In summary

Gov. Gavin Newsom has directed seniors age 65 and older and people with compromised immune systems to isolate themselves at home during this coronavirus crisis. Here’s what we know so far about that.

We’ve received more than 2,200 questions from readers, so check back here several times a day. Keep the questions coming!

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First let’s take a look at two questions from senior CalMatters readers who want to keep the blood pumping while in self-isolation:

I am a fortunate unusually healthy almost 80 year old used to 4 yoga classes a week (soon to be held online) and a frequent 2-4 mile walk up the shore road or on the beach half a block from my door. Does Gov. Newsome’s directive to 65 and older seniors to self-isolate mean not getting outside for a walk? We’ll all be added to the obesity epidemic! Not to mention increased arthritic stiffness, heart ailments, and depression. Old people hunched over their computers or glued to TV riddled with chronic diseases is already a national disaster. Could somebody with medical and alternative medical authority urge Gov. Newsom to allow us our fresh air and freedom to walk outside, with a friend 6 feet apart or at least solo. Thank you for listening and hopefully helping! Stay well whoever you are. Rosie King, Santa Cruz

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I am a very healthy, active 65 year old woman, and I have a couple of questions: 1. Some articles say that in “self isolating” we need to stay indoors. I don’t understand why. Being outdoors is good for us. I need to walk my three dogs, and the walk is good for me, too. I don’t need to go near anyone. I love to garden–at least that’s one thing I can do with all this time alone. 2. Are we allowed to go to the grocery store if we keep our social distance? Thank you.

First of all, this is where we’re not: Italy, Spain or China. Italy and Spain have gone into full lockdown, with the Spanish military on the streets to enforce the mandatory stay-home order. That’s what a true lockdown looks like. 

In the U.S.,  Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he would like to see a 14-day lockdown, but nothing has yet been proposed. 

The national plan right now, according to Fauci, is twofold: Stop new infections from getting into the country and contain the spread of the virus domestically. International flights have already been severely curtailed. Containment, according to guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, happens when you stay more than six feet from an infected person. Basically, don’t get coughed on. 

But the guidance also says this, emphasis ours: “Considerable, thoughtful planning by public health authorities is needed to implement public health orders properly.  Specifically, measures must be in place to provide shelter, food, water, and other necessities for people whose movement is restricted under public health orders, and to protect their dignity and privacy.”

So, allowing seniors and those with chronic conditions to go for a walk, garden or exercise while staying six feet away from other people and avoiding direct contact with body fluids sounds reasonable. There should be no large or even small gatherings. But there is no requirement to stay indoors.

Here’s a question from a reader about what to do about groceries and seeing friends:

“[Gov. Gavin] Newsom did not give any specific advice, but his plan likely would mean people staying home from work and other public places as much as possible, and not meeting with friends, even at home.” LIKELY MEAN? What the hell… You make an edict like that and provide no details? What am I supposed to do? Never go to the grocery store? Never have friends over for dinner? Not greet neighbors on the street? This is gross incompetence and panic-inducement. You tell people to isolate themselves with no explanation of what that is supposed to mean.


State, county and city orders are all restricting non-essential activities. Can you go to the grocery store? Yes. But you’ll find yourself surrounded by people, and the lines are tight. Are there any alternatives, like a friendly neighbor? Can you have a dinner party? No. Can you wave to someone across the street? Yes. You can. But stay around people from your own household.

Remember this is likely to be a short-term directive if the epidemic slows, so better safe than sorry. If your health is already compromised by a disorder, it’s advisable to tightly limit your exposure.

Here’s a question about tenants:

“I have a housemate who’s rented from me for a little over a year. He is 67 years old, and he keeps clean, etc., but he goes to a gym daily, goes shopping at a variety of markets, accepts music gigs as a sound technician, etc. I am 81+ years old, with diabetes, hypertension, a coronary stent, and serious insomnia. He has little money and nowhere else to live. Should I allow him to stay? In that, what precautions are necessary? (He has his own bedroom and bathroom, but share the kitchen, though we use it at different times.”

If your 67-year-old housemate is also your tenant, you may soon not be able to evict him. Newsom issued guidance on foreclosures and evictions after eight lawmakers requested a 45-day moratorium last week. Some cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, have already enacted foreclosure and eviction moratoria. 

But your question is also a broader one — what do you do about people who just won’t comply with the directive to self-isolate, especially if you’re in an at-risk group? 

