6 Bay Area counties extend stay at home orders through May

Health officials in the San Francisco Bay Area issued a joint statement Monday that stay-at-home orders in six counties will be extended until June 1st to give the region more time to issue guidelines for businesses, ramp up testing capacity, and ensure there are safeguards to stop the spread of the new coronavirus SARS-CoV2 if people begin social interactions. 

"Unfortunately we will need to extend the deadline for this stay-at-home order through the month of May," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed during a press briefing. 

The six counties are: San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin. The City of Berkeley has its own health department and also joined the counties in the unified regional response. 

In the joint statement, health officers in those six counties said later this week, they will have details and "the new order will include limited easing of specific restrictions for a small number of lower-risk activities." 

Dr. Art Reingold, Head of Epidemiology at U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health says the regional approach makes sense and it is important to proceed slowly. 

"People in the Bay Area are heavily interconnected. They live in one county, they work in another county," said Dr. Reingold, "You don't want conflicting messages in part because you'll confuse people."

Dr. Reingold says the best data will not be from COVID-19 testing, which can show higher numbers of infections as more people are tested. Rather, he says public health experts are looking at the data on the number of daily deaths. 

"Hospitalization and death data are pretty good indicators of what's happening. The problem is they are late indicators. They don't give us information until a few weeks after we've made the changes," said Dr. Reingold. 

The six-county announcement comes after Napa County extended its order indefinitely. Solano County's order was extended through May 17. Sonoma County's order expires May 3. 

The extension is disappointing for many Bay Area residents who already saw the stay-at-home orders extended once from April and now face weeks more of sheltering in place.

"I guess scared is one thing. I don't know how that's going to impact my own lifestyle," said Chris Flores of Martinez.

"All this stimulus and stuff, it's not that much help you know," said Kevin Martin, a Martinez man who had been working at Goodwill and says it is a struggle to continue to stay at home

"We might not make it. We're trying but we might not make it," said a woman who gave her name only as Gurmeet, and works at the Behind the Plate Clubhouse Grill in Martinez. 

She says it seems unfair to see grocery stores open with social distancing, while other businesses can't have customers.

"Every hour just having 10 people in the restaurant will help pay the bills, keep people working," she said. 

Officials say they working on science-based guidelines for businesses and organizations to function safely if they reopen to customers and clients. 

They say there are also many things that need to be put in place or show significant change in order to consider lifting all restrictions. 

"The reduction of people living with COVID-19. The increase in testing. Our ability to monitor the epidemic and get adequate PPE," said Dr. Grant Colfax, the San Francisco Department of Public Health Director. 

'At first I kind of sighed, like aw, really? But I'd rather it just go on until there's no chance of another spike," said Marlena Weden, another Martinez resident.

"We just need to follow directions. Everybody needs to be safe until this is gone," said Carla Nunez, a Martinez clinic worker, "It's really hard for us to have a different lifestyle, it is to be safe, but we just need to be patient."

Kelly Ingraham of Martinez says she is a teacher and has been teaching as well as caring for her own child. 

"We're doing weekly Zoom meetings or read-alouds or scavenger hunts," Ingraham said, describing her work during this social-distancing era. 

"The goal is to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus. Even if it's hard at home, I think we need to do what's best for the whole community," said Ingraham.