As the novel coronavirus spreads across the nation, cities and states are taking increasingly drastic measures to curb the severity of the pandemic. Over the past two weeks, local government officials from Washington state to New York and Louisiana have shuttered bars and restaurants, imposed curfews, and prohibited large gatherings in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, which has infected people in all 50 states and killed over 100 Americans. Recent spikes in infections also have led some local officials to issue “shelter in place” orders, one of the more stringent measures available to authorities—save a full quarantine or lockdown—to compel residents to stay in their homes and limit movement.
Shelter in place orders are traditionally used by local officials during or immediately after an emergency, like a mass shooting, chemical spill, or natural disaster. In recent weeks, state and local officials have retooled the measure to help limit the spread of Covid-19 by mandating residents stay in their homes and limit travel to essential trips, like picking up groceries, going to the bank, or receiving medical care. Some shelter in place orders have provisions permitting residents to walk or exercise outside in public spaces, so long as they stay 6 feet away from others.
Shelter in place orders generally close all nonessential businesses and prohibit their employees from leaving their homes to work, though the definition of “essential” businesses can vary depending on the specifics of the order.
This guide will be updated as new restrictions are imposed or lifted. Last Update: 4:40 pm ET, March 21, 2020
Where shelter in place orders have been issued
On March 19, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered all 40 million Californians to shelter in place until further notice. The order came after 11 Californian counties and cities had issued local shelter in place orders over the previous week in an attempt to contain the spreading of coronavirus.
Essential state and local government functions are open, as are gas stations, health care facilities, pharmacies, banks, laundromats, and stores that sell food, such as grocery stores, farmers’ markets, food banks, and convenience stores. Bars, taverns, and restaurants are closed, though establishments that serve food are permitted to provide takeout and delivery services so long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Business in sectors identified by the government as critical to the security and continuity of the US are also permitted to stay open. This includes the chemical industry, commercial facilities, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, defense, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, health care and public health, information technology, nuclear materials, transportation systems, and water systems.
Some businesses consider themselves more essential than government officials do. Most notably, Tesla kept operating its Fremont assembly plant until the local sheriff ordered the electric vehicle maker to shut down.
“Our goal is simple, we want to bend the curve, and disrupt the spread of the virus,” says Newsom’s executive order.
Californians are permitted to leave their homes to obtain health care, as well as food and other essential supplies; walk their dogs; and care for family and friends. But otherwise they are supposed to stay inside. The order is legally enforceable, and violations can result in a misdemeanor with up to six months imprisonment or $1,000, Newsom said in a press conference. He added that he hopes social pressures will be enough to make residents think twice before gathering during a pandemic.
A shelter in place order issued by authorities in Colorado’s San Miguel County took effect March 18 and will last until at least April 3. The area contains five towns, including Telluride. “If we invest in the short-term inconveniences of isolation and sheltering in place now, we will save lives,” Grace Franklin, director of the county’s Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a statement.
The order contains many of the same provisions as California’s. All events and gatherings of 10 people or more are prohibited, and bars, taverns, and restaurants are closed. Food establishments are permitted to provide takeout and delivery services so long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines. Only businesses deemed essential by the local government will be permitted to keep their physical facilities open. The label includes health care facilities, hardware stores, stores related to food production or sales, media companies, gas stations, auto shops, banks, internet providers, educational institutions, laundromats, airlines and other transportation providers, and shelters.
All nonresidents and other visitors to San Miguel County were ordered to leave the area and return to their homes, and all hotels, motels, and short-term rentals had to cease operations. The order notes that non resident homeowners (i.e., people who have a vacation home in the area but live elsewhere) are ostensibly permitted to stay, but it strongly encouraged them to leave or not travel to San Miguel County.
Governor Ned Lamont issued a shelter in place order for all 3.5 million Connecticut residents beginning March 23 at 8pm. Much like the orders impacting California, Illinois, and New York, residents are only permitted to leave their homes to obtain healthcare, food, or provide services deemed “essential” by the state. All non-essential group gatherings of any size are prohibited, and individuals leaving their homes to obtain essential services are not permitted to travel in groups, and recommended to limit their use of public transportation. Residents may only engage in outdoor recreational activities like walking, hiking, or exercising so long as they can maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others.
Commissioners in Athens-Clarke County, home to the University of Georgia, issued a shelter in place order on March 19. The order is effective until April 7 but could be extended. The order is nearly identical to the one in place in San Miguel County. Travel on foot, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, automobile, or public transit unrelated to an essential business activity or need is also prohibited.
On March 17, local officials in Blaine County issued a shelter in place order for all residents following a spike in cases in the area. The order will remain in effect for residents until April 6, unless it is dismissed or extended.