Newsom briefly addressed that. Remember, the directive for seniors to self-isolate isn’t a mandatory order with the force of law — but it could be, if Newsom decides that voluntary compliance isn’t working, and that the state needs to enforce self-isolation as an executive order. 

So you could tell your housemate that, at the very least, he’s tempting the fates by ignoring the directive, and perhaps inviting stricter actions from the state in the near future.

One reader has a question about jobs:

Are there any future plans to deal with elder job discrimination? For example, a business will not, or very hesitant to, hire someone because s/he is over 65 as the business does not want to deal with potential job disruption if there is another mandatory senior self isolation. Also what about cases like a person is 65 and is ready to retire at 68, but lost his/her job as a result of this mandatory isolation and loses all the seniority even if hired back?

This is an excellent question, and one many working seniors are facing now. What happens if you can’t go to work without risking your life? And when we return to whatever form of normalcy we can achieve, can you get your job back? 

Newsom ordered state agencies to waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment and disability benefits — and extended disability benefits to those infected with the coronavirus.

For a senior with two part-time jobs, one which can be done from home and one out of the house, the loss of the out-of-home job would constitute a loss of hours. Unemployment benefits could help with that. 

You can begin the unemployment filing process here: https://www.edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/File_an_Unemployment_Insurance_Claim.htm

Here’s a question about events:

We are a country club and event venue. This Saturday March 21, we have a wedding for 95 people. The bride and groom do not want to cancel What do we do? I would like documentation or something from the governor’s office in writing stating that we have to close. Or can we provide the event ??? The mayor’s office of Santa Clarita said that they do not have the authority to make a decision on this matter. Thanks

Ah, love. Nothing can stop it. Except perhaps a global pandemic that threatens the very fabric of society. But don’t tell that to the bride. 

You’re looking for something official to show the betrothed that the postponement of their wedding is coming from someone in a position of authority. Here is Newsom’s March 12 executive order that advises against “mass events” and uses the word “whereas” a total of ten times. In addition, the White House advised cancelling all gatherings of more than 10 people.

Eventually, it’s going to come back to money. Newsom’s order addresses that, too. Cancellations as a result of the pandemic “constitute a force majeure.” What does that mean?

We aren’t lawyers and this isn’t legal advice, but guidance from this law firm explains force majeure clauses, see if you think these circumstances apply: “The purpose is to allow the parties to exit a contract without penalty where the purpose of the contract has been thwarted by circumstances that were not foreseeable by either of the parties at the time the contract was made.”

Before presenting them with Newsom’s order, it sure seems like a few very direct conversations with our lovebirds could do the trick. And when the big day finally does arrive, they are forbidden from tagging anything #LoveInTheTimeOfCoronavirus. Sorry, those are our rules. 

This reader says she lives alone and needs help:

I am 75 years old with underlying health issues…I understand that while staying home may make it safer for me, I cannot as I need to go to the grocery store for food, get medications at the pharmacy, etc. I live alone, have no children, and NO one to go to the store for me. This is creating EXTREME anxiety & fear, but what can people in my position do. Thank you for reading. 

First, sorry you find yourself in this situation. It cannot be easy. You’re asking a question that is top-of-mind for California seniors, low-income advocates and state and local governments. 

For food banks and other services, contact your local county or city Area Agency on Aging. You can find a list of those agencies here: http://www.c4a.info/index.php/area-agencies-on-aging

But what about you, in your house, today? We are connected to our communities in lots of ways. Do you know any of your neighbors? If not, have you checked out neighborhood social apps? On Nextdoor.com in a few neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland and other cities, we’ve seen dozens of posts from young people offering to make grocery runs or a trip to the pharmacy.

Exercise caution. We’ve heard from utility companies that phone scammers are using the pandemic to try and fool people into thinking their water or power is about to be turned off unless they read out their credit card number. Humans are a flawed species. But if you can find someone in-person, or whom you trust from a social connection, give it a try.

Be persistent and be your own best advocate. People want to help right now. 

This is an amalgamation of questions about seniors that we’ve heard on social media and in personal conversations:

What do I do if I have a parent or grandparent in a senior community? Should I bring them to my home if possible or avoid disrupting their lives as much as I can?

