Citizens and Businesses Are Flouting the Distancing Guidelines 

Coronavirus Journal: Parks may yet have to close, AA goes online, first death in Alameda County, and school's out for summer?

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At a time that many people and businesses flagrantly violate the statewide shelter-in-place order in effect until early April, at least one Bay Area municipality is threatening to get tough with scofflaws. San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia said his officers have issued more than 50 warnings to non-essential businesses that were continuing to operate in violation of the isolation order.

Health officials from Santa Clara County and several neighboring Bay Area jurisdictions gave the word Monday afternoon for residents to stay at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. California Gov. Gavin Newsom followed up Thursday evening by putting the whole state on lockdown, with no end date in site.

But while some businesses have closed up shop for the time being, not everyone has complied with the legal order. At a news conference last week, Garcia said officers have had to force the closure of 56 local businesses.

On Wednesday, the police department began deploying four "health order compliance" cars during the day shift and four in the evening. Garcia said that, so far, everyone has been given a warning. Next week, however, that will change.

The city's top cop said SJPD would explore criminal citations, licensing sanctions and health code violations for businesses that run afoul of the public health order.

While law enforcement in other Bay Area counties have begun handing out citations to people seemingly flouting the governor's shelter in place order, Alameda County Sheriff's deputies are refraining from doing so. Alameda County Undersheriff Richard Lucia said deputies are not seeing many large gatherings.

Not only are they refraining from writing citations for non-compliance to the order, but because of adherence to social distancing protocols, deputies have been told to limit the issuance of citations of any kind unless the violation is egregious, Lucia said on Monday. "We're not taking a real aggressive enforcement approach," he said.

However, there have been a few cases of non-essential local businesses failing to comply with shelter in place, Lucia said. "In the unincorporated areas, we had a couple of businesses that, I'll just say, misinterpreted the rules, and we've talked to them."


EB Parks Open, For Now

For now at least, the East Bay's 73 parks and 1,250 miles of trails in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties will remain open to the public during the state's shelter-in-place order, the East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors announced last week.

Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order called for a three-week shelter in place in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus. An exemption, though, allows residents to have brief respites in outdoor places, such as taking a therapeutic walk down the street, hiking, and exercise.

But East Bay Regional Park District rangers and employees urged caution against the keeping the recreational areas open to the public, arguing it may put employees and residents at risk.

While the parks will remain open, restrooms and water fountains will not be in operation. Garbage service will also be limited. "We just don't have the ability to maintain those and the safety of our staff," said Robert Doyle, general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District.

It remains a concern for the park district that some residents are failing to exhibit social distancing protocols while at the park. In addition, they acknowledged it is physically difficult for social distancing at some parks because narrow pathways. The Botanic Gardens in Berkeley's Tilden Park was cited as one park where social distancing is inherent difficult to achieve. Increased traffic at some parks has also hindered social distancing measures. Park Director Beverly Lane, who represents Walnut Creek and surrounding areas in Contra Costa County, reported a "highway of people going down the Iron Horse Trail" in her district.

If further reports of large gatherings forming at its parks are obtained, the park district will proceed with further closures, Doyle said.


The 13th Step

For folks in Alcoholics Anonymous, sobriety is hard enough already. In a pandemic, all the more so, as crowd-size restrictions suspend the 12-step meetings so many rely on to cope with emotions that make it tempting to use.

Recovering addict Omar Torres said people like him now find themselves caught between two diseases — both of them fatal. "If we don't go, we're going to relapse," he said. "If we meet up in person, we spread the coronavirus. It's a life-or-death situation either way."

Thankfully, 12-steppers the world over have found other ways to connect.

"Like everybody else, we had no idea what to do at first," says Torres, a 38-year-old San Jose native who's three years clean. "During the first calls to limit gatherings, people kept going to some AA and NA meetings. There would be 15 people, then 10 and the number kept going down until they did the shelter-in-place and we could no longer meet."

Since addicts need peer support to survive, he says, they began "meeting" on everyone's favorite new app: Zoom. The digital 12-step sessions are unofficial, Torres explains. But they comprise many of the same regulars from local in-person meetings.

On Tuesday last week, Torres says he tuned in for a 7:30 p.m. meeting in which the chair was from L.A. A few days later, he logged on to share his personal story in a virtual version of one of his favorite LGBTQ Narcotics Anonymous groups. "Zoom is making life easier for a lot of people," he said.


Other Virus News ...

California launched an online portal for all the latest updates about this intractable pandemic. Covid19.ca.gov highlights critical steps people can take to stay healthy and links to resources available to anyone impacted by the outbreak, including paid sick leave and unemployment benefits. ...

The first death in Alameda County due to the coronavirus occurred over the weekend, the county's public health officer announced on Monday. The identity of the patient and where they live is not yet known. The decedent was described as being an older individual with underlining medical issues, said Dr. Erica Pan, Alameda County interim public health officer. The virus is believed to have been community-acquired, she added. ...

At this point, the county's hospitals are not yet feeling the expected stress to the system that is expected in the coming days and weeks. The number of hospital beds and Emergency Room availability is "stable," said Colleen Chawla, Alameda County Health Care Services Agency director. ...

Brace yourselves, parents. It looks like school's out 'til fall. Gov. Gavin Newsom relayed the news in a presser Tuesday, saying it's unlikely the 6.2 million students in California's K-12 system will go back to class before mid-year recess. "Don't anticipate schools are going to open up in a week," he said. "It's unlikely that many of these schools — few if any — will open before the summer break. Boy, I hope I'm wrong, but I believe that to be the case." ...

