Answering Your Questions On The New Shelter In Place Orders

As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, KCBS Radio is getting the answers to your questions about the coronavirus pandemic. Every morning at 9:20 a.m. Monday-Friday we're doing an "Ask An Expert" segment with a focus on a different aspect of this situation each day, sponsored by the San Francisco Police Department.

Today we’re looking at the revised shelter in place orders and what may have changed with Karen Rosenthal, deputy counsel for San Mateo County.

Maybe an overview would be a good place to start here before we get to the specific questions. What would you say are the most significant differences that are falling into place today with this revised order taking effect? 

Sure, the new order has opened up certain areas that the health officer has deemed to be lower risk. So we're now seeing that outdoor services are allowed such as gardening and landscaping. Outdoor businesses that are traditionally run outdoors and were run outdoors before March 16th are now allowed as long as they continue to be operated outdoors and they can maintain social distancing. Construction is now allowed, both commercial and residential with specific safety protocols in place. Real estate transactions with virtual components will continue to be allowed. Moving is allowed, both commercial and residential. And certain other activities and recreational spaces that do not involve shared equipment are allowed like golf courses, state parks, and athletic fields.

Let me follow up with one. You were specifically about saying businesses that were outdoors before the March 16th order. So somebody who's listening and says, “wait, I'll just take my retail business and set up in the parking lot under a tent.” Not cool?

Unfortunately, that would not be allowed. We did receive questions about that. We know that people are anxious to restart their businesses, but the requirement is it has to be before March 16th operations were outdoors, so that sets businesses like car washes, gardeners and certain outdoor painting.

And let me ask you about car washes only because I've seen at least one in operation - are they considered out of bounds whether they're self service or a full-staffed carwash?

Well if they were primarily outdoors before March 16th they can operate either way, as long as there is social distancing. It wouldn't matter if they’re self service or staffed, but when they're fully staffed - you know, it used to be the model was a lot of people working on a car at one time - they have to maintain that social distancing which would be six feet between all persons. 

Okay, let's get to some of the specific questions sent in to our email inbox,

First, are tennis courts open? If not, how about courts with walls for practice only? I just go practice by myself.

Sure, and we have had a lot of enquiries about this. We know that people are very eager to get out there and start resuming all of their activities, including tennis. Unfortunately, right now, all of the counties are hampered by the governor's order. So the governor's order controls - we can't allow something if it's prohibited by the governor's order, and right now, the governor's order lists a number of activities that are permitted and tennis is not among them. 

Now we know that Contra Costa County has gone ahead and has said that tennis is allowed. We haven't done that because we don't want to be in conflict with the state order. So we have reached out to the governor's office trying to get more guidance from the state and as soon as we have that we will add it to our FAQ so we can offer guidance. But at this time, it's unclear and because it's not listed on permitted activities, it wouldn't be allowed.

Karen, you touched on a key point I should have made at the beginning. You work for San Mateo County, obviously. And while there has been some coordination - a great deal of it - around these orders, they're not all identical are they, county to county?

No, there are some slight differences. For the most part, we are consistent and I think the counties have done an amazing job of working together because we are one region, we want to be largely consistent, but there are areas with deviations. So if people have questions, they should go to their own - all the counties have frequently asked questions on their website.

Okay, next one and it's about tennis again. So maybe we've already covered this, where tennis courts are open in some counties, will doubles be allowed, or only singles? And can you play with people other than those in your own household?

They would have to go and look at their county-specific regulations, but we know that the state has not allowed tennis as an activity.

Californians must think about their cars a lot because the next question is about car washes, and I guess this gets into sort of the fine points of what the orders you know to speak to. Are car washes considered essential businesses?

So they're not - this is just a technicality, really - they're not considered essential businesses and that's why they were previously not permitted to operate. But because we have this new category of outdoor businesses - these are types of business that we deem to be lower risk because people can space out and because outside just naturally doesn't lend itself to infection as much as indoors. They're considered an outdoor business, so if they were primarily outdoors before March 16th and they could maintain the social distancing, they can operate.

Next question says, I heard the governor say the state could ease more restrictions within days, not weeks. Is it possible the current shelter in place order won't last all the way till its intended date of May 31st?

That is definitely possible, and we actually put that in the San Mateo order. We actually state that we're monitoring these indicators. We put in the 31st as a stop date. But if things look good, depending on what we're seeing from the governor, then these orders would be modified. And the governor has indicated that he wants to move. He outlined four stages; we’re in stage one, and he said we could be moving to stage two. It could be days instead of weeks. So we're very hopeful. And the governor is looking at those indicators to see if we can move to stage two, which will open up even more.

And just between you and me, how does that work? This notion of being ready to move to a new order? Are there other draft versions being written up or are? How does that work from your perspective?

Well, I don't know what's going on in the governor's camp. I'm certain that he's preparing for that. I know with the counties, the counties are looking at the governor, they’re examining the different sectors and monitoring indicators. And, you know, we want to be ready. We don't want to fall behind. The counties acted even before the governor did. So all of the stakeholders, all of the health officers are in constant communication with each other and with the governor's office so that we can all move quickly as soon as we feel like we've reached that stage to open up more sectors.

Are housekeepers still restricted from in-home residential cleaning?

So unfortunately as a general matter, housekeepers cannot do in-home residential cleaning. But there's a carve out when it's necessary for sanitation and habitability. If there are persons who need to have the dust removed from their home because they have asthma or other health indicators, if there's reasons that their home needs to be cleaned, it would be allowed. But for all other people, it's not allowed because of the risk of transmission with having someone come into not only your home but also other people's homes.

