The entire state of California has essentially been placed on lockdown as Governor Gavin Newsom has called for a statewide stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. Governor Newsom’s move, which impacts nearly 40M people, comes on the heels of various “shelter in place” and similar orders that have already been issued throughout the state, including the “Safer at Home” emergency order declared in Los Angeles earlier today by Mayor Eric Garcetti.
While the working details of the statewide directive are not available as of this writing, the mandates of the “Safer at Home” order—which are similar to those in place in the Bay Area and elsewhere—are illustrative. In a nutshell, residents of the City of Los Angeles—and, presumably, California more broadly—are required to stay inside their residences, and immediately limit all movement outside of their homes beyond what is absolutely necessary to take care of “essential needs.”
For residents of California and businesses operating in the state, here is what you need to know about the “Safer at Home” order, which will most likely be tracked—at least within the margins— by the statewide restrictions.
Q. When do the “Safer at Home” and California stay-at-home orders go into effect and when will they end?
A. The “Safer at Home” order mandates that most people (e.g., everyone other than those engaged in certain “essential activities,” described below) stay home starting as soon as possible, but no later than 11:59 p.m. tonight (Thursday, March 19, 2020). The order is currently scheduled to end on April 19, 2020, though the duration can be either shortened or extended by Mayor Garcetti. For its part, Governor Newsom’s statewide directive is effective immediately, yet no end date has been published as of now.
Q. Big picture, what are Californians allowed to do during this period of time?
A. Using the “Safer at Home” order as a guide, California residents can go out to shop for groceries, medications and other health care necessities; go to medical appointments (though they should check with their doctors or providers first); take walks, ride bikes, and be in nature—or their yards—for exercise (so long as they keep at least six feet between them and others); walk pets and take them to the veterinarian if necessary; and help others in need to get necessary supplies.
Otherwise, people living in California must stay inside their homes and away from people outside their immediate family unless they are engaged in the “essential activities” described below.
Q. What should California residents not do while the stay-at-home orders are in place?
A. Those in Los Angeles are not to travel to or from a job unless they are providing “essential services.” Also, they are not supposed to (1) go out to visit friends or family if there is no urgent need to; (2) travel to or from a vacation home; and (3) visit loved ones in a hospital, nursing home, skilled nursing facility, or other residential care facility. It remains to be seen if these specific restrictions apply statewide, but it seems safe to assume they will.
Q. Are these orders mandatory?
A. Yes, and it is a crime—a misdemeanor punished by a fine or imprisonment, at least in Los Angeles—not to follow them.
Q. Who can leave their homes to go to work while the orders are in force?
A. Unless, of course, they are sick, those working in health care or workers providing “essential services” or “essential government functions” can and should go to their jobs. All others should work from home. As for what services and functions are “essential,” Governor Newsom’s order specifies the following 16 critical infrastructure sectors: chemical; commercial facilities; communications; critical manufacturing; dams; defense industrial base; emergency services; energy; financial services; food and agriculture; government facilities; health care and public health; nuclear reactors; materials and waste; information technology; transportation systems; and water and wastewater systems. Presumably, people working in those spaces can go to work.
Q. Specifically what “essential activities” and “essential services” will remain open during this timeframe?
A. Though the statewide directive does not yet specify what exactly will remain open in the coming days and weeks, the “Safer at Home” order offers this list:
City/County government services:
- Police stations
- Fire stations
- Public transportation
- Utilities: water, power and gas
- Office uses like payroll, security, and administration
- Public works construction, including construction of housing
- Airport operations
- Gas service stations, auto supply, auto repair, bicycle repair shops and related facilities
Health care providers, including:
- Hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, medical and scientific research, laboratories, health care suppliers, home health care services providers, veterinary care providers, mental health providers, physical therapists and chiropractors, cannabis dispensaries, or any related and/or ancillary health care services, manufacturers and suppliers. Health care operations do not include fitness and exercise gyms and similar facilities
- Grocery stores, water retailers, certified farmers’ markets, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, convenience stores, warehouse stores, food banks, convenience stores, and other establishments engaged in the retail sale of canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pet supply, fresh or frozen meats, fish, and poultry, any other household consumer products (such as construction supplies, cleaning and personal care products). This includes stores that sell groceries and sell other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences
- Take-out from restaurants, drive-thru restaurants, and delivery from restaurants
- Food cultivation, including farming, livestock, and fishing
Hardware stores and nurseries
Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, custodial/janitorial workers, handyman services, funeral home workers and morticians, moving services, HVAC installers, carpenters, landscapers, gardeners, property managers, private security personnel and other service providers who provide services to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation to properties and other essential activities
Banks and financial institutions
Organizations and businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals, (including gang prevention and intervention and domestic violence agencies)
Newspapers, magazines, television, radio, podcasts and other media services
Educational institutions, including public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities—but only for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing “essential functions” provided that social distancing of six-feet per person is maintained to the greatest extent possible
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.).
Q. I operate an “essential business” in California, can my employees leave their homes to come to work?
A. Yes, but you should have them work from home if and when possible.
Q. Can these employees take public transportation (buses, subways, trains)?
A. Yes, but again, only if you are operating an “essential business” and their travel is “essential” to get to work.
Q. Mine is not an “essential business,” can I allow my employees to work remotely while they are ordered to stay-at-home?
A. Yes, this is so whether or not you operate an “essential business,” though you should have detailed work-from-home policies in place.
Here is the critical takeaway and an approach to help you analyze your particular situation: even if you operate (1) an “essential business,” (2) and the work that needs to be done is “essential,” (3) and cannot be done from a worker’s home, (4) then only for the time necessary should that worker go to work.
In the wake of these drastic measures taken by Governor Newsom, we at M&R are here to answer your specific stay-at-home 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.