This is an extraordinarily difficult question even during times when it doesn’t feel like the world is ending as we know it. Areas where seniors congregate have been the epicenter of some of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus and the resulting disease, COVID-19. Outside Seattle, more than half of the original 120 residents of the Life Care Center have been transferred to hospitals.

So what are your options? Merrill Gardens Senior Living, which operates 33 sites in eight states, including 14 in California, is implementing heightened cleaning procedures, banning visitors except for medical care providers, cancelling all outings and taking the temperatures of residents. If a resident leaves — and they’re free to — they may not be allowed back in without extensive screening and evaluation. Meals still are being served in common areas, but people are being separated. They also have the option of being served in their rooms. Families can drop off supplies without going inside.

At other senior facilities, such as Sunrise Senior Living in Seal Beach, similar protocols are in place. These are among the most vulnerable people, and their very way of life in a senior community is in direct contradiction to the governor’s directive to avoid congregating. 

This story from StatNews includes an interview with the AARP’s chief medical officer, in which she advises the following: 

“The guidance is continuing to change day by day, as we learn more about how the virus is behaving in the community. In this case, I would urge the individuals to contact the care facility and find out about the precautions they have in place. There are infection control procedures that every nursing home has to follow, and [you can tell the care facility] that you want to be notified what they are. In certain states, where there is higher concentration of outbreaks, there is guidance from the state department of public health, which may vary by locality. Most importantly, if [the elderly] are already in the long-term care facility, you just want to verify that these facilities are following proper precautions. You have to balance the care that your elderly can get in a facility versus if you took them home, you might be able to provide that care. Keep a close eye on what is happening in your particular community, your particular state, and follow the department of health guidance.” – Charlotte Yeh, AARP Chief Medical Officer.

The risk of infection comes from the outside world. Senior-care workers go home and to the grocery store, then come back to work, but they’re also trained to respond to health emergencies. At home, you have far more control over who comes in contact with your older relative, but you lose the advantage of having an expert on-hand. 

Perhaps it’s just adding up the pros and cons. If you feel the absolute greatest threat to your relative’s health is the coronavirus, and they’re otherwise relatively healthy, consider whether your home environment would be easier to control. 

If they have serious health needs requiring continuous care you can’t provide, and finding and paying for round-the-clock in-home caregivers isn’t a possibility, it’s perhaps a harder choice.  

You also may consider that your parent or relative is all alone, with little emotional  support, so bringing them to your house would be welcomed. Or they may prefer to stay in their own home. Just make sure that their facility is following the procedures outlined above. If they are not, point it out to them.

And remember that these seniors with options are the lucky ones. We’ve fielded dozens of questions from seniors with no family, few contacts and a baffling stream of information without much context.

The next question is from someone who’s gotten a babysitting request:

I’m a senior living in West Hollywood who has been asked to look after young children in Westwood (teach them and care for them) who are out of primary school. I am a friend of the family who has asked me to do this. Is that something I should do?

This is a pretty straightforward one: No. The person who made that request has perhaps not seen the directive from the state advising seniors to self-isolate. Seniors, even healthy ones, are too vulnerable to this virus.

Kids are … not great at sanitizing, even in the best of times. Even with 20-second lyric memes and extensive parental supervision, it seems like an absolutely unnecessary risk to put yourself, an at-risk senior, in harm’s way. 

The other group of at-risk people is those with chronic health conditions. What do they do if they can’t work?

If I have chronic bronchitis and other lung issues am I supposed to not go to work? If i do that I would get fired. Is there something to give to my place of employment that would excuse me from work during the time I stay indoors.

This fits the definition provided by the state of someone with a chronic condition that is at-risk for the coronavirus, and consulting with your physician is likely the first thing on the checklist. As soon as possible. 

The state isn’t ensuring that people keep their jobs during the pandemic. Instead, they’re trying to ease the burden by removing waiting periods for unemployment and disability benefits. That includes lost hours due to the pandemic and the government response. 

Filing for unemployment can feel like a lot. If you feel comfortable navigating the state website, it’s here: https://www.edd.ca.gov/unemployment/UI_Online_File_a_Claim.htm

Here’s the official state guidance on filing for unemployment or disability/paid family leave: https://www.edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019/faqs.htm

Since we’ve seen some iteration of this question a dozen times, let’s go a little deeper into what you’ll need to file for unemployment. (You’re asking reporters, so most of us have filed for unemployment at least once.)  

Here are some of the highlights of their advice. You know those tax documents you were just about to get to? Grab ‘em. 