The shelter in place extension sounds as though we will keep property tax offices like that of San Francisco closed through May. Can you confirm?

So it's actually county specific, so each person should look at the website or information for their specific county. I know in San Mateo, for weeks we have indicated on the website that today, May 4th is the deadline and we discourage any in-person payments but there are all kinds of other ways to make the payments. 

San Francisco, I did look that up and I saw the deadline for payment is May 15th and there are specific instructions and limited hours for in-person payments. They strongly encourage people making payments by another means such as online.

Okay, so again no blanket answer, it's county by county.


Do you know when the restrictions to fishing will be lifted?

The answer is, it depends. If this is commercial fishing for the purpose of supplying fish to customers, grocery stores, restaurants - that has not changed. That has always been allowed because the food supply chain is essential. 

If it's just recreation, someone is looking to just go fishing by themselves to see their family or members of their household, that would be allowed as a recreational activity.

Can you please address specifically CFO - Cottage Food Operation Small Businesses? There seemed to be much confusion as to whether these can or can't provide services. For example, I'm a licensed home baker. No employees with no contact with the public. Where I was once considered an essential business following the same protocols as a take out restaurant, now considered not essential.

Sure, so there haven't been any changes from the prior orders in this area. Food suppliers such as restaurants are essential businesses. They're only allowed to do delivery or take out, not in-person dining, but they are essential businesses. And so if a business supplies restaurants, they can do that. They're considered essential business and they can operate. So this baker, if this person is supplying baked goods to restaurants, that is allowed and that always has been allowed.

My husband and I have been isolated since the beginning of March. Our son, daughter in law and two grandchildren have also been isolated in their separate household. When can we anticipate being able to have a family gathering in one of our houses?

I think this is one of the toughest areas, and I definitely sympathize with how difficult it is for family members to be separated from their relatives, especially during this time. People want to lean on each other for emotional support, but unfortunately - it sounds like they realized - it is not allowed now, and we don't know when that will be allowed.

Co-mingling of households really opens up danger of infection. This listener, sounds like they're grandparents, sounds like they're probably in that higher risk category and the danger is that if they're co-mingling with grandchildren and with two adults - the son and the daughter in law - they could be asymptomatic and they could be transmitting infection to these people. 

So we don't know. We would caution, at this time that's not allowed. And if it's allowed in the future it would likely not be indoors. It would likely be something else, like possibly outside, socially distancing in the backyard. But we'll have to wait and see what the next order allows.

Is playing basketball, shooting hoops at the park by yourself, permitted?

It is permitted, but there's no shared equipment. The question was by yourself: yes, if it's you and a basketball shooting hoops, that would be allowed. We would caution against people doing things like successive play, like if someone is shooting basketball by himself or herself, that's fine. But then if they're doing 15 minute rotations with someone else and they're trading off, that would really probably increase the risk of infection.

Take your own basketball.

Yes, absolutely.

I go to people's location and repair their phones on the spot inside my car with the mask and gloves and zero contact with the client. Is this still allowed?

Yes. Not only would that be allowed because phones are considered essential, but even storefronts that do phone repair and laptop repair, those are allowed to operate because they’re necessary for the operation of people's residences and probably for the operation of their businesses.

Next one says, I've read conflicting reports as to whether regular garden maintenance can begin if it's for aesthetic or cosmetic reasons, for example blow and go.

Yes, so this is probably the best news for lots of people that were enquiring over the past few weeks: all gardening is allowed. Gardening is allowed. Landscaping is allowed. It doesn't matter if the service previously was only allowed if it is for safety, but now aesthetic gardening and landscaping is all allowed and could take place. If there's multiple workers, they should socially distance from each other. But that can go forward.

Okay, this next one asks, are boat ramps now open? Can I kayak in the bay?

So I don't know. They would have to check with their specific area about whether they're open. Kayaking is allowed if you're by yourself. So just me and a kayak or in a multi-person kayak with members of your own household.

All right, this next one asked, would churches be allowed to conduct worship in the parking lot if everyone remained in their cars?

So this is something that we are looking at and working on. At this time that is not allowed because that would be considered a gathering. Also, that would be considered non-essential travel. But we know that this is very important to the community. And that's something we understand that people are interested in and we're working on and looking at it so stay tuned.

Karen, let me ask you one that you know has led to a lot of consternation and that's the question of medical and dental services, where, it seems, except for San Francisco's order, that there is no prohibition on standard medical or dental services. Yet people are finding their dentist office is closed, the orthodontists are closed, doctor's offices are closed. What is the true story around the legalities of medical and dental services?

So our order allows all medical and dental services to continue. Meaning your regular dental checkups, you can go ahead and get those. Your regular physical, you can go ahead and get those. It's not limited to emergency or urgent situations.

But these individual healthcare providers may be choosing to stay closed. So the order allows businesses to operate but we don't require - we do strongly encourage. So it sounds like what they're encountering is these medical offices or dental offices have chosen to close for whatever their reasons are. They're limiting their interactions, maybe to protect their own employees.

Okay, and the last one says, I know that some restaurants are selling beer and cocktails and wine to go, which was never allowed before. Why can't bars do that, too?

Because bars are not considered an essential business. Restaurants are allowed to offer alcohol as an ancillary service because their primary business is food. So because bars, their primary business is alcohol and that's not considered to be essential, they can't operate at this time.

All right, I think we've run down the list. Karen, thank you for the time this morning. Anything you'd like to add before we close?

I just want to say thank you to all of our residents for making these sacrifices. We know that there are people alive today who would not be around but for the Bay Area's adherence to these orders. So it's working. It's effective. Thank you all for following the rules.