Social distancing is working, said Monterey County Health Officer Edward Moreno in a press briefing call on Friday, April 3. Before the shelter-in-place order was announced on March 17, Covid-19 cases were doubling every day. Since then, they are doubling every five days. A surge of cases is still expected, however, which is why a few hours later, Moreno issued a new order that takes further steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
The order goes into effect at midnight tonight. It has an end-date of May 3, aligning with orders currently in place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Health officers in those counties are expecting a surge there in late April. Moreno said Monterey County is a few weeks behind those counties, and so a surge could happen in early May, in which case he could extend the end date.
Moreno said the new order is necessary to save the lives of vulnerable individuals and protect the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed by patients. Without the restrictions, “It would be very difficult to provide the level of care that everyone in Monterey County deserves.”
It’s also necessary, he said, because health officials know there are people who experience no symptoms at all and feel fine who have Covid-19 and are passing the virus to others. He pointed to a test sample performed on people in the Bay Area with no symptoms, with a result of 10 percent testing positive. (Moreno said Monterey County doesn’t have enough tests at the present time to make a similar sample. Ten percent of the county’s population is approximately 43,500 people.)
The new order further details how essential businesses should be operating, but does not change the list of essential businesses.
Specifically, such businesses are encouraged to allow as many employees as possible to work from home if their work can be performed off-site, and they must develop and post social distancing guidelines for employees who must remain at the place of business in order to fulfill their jobs.
For grocery stores and other essential businesses that members of the public visit, the order requires more control over social distancing; opportunities for shoppers to use hand sanitizers or wash their hands; regular cleaning protocols; and the use of non-contact payments as much as possible.
Non-essential businesses received a warning from Chief Assistant District Attorney Berkeley Brannon, who said during the press briefing that such businesses operating during the order would be violating not just the shelter-in-place order—which is in itself an misdemeanor—but also unfair business practice laws. They could face fines of up to $2,500 per day and relinquishment of their profits as restitution.
“The penalties can be severe,” Brannon said. “We want people to comply.”
Highlights of the social distancing requirements in the order include:
- No public or private gatherings of any size; members of a single household can engage in essential travel or activities together.
- All travel, including by foot, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, automobile and public transit is restricted to essential purposes.
- People can still travel to beaches and parks but must practice social strict social distancing at those locations; the order gives authorities the ability to restrict the number of people entering certain areas; no use of “high-touch” areas like playgrounds and no sports like golf, racket sports or team sports where equipment could be shared.
- Funerals can have no more than 10 people in attendance, although Moreno encouraged families to postpone memorials until a later date.
- Residential moves should be delayed if possible; if anyone moves into or out of the county they are encouraged to quarantine for 14 days.
- The order further outlines instructions for allowed construction projects, as well as car sales and home sales.
Monterey County Undersheriff John Mineau said the Sheriff's Department is still using the approach of educating and encouraging people to comply, but those that do not comply could be arrested for a misdemeanor.