Top health officials in the Bay Area and nearby counties are working on plans to relax shelter-in-place orders next month for 7 million people stretching from Napa to Monterey, but the new order would probably apply only to outdoor activities, officials said Wednesday.
The plan, being hashed out by the Association of Bay Area Health Officers, an organization of county and city health directors, is to loosen restrictions on May 4 on lower-risk activities in 13 jurisdictions, including San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.
“We are working together as a region on the next shelter-in-place order,” said Gail Newel, the health officer for Santa Cruz County. “The only thing that we’ve decided is the general guidelines, which is to first set up a list of criteria that need to be met and then come up with what restrictions we would lift.”
The current shelter-in-place order was issued by six Bay Area counties on March 16 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The order, which was quickly expanded, was the first in the nation and helped inspire Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue a statewide order three days later.
The local order ends at midnight on May 3 for Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and the counties of Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Sonoma and Napa.
Newel said the health officers of each of these jurisdictions are communicating with one another on the communications app Slack and are holding conference calls several times a week trying to come up with new guidelines.
Everyone needs to agree on which restrictions would be relaxed, but they would likely include outdoor activities where social distancing requirements can still be met, such as outdoor construction work, landscape, gardening and golfing.
“We really want to take a regional approach, because if I lift restrictions on golfing and nobody else does, we could be inundated and we don’t want golfers from other places bringing their COVID here,” Newel said. “I can tell you for certain that there won’t be any mass gatherings. We’re not going to be opening movie theaters or having festivals in the near future.”
San Francisco Mayor London Breed was evasive when asked about the health officer meetings Wednesday, saying all decisions will be made collaboratively based on health officials’ opinions and the dictates of science.
“As quickly as we want to get back to opening our cities, which I so desperately do as well, we want to make sure we are collaborating with our public health officials, that we are focusing on the data, that we are strategic and clear about the direction we are going in,” Breed said. “The worst thing we can do is move too quickly and then go back to an even worse situation.”
Newel said she won’t agree to relax any restrictions until there is enough testing for every symptomatic patient, adequate personal protective equipment for all health care workers and adequate staffing to track down all contacts for each positive case.
“Each restriction that we lift we have to be able to respond if it doesn’t work and we have flareups of disease,” Newel said. “We are all anxiously watching our case numbers and curves and trying to figure out whether it’s the time to do anything. There are glimmers of hope, but however long this lasts, we are going to need the public’s help and understanding, because we might have to reverse some of our decisions.”