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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?



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.