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What it’s like to shelter in place in San Francisco. – Business Insider

What it’s like to shelter in place in San Francisco. – Business Insider

The order directs me and an estimated 6.7 million residents to stay inside, turning our apartments into our homes, offices, gyms, and schools.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

  • The San Francisco Bay Area’s estimated 6.7 million residents have been ordered to remain at home as much as possible until April 7 to contain the coronavirus disease.
  • Known as a shelter-in-place order, the directive has shuttered businesses, offices, and has caused the city’s daily rhythm to come to a screeching halt.
  • I live in San Francisco and have spent four days under the order.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

I had a routine prior to March 9. 

I woke up at 6 a.m. for a brisk walk to work through the still-sleeping city into the office near the Financial District of San Francisco. I had my route nailed down perfectly, up one street and down another to spot the cats in the bay windows of their owners’ apartments. One had flattened ears, the other would meow at me. I was always glum when I walked by and they weren’t there.

That came to halt, as it needed to, in early March, as the coronavirus disease began to pose a bigger threat to San Francisco. On March 5, the first two confirmed cases were found, with authorities warning that the disease was likely already being transmitted in the city. Now there are 76.

The coronavirus pandemic has perforated the lives of millions, either directly or indirectly, as it has spread across the globe. The number of confirmed cases sits at 240,000. Some know people who have it, or have a friend of a friend who does. Regardless, we all feel the effects of the measures being taken to quell the spread of the virus.

On February 25, Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency in San Francisco, my home of two years. Since then, offices have steadily shuttered one by one. The big names of the tech city — Twitter, Google, LinkedIn — began implementing work-from-home orders. Employees increasingly began adapting to carving out workspaces in their homes. Then the city took it a step further.

The estimated 6.7 million residents in the San Francisco Bay Area were ordered to shelter in place, or to stay at home, in an effort to create space amongst the region’s occupants and decrease the risk of spreading the virus, which is transmissible by respiratory droplets.

The order lasts until April 7 but could get extended, San Francisco Mayor London Breed told my colleague, Troy Wolverton, on Thursday.

It’s Friday, and we are on Day 4. Here’s what it’s been like.

Tuesday, Day 1: I work East Coast hours since my managers are in New York, so I wake up at 6:15 am.

My desk.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

 I’ve gotten into the habit of lighting a candle when I log on for work. A quick “Morning!” and a wave emoji thrown into Slack, and then the workday begins.

My officemates and I in Business Insider’s West Coast bureau started working from home on March 9. So this is Week 2 for us.

There are many more across the world and in the city that cannot do their jobs from home.

Arizmendi Bakery in San Francisco on March 17 before it closed.

Stephen Lam/Reuters

In the Bay Area, these are people providing essential services and who are exempt from the shelter-in-place order. It’s the restaurant workers who are providing takeout food only since dining in is banned. It’s the owners of hardware stores, the bus operators, the first responders, the postal workers. There are also the most vulnerable residents, the estimated 28,200 living on the streets with nowhere to remain indoors.

Restaurant workers are already being laid off as their employers struggle beneath the crushing lack of business.

I’m an office worker, only sometimes needing to be on the ground to do my job.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Across the region, from the heart of Silicon Valley to San Francisco to Contra Costa County to the east, many of us are adapting to signing on for work at home. The lines between our professional and home lives are blurred, our desks mere feet from our beds for some. For working parents, the challenge is even greater with school districts having shut down.

There are a few different schools of thought on the ins-and-outs of how to work from home.

Slippers are a must for me.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Ever since remote work has been more of a focus in light of the virus, reams of advice have cropped up on how to work from home most efficiently. Sweatpants or jeans and a button-down? Shower in the morning or after work? I’ve been oscillating between both.

After a few hours into Day 1, something seems missing from the usual environment on my street. I realize that it’s quiet.

California Street, usually filled with cable cars, is seen empty in San Francisco on March 18.

JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

A cable car line usually runs down the street from my place, and I’d gotten used to the sound of it trudging by. It had even become soothing. But in an effort to protect the operators from contracting the virus, the city shut the cable cars down for the shelter-in-place order.

The absence of it is deafening. In their place are Muni buses, with “Cable Car” running across the marquees. It feels strange to look out my window as I’m working to see a bus roll by instead of the open-air cable car.

The bus system hadn’t been shut down since a closed cab separates operators from riders. Cable cars didn’t have that.

At 10:30 a.m., the WiFi stopped working, prompting a nervous meltdown on my end.

My desk setup.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

I have two roommates, and all of us are now on it for nine hours each day. I have an ethernet cord and insist on running it from the router in my roommate’s room, through the hall, and under my door into my room.

Later on, an Amazon package is delivered.

I ordered a yoga mat and a foot rest for my desk.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

I’m lucky enough to live 1.2 miles from my office. I usually walk the 30-minute trip both ways, and I quickly realize the lost hour of round-trip cardio will likely start to take a toll. I ordered a yoga mat a few days prior and a 25-pound kettlebell, in addition to the two 8-pound dumbbells I already owned.

I leave the mat and equipment out so that I’m more inclined to stop and move/stretch/work my body for at least 15 minutes after working my brain all day. I can’t afford a sophisticated workout system like Tonal, a $3,000 at-home strength training machine that you mount to the wall. The San Francisco-based company has seen sales triple just in the past week.

