East Portal Park in East Sacramento, California, is officially open, but the playground equipment is off limits. Stacey Doyle Photography

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases globally creeps over 700,000, with 140,886 in the United States alone, strategies to slow the spread of the virus have emerged, with some more strict than others.

As of Sunday evening, 26 states had issued stay-at-home orders, with some cities in 13 additional states issuing their own.

Maine is one of the 13 states with restrictions but no statewide stay-at-home order.

On March 24, Gov. Janet Mills issued a mandate that all nonessential public-facing businesses close to the public for two weeks.

Portland issued a stay-at-home order March 25; all residents were to stay at home and all businesses that do not provide essential goods or services were to close. City Manager Jon Jennings said the order will end March 29, and after that, the City Council will meet and debate whether to extend it.

In Lewiston, Mayor Mark Cayer said that while he hopes a statewide stay-at-home order is imposed, he would issue a “shelter-in-place order” for Lewiston “if social distancing does not occur.”

Some of the 26 states that have issued stay-at-home orders may provide a glimpse at what to expect if Maine does something similar.

Stay-at-home orders

Stacey Doyle, a professional photographer in East Sacramento, California, said her state is in “full lockdown,” with people not allowed to leave their residences except for essentials, such as groceries, medicine or assisting a loved one.

According to the California Department of Public Health, the stay-at-home order will remain in place “until further notice.”

Doyle said people are “encouraged to walk or bike our neighborhoods for fresh air and exercise, and you’re allowed to be out by yourself with your quarantined humans or (pets), but gathering outside your household is forbidden.”

“Gatherings of any number aren’t allowed,” Doyle added. “It should’ve been that way weeks ago,”

Other than emergency services, pharmacies, and hospitals, only grocery stores, farmers markets, and food and drink businesses that can offer delivery or curbside pickup have remained open, she said. Grocery stores have been limiting the number of people allowed inside at one time, which creates long lines outside of the store, Doyle said.

“They only seem long because there is a strict rule that people stand more than 6 feet apart,” she said.

Jeff Patterson, who lives in Florida, said that while Gov. Ron DeSantis has not instituted a stay-at-home order, many of the state’s counties, including Hillsborough County where Patterson lives, have issued “safer at home” policies, which “people are mostly honoring.”

Patterson said in Tampa, “we’ve closed restaurants and bars except for takeout service and ask people to only go to work if they can perform their work duties while maintaining a 6-foot distance from others.”

He said Florida’s “state leadership hasn’t done nearly enough to prepare for (the virus).”

“Decisions are being made piecemeal, on a county-by-county basis, and we haven’t done enough testing for anyone to know if those local decisions are sufficient,” Patterson said.

Karen Evans of Ohio said her state issued a stay-at-home order March 23, but she lamented there were “so many exceptions.”

“Churches are still allowed to operate with fewer patrons, although some are not complying, as are any businesses that provide supply chain stuff to essential businesses,” Evans said.

Texas has not issued a stay-at-home order. Instead, Gov. Greg Abbott, according to an article in the Dallas Morning News, told local officials to do what’s best for their regions, and as of Sunday evening, 31 of the 254 counties had issued stay-at-home orders.

Wes Howard of Texas said that in his town, his doctor’s office has scheduled appointments for children who are healthy in the morning and sick children in the afternoon “so they never see each other.”

“For both, you pull into the parking lot and call to check in without getting out of the car,” Howard said. “For our sick child, the nurse met him on the sidewalk for vitals and a strep and flu swab. He then stepped into the anteroom of the building, where the doctor met him wearing (personal protective equipment) and did the exam right there.”

“I referred to it as Sonic Drive-Thru medicine,” Howard added.

In Washington, the first state to report a case of the coronavirus, Tim Harris of Seattle said the stay-at-home order came a week ago and people seem to be listening.

Pioneer Square in Seattle, Washington, is uncharacteristically empty. Tim Harris photo

People can only got out to get food, go to the doctor’s, go to work at an essential business, or exercise.

“It feels like life during wartime, where the streets are completely empty and everyone’s routines are utterly interrupted,” Harris said.

“There’s an uncertainty on whether this thing will last two months or six months or even longer,” Harris said.

Harris is the founding director of Real Change, a nonprofit, weekly street newspaper that aims to employ homeless or low-income individuals as vendors to sell issues.

For Real Change, the difference between a three month stay-at-home order and one much longer will determine whether Harris is able to keep the doors open.

“We have enough in our reserves to ride out another three months without staff layoffs,” Harris said. “If this goes on for another six or nine months, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Since the vendors for the newspaper are mostly homeless or low-income, Harris said a vendor relief fund was formed “to give the homeless folks some dough to make for the lost income” the newspaper offered.

“It’s just hard because the community is gone,” Harris said. “Everybody is split apart. One of the hardest parts about being homeless is the invisibility, the isolation, the loneliness. Having to navigate COVID-19 on top of that makes it much worse.”

Beyond the border

Outside of the United States, some countries have resorted to much harsher restrictions, including punishment for violating stay-at-home or quarantine orders.

In mid-January, China shut down access to the city of Wuhan in the Hubei Province, where the first coronavirus case was reported. Nearly a billion people were prohibited from leaving their homes, while all flights in and out of Wuhan were prohibited.

Other countries have just begun instituting lockdowns or stay-at-home orders over the past three weeks as the virus crosses over its borders.

The Czech Republic instituted a nationwide quarantine on March 15, which prohibited people from leaving their homes unless for work, to get food or water, and for “necessary visits to see family,” according to the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Health.

According to the Ministry of Health, 2,657 people have been infected with COVID-19, and 16 people have died because of it.

Peter Kalkman, a missionary stationed in Prague, Czech Republic, wrote that all people in the Czech Republic are required to wear surgical face masks when leaving home and can be fined 20,000  Czech koruna ($800).

Kalkman said that in recent days, new restrictions have been added, including limiting the number of people who can gather in a public place to no more than two and requiring food stores to provide plastic gloves to customers at the entrance.

India also instituted a nationwide quarantine March 25, giving citizens only a four-hour notice.

In Jordan, on March 21, the government prohibited citizens from leaving home, even for food. Violators face up to a year in prison, according to the Ministry of Health. It later announced that doorstop deliveries of water, bread and baby formula would be permitted.

As of Sunday evening, 259 people have contracted the virus and three people had died from it.

When will it end?

While those living in states with stay-at-home orders are facing similar restrictions, no one knows for certain when the orders will be lifted.

According to the California Department of Public Health, the order will remain in place “until further notice.”

Meanwhile, in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine said that the order would be effective until April 6 and would be reassessed at that time.

As for Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee said the order would remain in place until midnight, April 8, though he later said it could be extended.

Harris said if Americans “want a good idea of where we’re headed, look at Italy.”

“They’re three weeks ahead of us, so when you look at Italy and what they’re going through, it feels inevitable,” Harris said. “I don’t think people have wrapped their heads around the fact that we’re at the front end of this thing.”

Northgate Mall in Seattle, Washington, is deserted. Tim Harris photo


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