First, do you qualify? Let’s check the state list: 

  • If you’re infected with the coronavirus, you’re eligible for disability benefits. You’ll need a doctor’s note with the diagnosis, or if you don’t have one, “a statement of symptoms; the start date of the condition; its probable duration; and the treating physician’s or practitioner’s license number or facility information.” 
  • If you’re healthy but you’re caring for a sick family member, you may be entitled to Paid Family Leave. You’ll just have to prove that they’re sick using the same metrics above. 
  • You may be eligible for unemployment insurance if you
    • -Choose to stay home due to fears about the virus
    • -Your child’s school district shuts down and you can’t work
    • -Your child’s school district shuts down and you were already unemployed
    • -Your employer reduces hours or shuts down operations. 

Second, what are you eligible to receive? Disability and Paid Family Leave benefits pay about  60 percent to 70 percent of wages with a cap of $1,300 per week. 

Unemployment pays $40 to $450 per week, depending on what you earned before you lost your job or hours. This is a state calculator to help you figure that out: https://www.edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/UI-Calculator.htm

So you’re eligible. Now what? You’ll need to create an account with the state system. This is the link: https://portal.edd.ca.gov/WebApp/Login?resource_url=https%3A%2F%2Fportal.edd.ca.gov%2FWebApp%2FHome

Register, then pick a benefit program that applies: UI for unemployment or SDI for disability or paid family leave benefits.  As with anything related to the government and your money, file as soon as possible if you think you qualify.

The next two questions were common concerning the Department of Motor Vehicles. California came up with a response last week. 

The DMV requires all persons over 70 years old renewing their driver’s license to come into a DMV office to take a written test and have their eyes checked. Given that a pandemic has been declared and the Gov Newsom has declared that all elderly folks should stay home, it would seem that this requirement should be eliminated for the time being. Note The State of Texas has already done this. My question is what is the CA DMV doing to address this issue?

Why do the California State DMV offices remain open with MANY people crammed into a small space? Seems like Newsom could start there with his own house and let me worry about mine.

A driver’s license is most people’s primary form of identification, so maintaining a valid one isn’t just a question of being permitted to drive. In California on Monday, the DMV asked law enforcement to “exercise discretion” when it comes to enforcing things like expired driver’s licenses or vehicle registration tags for at least 60 days. 

The DMV is asking police to go easy on drivers 70 years old and older with expired licenses who would otherwise be required to come into the office to take a knowledge test to renew their licenses. 

The department is making the same request to police for those with expired licenses who need vision testing, renewals more than 15 years old that require an in-office visit and “individuals with a complex driving history.”

“California law enforcement is encouraged to exercise flexibility and discretion when reviewing driver license or identification and vehicle registration records,” the California DMV said in a news release on Monday. “If applicable, DMV may waive vehicle registration penalties.”

Texas did something similar on Friday, although more sweeping: All licenses that expired on or after March 13 will be considered valid for 60 days. 

The pandemic had to hit right before tax time:

Will an extension for IRS taxes be given to practice social distance?

People now have until July 15 to file their federal and state taxes.

“During this public health emergency, every Californian should be free to focus on their health and wellbeing,” said California Franchise Tax Board chair Betty T. Yee in a press release late last week. “Having extra time to file their taxes helps allows people to do this, as the experts work to control the spread of coronavirus.”

Depending on how much you owe and how much you made, reading this story about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2018 returns might make you feel a little better. Or possibly much worse. Together with First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the pair made $1,206,688 in adjusted gross income, paid $358,724 in federal taxes and sent another $121,455 to the state. 

What about the directive that all bars, brewpubs and wineries close?

At first, on Sunday, restaurants were told that they could stay open but limit customers and keep them separated. Then, many localities and then the governor told them to close beginning Tuesday except for take-out and delivery. What about the places where they serve liquor and food?

How is it determined if an establishment is a bar or restaurant? Almost all restaurants also have bars.

When Newsom ordered the closure of bars in California, some people may have briefly trembled before remembering the restaurant down the street has a fully-stocked whiskey cabinet. 

So what’s the difference, and why is Moe’s closed while Chez Paree gets to keep pouring? The answer is liquor licenses. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control issues dozens of different beer, wine and liquor licenses. They apply to everything from brandy manufacturers to  seasonal sales on a boat or at a bed and breakfast. 