Got an appointment to renew your driver's license? Well, here's another pandemic perk to celebrate: you can put it off for another two months. The California DMV has asked law enforcement to go easy on some drivers with expired registration, permits and the like so coronavirus-prone populations can avoid the agency's field offices for the next 59 days. ...

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has asked insurance companies to give policyholders a two-month grace period on premiums. That way, he said, people won't lose coverage for being unable to pay in the midst of a public health emergency. ...

The pandemic prompted the federal government to give us a grace period on income taxes while the California Franchise Tax Board pushed its own filing deadline for individuals and businesses to July 15. ...

When kids stay home from school, dogs are more likely to attack our friendly neighborhood mail carriers. At least that's what the U.S. Postal Service claims in a PSA reminding everyone to extend the shelter-in-place order to their aggressive fur-babies. The advisory urges families to wait until the carrier leaves the area before opening the gate to pick up the mail. ...

The free coronavirus testing site in Hayward is being watched as a possible blueprint by several other local entities and jurisdictions in Alameda County. The site is located at the Hayward Fire Department's Station 7 at 28270 Huntwood Avenue. Anybody can be tested and without a doctor's referral. Someone who is not readily showing any symptoms of the coronavirus can also be tested. ...

Panic-buying has prompted a hiring spree at Bay Area grocers. Safeway, Vons, Pak 'N Save and Andronico's are looking for folks to staff deli, meat, bakery, produce, fuel and customer service stations. The positions include paid training, flex scheduling, employee discounts, benefits, vacation and holidays. To apply, go to Safeway.com or ask one of the harried store managers about it next time you brave the lines to restock your hoard of toilet paper. Farmstead, a Bay Area-based food courier, is hiring about 50 warehouse workers and delivery drivers in the coming week and may recruit more going forward. Meanwhile, Amazon and its subsidiary Whole Foods want to add 100,000 people to its U.S. workforce and is offering a $2 bump to the normally $15 hourly wages through the end of April to keep up with the influx of orders. ...

Door Dash announced a series of pandemic-related initiatives to help the restaurants that make the food its dashers deliver. For starters, it's made no-contact delivery the default, shipped free hand sanitizer and gloves to couriers in 400 cities, and sent notifications to let customers know which restaurants are still taking carryout orders. ...

Facebook renewed vows to police disinfo on its platform. But the site bugged out the other day, flagging totally innocuous posts as spam or otherwise inappropriate. The FB powers-that-be yanking links to news articles about AOC's move toward universal basic income, landlords evicting people because of this coronavirus crisis, and cities suspending utility shutoffs for non-payment. After enough people complained, Facebook put out a few public statements about how it was just a glitch. ...

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 reached a deal with Safeway granting grocery workers stronger protections as they become frontline workers in the pandemic. The agreement includes more scheduling flexibility to accommodate childcare and expanded use of paid sick leave. Workers will get up to two weeks of pay if they contract the virus or have to self-quarantine because of exposure. The contract also calls for stricter sanitizing for employees and customers, and assures that all staffers will get a $2-an-hour bump for at least two weeks. ...

After downplaying the novel coronavirus and defying a regional shelter-in-place mandate to close the Fremont Tesla factory, Elon Musk has finally come around to recognizing the severity of the crisis. Sort of. While still seeming doubtful about the risk of the virus overwhelming surge capacity of the nation's hospitals, the Tesla CEO tweeted that he would join General Motors and Ford in making hospital ventilators for COVID-19-sickened patients. ...


With staggering numbers of homeless individuals in Oakland and across Alameda County, Alameda County supervisors on Tuesday morning were likely to approve proposals to lease two Oakland hotels at a cost of more than $3.2 million through the end of April. The proposed lease agreements on Tuesday's Alameda County Board of Supervisors agenda call for the county to use the Comfort Inn & Suites and the Radisson Hotel Oakland Airport, both on Edes Avenue, and near the Oakland Coliseum, to temporarily house the homeless during the crisis. The initial costs will be steep. The 289-room Radisson Hotel Oakland Airport will cost $2.4 million to lease from Mar. 16 through the end of April, according to a county staff report. If the hotel space is still needed, the rate becomes $53,744 a day. The 109-room Comfort Inn & Suites will be leased to the county for $870,480 during the same time frame, and $19,344 a day thereafter, according to a county staff report. ...

With the crisis seemingly growing every day, and the potential unfettered spread of the virus in prisons across the state, East Bay Assemblymember Rob Bonta said in a tweet Monday night that low-risk prisoners who can't afford bail should be released immediately. "With #COVID19 in our jails, all low-risk ppl who can't pay should be released now!" Bonta tweeted. On Monday morning, Alameda County Sheriff's Commander Tom Madigan said no cases of the coronavirus have been reported among its inmate population at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. Over the past week, over 400 prisoners have been released from Santa Rita Jail on modified sentences in order to limit the possible spread of the infection, Madigan said.

On March 2, European Society of Cardiology researchers published a study on how dirty air shortens more lives than wars, smoking, parasitic disease and HIV. They said they're findings suggest that the world faces an air pollution "pandemic." Barely two weeks have passed and we're in the midst of a very different pandemic. Although pollution still poses an existential threat for millions of people each year, the pandemic we're reckoning with on a global scale through unprecedented isolation measures has had a measurable effect on air quality in some places. Satellite imagery of three coronavirus hotspots shows a dramatic decline in air pollution in just the past couple weeks as China, Iran and Italy brought their economies to an abrupt halt. One Stanford University scientist estimated that China's sweeping lockdown has saved 77,000 lives — about seven times the COVID-19 death rate so far — by curbing emissions from cars and factories. ...

Stephen Buel contributed to this report.

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