At 3:45 p.m., I log off to shower and then was in need of a grocery store run.

A Trader Joe’s in San Francisco on March 17.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

At the time, and even now, the mechanics of the shelter-in-place order seemed ambiguous.

The order isn’t a full lockdown, like in Italy — we don’t need government permission to leave our apartments.

We’re allowed to go outside, but should we? What will the grocery store look like, will my fellow shoppers and I have enough space to social distance? If I accidentally walk within six feet of someone on the sidewalk and a police officer sees me do it, do I get fined? The uncertainty of the lengths to which I should go to fulfill my social responsibility is paralyzing.

When I go to Trader Joe’s, most of the shelves are wiped clean. No one was putting six feet between themselves, including me just by default — the aisles are narrow. I got in and out quickly. 

Things outside my apartment seemed normal but with an uneasy sense that things were, of course, not.

Wednesday, Day 2: It ironically rained most of the day.

The sun poked through at times, though.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Dishes also began to pile up seemingly out of nowhere as my desk, in my room, became where I ate my meals — if I remembered to eat anything.

It’s almost 11:30 a.m. when I glance at the clock.

One of my two windows.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

I notice the light fading from the room and check the clock again to see that it’s dinnertime. One of the many tips included in work-from-home how-to articles is to set an alarm at the end of the workday to remind yourself to log off. I promptly do this.

Another tip to keep your wits about you is to occupy your free time with FaceTime conversations with loved ones.

They’re the highlight of my day.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Calls made to relatives back home in Texas are starting to take up a hefty amount of my time. I’m painfully aware that they’re all older, part of an age demographic that is more susceptible to contracting the virus and experiencing severe symptoms.

They live in Texas, where the virus and the accompanying panic hadn’t yet spread as badly as elsewhere.

This week, however, also brought stricter measures for Texans as it did for us in California. Gov. Greg Abbott estimated that the number of confirmed cases will be in the tens of thousands in the next two weeks, according to the Texas Tribune. Bars, restaurants, and schools have been closed, and many are working from home if they are lucky enough to do so. Gatherings exceeding 10 people are prohibited.

Shelter-in-place orders are not yet implemented in Texas.

After work, I start a group text chat with my sister, parents, and grandparents with the sole purpose of swapping Netflix recommendations as an incentive for all of us to stay indoors.

“Pandemic” and “Outbreak” are on Netflix.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

I recommend “The Movies That Made Us.” My sister dryly suggests “Outbreak,” “Contagion,” and “Pandemic.”

Thursday, Day 3: It really sinks in that the new normal for at least the next few weeks may be exactly this.

My workout area.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

My room has become my bedroom, gym, and office, and that’s likely to not change anytime soon.

It’s the third Thursday of the month, which means my office usually meets for happy hour drinks.

The days start to blur together.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

The event is still on our calendar, and we had toyed with the idea of doing it virtually. That’s a trend sprouting up in the age of minimal human interaction in light of the infectious virus. The New York Times reported on how we’re taking advantage of video conferencing platform Zoom to do more than just work virtually with colleagues. People are using it for karaoke parties, birthday festivities, and church services. The Information reported on how users are turning to Zoom for virtual dinner parties.

Zoom saw a surge in the stock market in late February as investors bet early on that customers would take to the virtual world since the physical one isn’t safe at the moment.

We decide to push back our virtual happy hour to next week, and I have a beer by myself.

Friday, Day 4: There’s a bit more routine as far as the working-from-home goes.

I have two windows that face a courtyard.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

But I’m hyper-aware of the fact that I haven’t stepped outside in 60 hours. I open both of my windows for some airflow.

The day before, Thursday, also brought more statewide changes as health experts emphasized the urgency to contain the virus across the country if we were going to have a chance to fight it efficiently. There’s a small window for the US to lock down its cities and enforce social distancing to “flatten the curve,” meaning to stunt the spread of the coronavirus so the healthcare system is not overwhelmed.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all residents in the state to remain inside their homes as of Thursday night. He said 56% of people in California could be infected by the virus, though measures like the shelter-in-place order aren’t taken into account in that projection. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that all nonessential businesses will be ordered to keep workers home starting Sunday evening, excluding pharmacies, grocery stores, and the like. The directive is not a shelter-in-place order but calls for nonessential gatherings of any size for any reason to be canceled or postponed. Several other states are implementing similar restrictions.

Come Friday night, the usual outings won’t be happening, for good reason — the bars in my neighborhood and across the city are closed, and my friends, my fellow residents, and I are advised to stay indoors.

Harrington’s Bar and Grill in San Francisco on March 16.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

The only restaurants that are open are those that can offer orders for pickup or delivery.

We’re required to stay indoors as much as possible, but for local businesses that offer takeout, they’re also hanging on by a thread as business plummets with the shut-down.

I’m uncertain about how much to go out in public, but I’m also compelled to support my go-to spots.

I plan on venturing into the community and ordering takeout for pickup from my favorite neighborhood sushi place and from my favorite local brewery, both of which are like my second homes. It’ll be a little sense of familiarity in a time when it feels like there is none.


San Francisco
San Francisco Bay Area

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