For restaurants — or, as they’re referred to in the code, “eating places” — the rules are clear: “Must operate and maintain the licensed premises as a bona fide eating place. Must maintain suitable kitchen facilities, and must make actual and substantial sales of meals for consumption on the premises.” 

A bar, by contrast, has no food requirement, and minors are not allowed. And a brewpub has the same requirements as a restaurant, except they’re allowed to brew beer.  In this example, an Irish pub could technically follow the order and stay open until midnight Monday, the night before St. Patrick’s Day, as long as they had an “eating place” liquor license — even if the vast majority of people were lining up for Guinness, not shepherd’s pie.

Restaurants statewide can only be open for takeout and delivery. Bars are shut down.

Readers also wanted to know if they could be kicked out of their apartments.

What about rent? unemployment will not cover my whole rent for a month.

You could have until the end of May to pay your rent, if your landlord is willing. Late Monday, Newsom issued an executive order that managed to tick off both low-income housing advocates and landlords by requesting that property owners hold off on residential evictions until May 31 and slow foreclosures. Read CalMatters’ Matt Levin’s just-posted story for a breakdown. 

“Tenants won’t have a unified set of protections,” Sasha Harnden, policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, told Matt. “It will depend on what we will be able to achieve in the local jurisdictions while they are juggling so many other considerations right now.”

The short answer seems to be, you’re at the mercy of your landlord. 

Our next question is about expansion of shelter-in-place orders and whether driving and traveling/camping is restricted:

1. Does it look like other counties are moving to follow San Francisco? Or are we staying with Newsom’s more broad restrictions like don’t get together in groups? 2. How close are we to moving from shelter-in-place to full-out lockdowns and curfews, ala Spain? And if we are moving that way, how long might it last? 3. What about traveling THROUGH the shelter-in-place counties? I had camping planned for the first weekend of April (right before that order ends) in Mendocino County (no people for miles!). I’d have to drive through Marin County (or Napa and Sonoma counties, depending on route) to get to my destination. Would I get stopped if I’m on I-80 or HWY 37, just passing through? 

First, does it look like other counties are moving toward the shelter-in-place order issued by public health agencies on Monday in the Bay Area? 

The Bay Area has been the region most affected by the coronavirus in the state. But Southern California is seeing an uptick in cases daily, and Los Angeles closed its bars, brewpubs and wineries before Newsom ordered the same for the entire state. 

How close are we to the Spanish model of putting soldiers on the streets? That depends on what you mean by “soldiers.” There has not yet been any proposal to have members of the U.S. military on patrol. But late Tuesday, Newsom did put the California National Guard on alert to help distribute food and medicine. Is that the same thing as Spain? No. 

More than 1,500 Guardsmen in 18 states were activated Tuesday. New Jersey adjutant general Brig. Gen. Jemal Beale described their duties as “logistics, transportation, traffic control, security or bringing in our engineers to maybe bring a facility back online that’s needed in some way, shape or form.”

Did you catch the word in the middle of that list? Security. Newsom said the same thing on Tuesday, emphasis ours: “The National Guard has been directed by the Governor to be prepared to perform humanitarian missions across the state including food distribution, ensuring resiliency of supply lines, as well as supporting public safety as required.” After flooding and earthquakes, that usually means fending off looters and working traffic checkpoints. 

When it comes to quarantine orders, we don’t really know what “supporting public safety” looks like. At least not yet. 

Now let’s hit the other question: Your camping trip. We understand. When the going gets tough, the tough build a fire. You’d get there in a car, windows presumably rolled up, avoiding contact with anyone else. Plus, you’d be by yourself or with the people you’d ordinarily shelter with anyway. What’s the harm? 

First, the shelter-in-place order isn’t going to get you pulled over on the highways. It’s about voluntary compliance. But it does ban all travel that’s non-essential, and camping is probably on the list of non-essential activities right now. 

And, where are you planning to go? All state campgrounds are closed due to the coronavirus. How long that lasts, nobody knows at this point. (Non-campground outdoor areas of state parks, including trails, beaches and bathrooms, remain open.) And you can always go trailblaze your way to a cozy place deep in the woods. But should you? 

Remember that the orders not to travel are mostly about avoiding spreading the virus to other people. The Surgeon General says we should act like we’re all infected. That means don’t go camping.

