Letter from Mayor DeGolia - March 24, 2020
Dear Atherton Residents,The Coronavirus and the Shelter in Place
One week ago, a notice was issued that focused on protecting the health and safety of residents and students. The principal message in that notice was to stay home if you feel sick in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Since then, all schools have closed and we have been ordered by the County and the State to stay home and "shelter in place", unless we perform certain specified “essential services” like picking up food, essential supplies or attend to medical needs. For the latest updates and information from the Town, please go to: www.ci.atherton.ca.us/covid-19Shelter in Place: Why Isolation is Necessary
The purpose of the Shelter in Place order is not principally to keep you from getting the virus. This is a disease for which we currently have no immunity or protection. Unless a vaccine is developed, it is very likely that many, if not most, of us will get it. The purpose of the Shelter in Place is to slow the spread of the virus in the larger community in order to avoid overwhelming the medical system.
In the history of the United States we have never had such a broad government-ordered shutdown of our economy. The last time that we experienced this significant of a pandemic was one hundred years ago when the 1918 flu killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and that pandemic was heavily impacted by World War I, our limited medical knowledge and technology and a much smaller population. One thing that we learned from the 1918 flu is that isolation works.
Isolation was the only truly effective mechanism to stop the spread of the disease and it gives the medical profession the ability to manage the pandemic.The Medical Officer’s Order
On March 18, medical officers from six Bay Area counties issued a Shelter in Place Order (Order) which resulted in all schools and most businesses closing in the six counties, and people working from home unless they provide “essential services.” Essential service is a broad area that includes, among other things, those in the medical, food, grocery fields, as well as those who provide products and services that are necessary to enable us to work from home and to maintain the safety and sanitation of our homes. From the perspective of an Atherton resident’s normal daily routine, this includes house cleaners, delivery men and women, postal workers, police officers and anyone performing emergency services, such as fixing a leaking pipe, a broken window, or similar issues. Please thank each of these people who continue to provide us with essential services and risk catching the virus.Essential vs Non-Essential Services
The greatest challenge for government during this Shelter in Place period has been to balance the needs of residents while protecting the health of our public employees so that they can continue to serve us. There has also been significant challenge in determining exactly what is and what isn’t an essential service. Based on the Order, house cleaning services, emergency repair services and in-home care are essential services, but gardening, landscaping and non-essential repair services are not essential. The greatest controversy in this area has been which, if any, construction (including the Town Center) is considered essential. Public works construction is considered essential, but other commercial construction is not. All existing housing construction, particularly affordable housing and housing for the homeless, was stated as essential in the Order, but remodel construction and discretionary repairs were not. This language resulted in significant controversy because of the risk of spreading the virus on a construction job site. Ultimately, individual communities were allowed to determine whether or not to allow construction, and Atherton, like a few others, decided to shut down all construction, including the Town Center, at this time. Construction was largely halted due to the Town’s limited ability to safely support regular inspection services and the inability to adequately protect inspection and field personnel with proper protective equipment. Waiving the requirements of field inspections increases the risk of unsafe construction. Failure to provide adequate protective equipment to protect inspections and field personnel puts Town staff at risk for exposure to COVID-19. While housing production continues to be a priority for the region, the need to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during this local health emergency takes precedence.
Emails received from residents question why gardeners and other repair men and women who work alone are not allowed to work under the Order. This was a judgement by the Medical Officer and the purpose was to limit contact between people to avoid the spread of the virus. There have also been many questions regarding enforcement of the Order. This Order and the Order from Governor Newsom are very comprehensive. It is not practical for a local police department to enforce these Orders. The expectation is that each of you will recognize the importance of the common good to stay at home and to comply with these Orders. Atherton’s police and public works department employees are leaving flyers that inform violators that they are working in violation of the Orders, but it is necessary to minimize direct interaction between our police officers and the public in order to avoid our officers’ getting the virus. The priority of APD is to protect the community and they have to stay on the job to be able to do that.Shelter in Place Health Order Questions
An e-mail and phone line are now operational Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for those residents who have business questions related to the shelter in place order. E-mail healthorderFAQ@smcgov.org
or call (650) 363-4588. You can find answers to various FAQs on the Shelter in Place on the County’s website at https://www.smcgov.org/shelter-place-faqs. Please feel free to email me with your questions or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org. Prevention and preparedness is our best defense.
Mayor Rick DeGolia