Blaine County residents are ordered to stay home “unless they need to perform essential activities or go to work to provide essential business and government services.” The county says that individuals may go to grocery stores and gas stations, pick up food to go from restaurants, and recreate outside so long as they follow social distancing. It also orders all business activities to be conducted from home and virtually as much as possible.
Governor J. B. Pritzker ordered all Illinois residents to shelter in place beginning March 21 at 5 pm. Under the order, which will be in effect until at least April 7, residents can only leave their homes to go to grocery stores, pharmacies, or gas stations, and to take walks outside, so long as they follow social distance measures.
Earlier, Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb of Oak Park ordered residents to shelter in place beginning March 20. The village of Oak Park borders the west side of Chicago, which had not ruled out issuing a similar order, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a stay at home order for all city residents starting March 20. Residents are only permitted to leave their homes for critical needs, she said at a press conference. “We are telling our people and businesses to stay home.” Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and newsrooms are permitted to stay open, and restaurants may only do take-out and delivery. The city government will be limiting its operations and will only provide “basic city services,” Cantrell said.
“We are prepared to enforce at every single level,” she added.
The OceanView retirement community in Falmouth ordered residents to shelter in place March 20 after four residents tested positive for the virus. A roadblock has been put in place to stop people from entering the community. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Nirav Shah said the community is not a long-term care facility like the nursing home near Seattle where at least 29 residents have died, “but given the vulnerability of the residents there, we’re taking this very seriously.”
Governor Phil Murphy ordered all 9 million New Jersey residents to shelter in place beginning 9pm March 21. Residents are only permitted to leave their homes to go to grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, laundromats, and healthcare facilities. Much like New York and California’s orders, residents are permitted to leave their homes to exercise outdoors and work in essential industries. Employees who must report to work during this time are encouraged to obtain a letter from their employer noting they work in an “industry permitted to continue operations,” according to the state’s coronavirus website.
On March 20, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a shelter in place order, though he said at a press conference he would prefer not to call it that. Beginning March 22 at 8 pm, all New York state residents are ordered to stay at home as much as possible. People who are 70 or older, or immunocompromised, are not permitted to visit households with multiple people, must wear a mask when in the company of others (though whether they will be able to find one is unclear), prescreen visitors and aides by taking their temperature, stay 6 or more feet away from other people, and stay away from public transit unless it is an emergency.
Healthy people under 70 should leave their homes only to get groceries and medicine, but are permitted to exercise and walk outside so long as they remain 6 or more feet away from others at all times.
All nonessential gatherings of people are banned, and all nonessential businesses must keep their employees at home. Essential businesses include grocery stores and other food providers, gas stations, health care providers, pharmacies, convenience stores, hardware stores, auto repair shops, banks, laundromats, childcare providers, utility services, delivery services, warehouses and manufacturers, plumbers, animal care providers, transportation services, and construction companies. Restaurants are permitted to provide takeout and delivery services so long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines.
“These provisions will be enforced,” said Cuomo. “These are not helpful hints. This is not if you really want to be a great citizen. These are legal provisions. They will be enforced. There will be a civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that is not in compliance. Again, your actions can affect my health. That’s where we are.”
I’m under a shelter in place order. Can I …
… go to the hair or nail salon?
Nope, these businesses are (or should be) closed, as the services cannot be performed while maintaining social distancing measures.
… do my laundry?
In most places, yes, laundromats are open. Make sure that you maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other people while traveling to and from the laundromat and while cleaning your clothes.
… shop for groceries?
… walk my dog?
Yep, so long as you stay at least 6 feet away from other people while you do it.
… go to the airport?
Technically, yes, airports are not covered by shelter in place orders. Is it a wise idea to travel during a pandemic? Probably not.
… go to the doctor?
If you are having a medical emergency or have made an appointment with a doctor, yes. However most government officials recommend that people utilize telemedicine as much as possible to reduce the strain on hospitals and doctors’ offices, and to reduce the likelihood of infection.
… go see my friends?
Physically? No, you must practice social distancing measures. Virtually? Yes.
… go for a run or work out outside?
If you are healthy and stay 6 or more feet away from others at all times, yes.
… leave town?
Ostensibly, yes, no one will stop you. However, nonessential travel is highly discouraged.
More From WIRED on Covid-19
- Gear and tips to help you get through a pandemic
- The doctor who helped defeat smallpox explains what’s coming
- Everything you need to know about coronavirus testing
- Don’t go down a coronavirus anxiety spiral
- How is the virus spread? (And other Covid-19 FAQs, answered)
- Read all of our coronavirus coverage here