There’s another good reason for staying home: Hospital capacity. We’re sure you’re an excellent driver. But a lot of things can happen on the roadways that would put you and others in need of urgent medical attention. Ordering people to shelter-in-place should help cut down on the need for urgent care. 

And while you’re out and about, here’s what you could be encountering, according to the most recent science: The virus can survive about three days on plastic and steel. As far as we can remember, camping equipment is mostly steel and plastic. That’s a lot of gear to sanitize. 

Next is a question about social services, focusing on two roommates who were getting by before the pandemic, but aren’t sure what to do now:

I am 65 & disabled & self isolating, but have a man who is 51 living at my residence because he was homeless & has a lot of health issues so been supporting him on just my Social Security which is tough, but he helps me. He got turned down for disability, which he should have received because he gets out of breath easily. So anyway can he get some kind of help financially? 

One thing this crisis is doing is testing the bounds of our social contracts. In a time that probably feels very long ago, you made a decision to let someone crash at your place. You went further and split your Social Security check with him. In return, he helps out around the house. 

But now, today, is different. Let’s touch on the health issue before we get to the money. You, as a senior, have been directed to self-isolate. He’s been directed to shelter-in-place. He poses a possible contamination risk, but you also want or need his help at home. You’ll have to decide whether there’s steps you can take at home to make sure your contact is limited.

Also, the Trump Administration has floated the idea of the U.S. Treasury sending a certain dollar amount to each individual taxpayer. We’ll see where that goes. If your tenant worked even a part-time job, he may be eligible for unemployment. 

Your best bet at this point might be to see what benefits you are eligible for to keep your household afloat. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging — the way California works under the Mello-Granlund Older Californians Act is to have local agencies be the primary service providers for seniors in the state, instead of the statewide Department of Aging. Depending where you live, it could be a county agency or a local non-profit. Check this list.

On Wednesday, Newsom extended the eligibility of major state programs including Medi-Cal and CalFresh (food stamps) for 90 days, so current recipients don’t lose their ongoing coverage.  

If you feel that your food supply is immediately in danger of running out, you do have options. Food banks can help you, although they are hampered by a shortage of volunteers, as our reporter Jackie Botts has found. This a list of food banks in California: http://www.cafoodbanks.org/find-food-bank

This is about practicing safety in a mixed-generation household — kids, parents and grandparents :

My son and daughter in law and two children (2&4 years old) live with us. We are in our seventies, if one of the kids goes to buy groceries they put my wife and I at increased risk due to the unprecedented amount of shoppers at all of the food markets in our community (San Mateo). What are we supposed to do to safely get the essentials the six of us need to survive? And if, as stated, you know the enormity of the situation, why have you not instituted rationing or some other form of distribution that would maintain social distancing? I feel abandoned by the elected and health officials. I understand the need for social distancing and how critical it is for the safety of all but we are in a very difficult situation due to our living arrangements and we are not the only ones. Thank you, David Meisenheimer retired Kaiser Permanente employee (Employee and Labor Consultant)

Your feeling of abandonment is natural — after all, the state told everyone to shelter-in-place, so you may not see the work the state government says it’s doing. And a lot of that work right now is logistics planning in Joint Incident Command posts around the state.

But let’s talk about mixed-generation families, with people with different needs and different exposure risks. We’ve got a set of two seniors, two non-senior adults and two young kids. Now you’re all in it together, just as many other Californians told us for this CalMatters article about kids and grandparents.

Infectious disease specialists told the New York Times that kids can go on playdates, but families should be careful if there’s a grandparent in the home. Your home has two. So as long as no one is exhibiting symptoms, you can be near your grandkids — it’s the grandkids who should avoid other kids, in person. Thank goodness for Twitch. 

To the rest of your question, you are absolutely permitted to go to the grocery store. You’re in luck, because you have two younger people to make those grocery runs. The best guidance for them right now is, of course, shelter in place, and when they do go on grocery or pharmacy trips, they should wash their hands before they leave and as soon as they get back.

Let’s see what else Consumer Reports advises for going to the grocery store. First, bring some sanitizer or disinfectant wipes. It’s possible they’ll have them available at the store. Wipe your cart handle and anything else that you might touch on the cart or basket. 

When you get home, we’re in luck: Just soap and water appears to disrupt the cell membrane of the novel coronavirus. So wash — or have your kids wash — all non-porous food-serving surfaces. That’s plates, glasses, cutlery — all of it gets a thorough wash with dish soap. Then wash your hands again. 

