Citizens Ordered to Shelter in Home to Fight Coronavirus

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

March 31, 2020

In seemingly the blink of an eye, the novel coronavirus outbreak first detected in Wuhan China last Fall has erupted into a worldwide pandemic with hundreds of thousands of case and nearly 19,000 deaths worldwide.

The virus has spread quickly and has come to the U.S. with about 53,000 infected and about 700 dying from COVID-19, as the disease caused by the coronavirus is called

At home, while there have been of cases in SLO County (as of March 24 there were 33), the efforts to stop the spread of the virus have brought the community to a near standstill.
The County Health Officer issued a “shelter at home” order, essentially closing up all “non-essential” businesses, and asking people to forego venturing out of your home if it isn’t absolutely necessary.

The order was picked up by every incorporated city in SLO County including Morro Bay, which had declared a local state of emergency a week before, opening the City up to State and Federal aid dollars should they become available

Bars were ordered not to serve alcohol from last Tuesday through Wednesday to put the kibosh on St. Patrick’s Day revelry. Two days later, they were forced to close as part of the shelter at home order. Restaurants, even those with elegant dinning rooms, are not using them to avoid close contact between customers and staffers, but instead have started offering curbside pickup and home delivery in some cases

All local public schools have closed as well, ending promising sports seasons and forcing all students to switch to online learning.

While all these developments and more have come rapid fire, indeed changing daily, here is the latest situation as it stood on Thursday, March 19

On March 18, the County issued an executive order to shelter in home, in partnership with all seven cities in SLO County. The emergency order became effective at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 19, and was to remain in effect “until further notice,” according to a County news release

“The intent of the order is to slow the spread of “Coronavirus disease 2019” [COVID-19] in San Luis Obispo County by ensuring that the maximum number of people self-quarantine in their places of residence to the maximum extent possible, while enabling essential services to continue. The executive order is in line with what other Counties are doing.

“The health and safety of our community is our top priority. The actions we take today will help us get back to normal as soon as possible,” County Emergency Services Director Wade Horton said. “We made this decision to preserve our health care system and ensure that we have the capacity to care for the sickest of the sick during this pandemic.

Local schools have closed. San Luis Coastal School District Superintendent, Dr. Eric Prater, said in a letter to the school community, “We have now come to an unprecedented moment in our district’s history. It is with sober consideration that San Luis Coastal Unified will enact a comprehensive closure of all campuses and all school-related activities, including athletics, beginning Monday, March 16, 2020 through Tuesday, April 14, 2020.

The district, he said, would consult with the County Public Health Department, County Schools, the Office of Emergency Services and the Governor’s Office on next steps. Meanwhile, all athletic games and meets have been canceled along with classes

“It is my hope,” Dr. Prater said, “that this closure will minimize the spread and the health risks associated with COVID-19 among students, staff, their families, and the broader community

“This is not an easy decision,” Dr. Prater said. “We understand the detrimental and far-reaching effects caused by this action and the difficulties this presents to families.

Though school is out, schoolwork continues. “We are determined to provide ongoing education for our students via online resources and ensure students who rely on our nutrition program will continue to have access to this important resource. Site principals and teachers will design virtual learning opportunities,” Dr. Prater said

The County’s order essentially slammed the brakes on everything from the Cayucos Sea Glass Festival, to a major sports event in Santa Margarita. The City moved the Citywide Yard Sale that was supposed to happen the first weekend in April to the last weekend in May. It could also mean postponement or cancelation of some of Morro Bay’s biggest events including the Kite Festival and the Car Show

City Manager Scott Collins said they were still evaluating the fate of those major events and would have an announcement soon (but after our deadline)

City parks will remain open but recreational components closed, including play structures, the skate park, tennis courts, and pickle ball courts, according to another City news release. The City public transit system would continue to run, as well

Public restrooms that will remain open include Del Mar, Cloisters, and Tidelands Park, with portable restrooms and hand washing stations provided at Harbor, City Park and the Morro Rock parking lot, Centennial Park and Lila Keiser park. All other City restrooms will be closed

The City also put out numerous hand washing stations at various locations in the Downtown and Embarcadero

