, and should not be relied on, as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.