Keep those counters and cooking surfaces clean. You do not have to disinfect everything unless you’re around someone exhibiting respiratory symptoms. Ideally, a person exhibiting symptoms would self-isolate anyway. 

You should wash all your produce with dish soap. And this next one is going to bother some of you, soak your leafy greens in soapy water for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, please, wash it thoroughly. Nothing is going to keep you absolutely safe from a virus that appears to be able to live on plastic and steel for up to 72 hours (albeit significantly degrading over that time). But we can try. 

(Also, folks, please note the correct use of “enormity” in this question — it means “very bad,” not “very big.” Our language is only as strong as we make it. Thank you.)

Several nurses and other healthcare workers have written in.

I am a registered nurse working full time, at a big facility who treats immunocompromised patients. Does Governor Newsom’s call for seniors to self-isolate include me? Reason I’m asking is because according to our HR department, the governor’s instructions does not include healthcare workers and therefore if I were to not show up to work, I would have to use my PTO or vacation, and once I exhaust those days I assume I’ll be out of a job because they were clear that they would expect me at work. Could you kindly help with some guidance? While I feel responsible for my patients, I am also aware of my increased risk of poor outcome, if I were to be infected with COVID19. Any advice would be appreciated.

I am a 65 years old registered nurse, my workplace said I could be fired if I don’t take a Coronavirus infected patient, can they really do that?

Our ER has a staffing crisis. And all the nurses are stressed in spite of covid19.

We received an update on this question from the California Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the state Board of Registered Nursing.

Consumer Affairs spokeswoman Michelle Cave said in an email on Thursday that while the Board of Registered Nursing doesn’t have jurisdiction over how patients are assigned or hospitals are staffed, they can indeed take action if a patient is abandoned. 

Let’s take a look at the definition of patient abandonment. Generally, the nurse first has to have accepted the patient assignment. Given that the question is about an affected patient, the circumstances might depend on whether you knew through a test that the patient was already infected or simply suspected it based on symptoms. 

Once the patient assignment is accepted, if a nurse simply walks away or “severs” the nurse-patient relationship “without giving reasonable notice to the appropriate person (e.g., supervisor, patient) so that arrangements can be made for continuation of nursing care by others,” then the nurse has abandoned the patient, according to the BRN. 

If that happens, the BRN’s rules say the agency will investigate the complaint, which could lead to discipline against the nurse’s license. 

So what did we learn? Not a whole lot! Acceptance is a condition of severance, which is a condition of abandonment, which could lead to discipline. But what’s acceptance? Seeing someone for the first time, or just getting their name on a computer screen as your next patient. 

As with most things, it will probably have to be worked out in court. 

The original answer from Wednesday is below:

California is the only state to mandate a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio of one nurse for every five patients. In intensive care units, it’s two patients to every one nurse. 

So the nurses who wrote to CalMatters are not alone. At rallies throughout the state last week, nurses demanded better protection from the virus. A story in STAT shows some of their concern: 

“A surgical tech in New Mexico is expecting to see [coronavirus] patients coming into her hospital…But she’s deeply unhappy with the guidance from her hospital to date… `Some of my colleagues and I feel let down,’ said Alyssa Estrada, an instrument sterilization technician who says her hospital is already short-staffed. ‘If something happens, how are we going to keep our department running if we don’t have the manpower?’ ”

There are a few factors coming into play here. First, there’s a question about the governor’s directive. People on the front lines of the pandemic — nurses, doctors, technicians, paramedics, pharmacists — are exempt from all the state, county and city directives to stay at home. Businesses considered essential are not closed.

Also, there’s a question about what the law says. There doesn’t appear to be any law specifically about infectious patients, but when it comes to the more mundane tasks like moving a patient, California labor law is clear: 

“A health care worker who refuses to lift, reposition, or transfer a patient due to concerns about patient or worker safety or the lack of trained lift team personnel or equipment shall not, based upon the refusal, be the subject of disciplinary action by the hospital or any of its managers or employees.

There are no laws yet concerning the coronavirus, but California has work laws concerning tuberculosis, meningitis and Valley Fever. Those either call for compensation for affected people who encountered infections at work or training for people likely to be exposed.

