On March 31, 2020, six Bay Area counties in Northern California adopted amended “shelter in place” orders in response to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). These orders are important to all businesses in the Bay Area, but also to everyone else as they could be a preview of what is to come.
Like the prior orders adopted during the week of March 16, 2020, the March 31, 2020 orders each generally require that residents stay home unless they are engaged in work which the orders define as “essential.” Importantly, the March 31, 2020 orders significantly restrict and reduce the definitions of “essential” work. For instance, under the San Francisco order, most construction is now prohibited. Exceptions are made for healthcare facility construction directly related to the COVID-19 response, affordable housing; public works projects when designated as essential by the lead governmental agency, shelters and temporary housing, projects necessary to provide critical services to certain vulnerable individuals, construction necessary to secure an existing construction site, and limited essential residential or business repairs. In other words, the March 31, 2020 orders ban most residential and commercial construction. As another example, businesses that supply products needed to work from home are no longer “essential,” and must cease operations.
The March 31, 2020 orders also require that all “essential” businesses adopt “social distancing protocols.” Essential businesses must post those protocols at workplaces, and provide a copy of the protocols to each employee performing work at the workplace.
The social distancing protocols are extensive. For instance, the Alameda County sample social distancing protocols requires symptoms checks before employees may enter the work space, desks or work stations to be separated by at least six feet, posting of an employee at the door to ensure that a maximum number of customers is not exceeded, placing tape or other markings at least six feet apart in customer line areas, and developing a schedule by which common areas are disinfected. These are just some examples, and a business must either implement all applicable protocols or be prepared to explain why any protocol not implemented is inapplicable to the business.
As with all shelter in place orders, a careful review of each applicable order is needed. Companies operating in all parts of California should prepare now for tightened definitions of “essential” and for social distancing protocols like those in the Bay Area orders. Social distancing protocols may be coming to the rest of the state in a matter of days. More details about social distancing and other health care procedures can be found on the CDC website and on the website of your local health department.