Bars, restaurants and even movie theaters were all being told to close or seriously curtail their businesses. The closures have left Morro Bay’s streets looking like a ghost town.
In Los Osos the Chamber of Commerce canceled its Business Expo that was set for May 20 and rescheduled it for June 12 at the South Bay Community Center

Cuesta College canceled all its classes and will teach them online. Likewise Cal Poly, which is telling students to go home and not to come back from spring break. Poly’s entire Spring Quarter will be held online only

Cal Poly’s Annual Open House, Rodeo and all accompanying events were also canceled along with all athletic contests

For its part, on March 14, City Manager Collins, acting as the City’s Director of Emergency Services, declared a local emergency that “will allow the City to access state and federal funds related to the pandemic should they be made available and activate emergency plans to be prepared for any further developments.

In a YouTube video (see: Morro Bay Mayor John Headding announced the launching of “Morro Bay Cares,” a program “to help those in greatest need in our community, inform the general community and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

That video names the fire department as the lead agency in the City’s crisis response. It also activated the City’s emergency plans that are available online at: along with the latest information

The City vowed to keep police, fire and Harbor Patrol, sewer and water crews, up and running, though it did close all City facilities to the public until further notice. City Staff is working and provide services, with many of our staff working from home, so they should be available by email. Residents were being encouraged to pay city utility bills online

The Fire Department’s “Are You Okay” (“R.U.O.K.”) program was being expanded

RUOK is mainly for the elderly wherein every morning a phone call goes out to those signed up and if a person doesn’t answer, the fire department will come make sure you are OK

The program would be expanded to those who are sheltering at home and will help connect folks with food programs and other services. Sign-up online at:

All recreation events and classes at the Community Center were canceled indefinitely. The Senior Center will be open only for the senior lunch programs, on a pick-up or delivery basis

Local schools will be distributing food to students but won’t have classes. Check with your child’s school for the schedule

The City cancelled its Planning Commission and Tourism Board meetings scheduled for last week, but was to hold a special City Council meeting March 19 to firm up all the declarations and closures and adopt the County Health Department directives

The State Parks Department closed the Morro Bay State Park and Morro Strand State Beach campgrounds effective March 19. The State was also thinking about closing the day use parking lots at Morro Strand and Azure Dunes, according to the City

The Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce has jumped in with both feet, launching a special web page designed to help all local businesses with the various challenges that an extended closure will bring

Chamber CEO Erica Crawford said they have closed the Visitor’s Center for now, and recommended that employers lay people off so they can collect unemployment during the shutdown

See: for all the business information the Chamber has culled together including information about assistance through the Small Business Administration or SBA

So how long will this last and what does “shelter at home” actually mean? According to guidelines put out by the County on March 19, the order is in effect until April 17 and will be reevaluated every two weeks

“Using the term shelter at home is to ask people to help slow the spread of infection and is an enhancement of social distancing,” said County Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein, “It does not literally mean that people should not leave their homes for essential activities or fresh air and exercise.

The Order is intended to limit activity, travel, and business functions to the most basic and essential needs. Social distancing requirements should be followed at all times

“People are asked to avoid gatherings outside of their homes and immediate families. The Order does not prohibit people from going for walks, hikes, or runs; going surfing; attending medical, dental, or veterinary appointments (please call your provider first); going to the grocery store or pharmacy; getting take-out and delivery from restaurants; gardening, or doing yard work. However, group gathering must be avoided to limit the spread of this disease.”

That means no dinner parties, having a friend over or arranging playdates

So if one doesn’t stay home what will happen to them? The County Sheriff sought to clarify what shelter in home means legally

“First and foremost,” reads a news release from the Sheriff’s Office, “we are asking all the citizens of the County to remain calm. We understand these are trying times. But remember, the Sheriff’s Office mission is to provide service, security and safety to the community

“And we can do that if we have everyone’s cooperation in being responsible citizens.

The shelter at home order doesn’t mean home detention. “It’s important to know about a shelter at home directive that you are allowed to leave your house. You can still leave to get food or medicine or keep doctor’s appointments. You can leave your house to take your dog on a walk. You can leave your house if you want to go for a hike. Just remember the rules regarding the 6-foot social distancing rule and to avoid gathering in large groups.

Information about COVID-19 and the Shelter At Home Order is available online at: Or call (805) 543-2444. The County will be available to answer questions Mondays-Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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