What if you flat-out refuse to treat a person suspected of being infected? Here’s the thing: We don’t know: We can’t offer legal advice and labor law is very complex. There’s a Nurses’ Bill of Rights conceived by the American Nurses Association that says nurses should have the right to refuse to treat a patient. But that’s not a binding document — it’s more like a wish list. 

The California agency in charge of this question is the California Department of Public Health Licensing and Certification Division. They’re not taking our calls or returning our emails. We’ll update if we hear back. 

But back to your question: There’s your personal health. As our reporter Ana Ibarra wrote last week, “the health care workers on the first line of response to the epidemic are also finding themselves on the front line of potential infection.” 

A blog post on the industry site nurse.org broke down the protocol from the CDC:

“In the event that you do have a patient that meets the criteria for known or suspected [the novel coronavirus], the CDC says that standard, contact, and airborne precautions should be used by all healthcare workers, and the patient should be placed into an [airborne infection isolation room] immediately or transferred to a facility with an AIIR. 

If neither of those things is available, they recommend isolating the patient as much as possible in a room where the air is not recirculated without HEPA filtration and placing a surgical face mask on them.”

The next question is about exemptions related to construction materials in the Bay Area counties’ shelter-in-place orders:

What businesses qualify as ” Construction of Housing “? We operate a retail and commercial tile store in California. Do retail tile stores stay open when a stay order is put in place? 

This question comes from the language in orders issued by seven Bay Area counties for all residents to shelter-in-place unless they are performing “essential duties.” Let’s look at Santa Clara County’s order, specifically the part about housing: 

“For purposes of this Order, individuals may leave their residence to provide any services or perform any work necessary to the operations and maintenance of ‘Essential Infrastructure,’ including, but not limited to, public works construction, construction of housing (in particular affordable housing or housing for individuals experiencing homelessness), airport operations, water, sewer, gas, electrical, oil refining, roads and highways, public transportation, solid waste collection and removal, internet, and telecommunications systems,” the order reads, and mandates that people maintain social distancing while performing these duties.  

Let’s see how California defines “construction of housing.” To do that, we have to dig into the California Code a little. 

“ ‘Construct’ or ‘construction’ means all activities necessary or incidental to the construction of housing including, but not limited to, acquisition of property or any interest therein, construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation or maintenance, repair or operation of any property or improvement.” 

So the people putting the tile down would likely be involved in the repair or operation of the property. But would you, as the tile store owner, be entitled to stay open? From the definition, it seems unlikely that you are providing an essential service.

You’re going to need to call your county — or, more likely, its joint operations center — to get clarification on your right to stay open, but we wouldn’t expect much from them.


What about landlords who may not get their April rent?: 

“Is Gov Newsom going to help Landlords with their Property taxes?? He’s helping the tenant,   what about the LANDLORD (75y/o) who invested his life savings in an investment property to have a monthly income or for that matter any investor???????”

Our Matt Levin spoke to landlords’ attorney Dennis Block on Wednesday about this very thing.

“Can you imagine if you own a duplex and you desperately needed the income off of that duplex — that’s your source of income?” Block told Matt.

So far, there hasn’t been any specific order or guidance related to landlords, just an order protecting tenants from eviction. We’re not going to speculate on the rationale, other than to say that directives (or orders) to shelter-in-place require a place in which to shelter. 

But landlords who rely on income from properties at least won’t lose the houses to foreclosure during the emergency declared by the governor. Foreclosures are on hold. That may seem like cold comfort to a landlord who can’t pay the grocery bill, but there is help in place for that, too. 

Your point on property taxes is one of the most obvious avenues that the state could take to provide relief to property owners. But so far property taxes are still due April 10. At least neither you nor your tenants will have the water, gas or power shut off during the state-declared emergency. 

The next question comes from a nurse in another state:

I am an RN in FL compact state and have a NY license. Will you guys be waiving CA license or fast tracking applications, so other RNs like myself can help out with coronavirus?

There’s a shortage of frontline healthcare workers, and it’s not an even spread. States like California were already enduring a shortage of doctors before the pandemic.

In response, 34 states entered into the Nursing Licensure Compact, which allows nurses to practice one-on-one nursing or telemedicine across state lines.

California isn’t one of them — actually, no states on the West Coast have entered into the compact. The Legislature is considering it in a bill, SB 1053, introduced in committee on Feb. 18, that would have made California the 35th state in the compact. Similar bills are pending in seven other states. 

Then the pandemic hit, and on Wednesday, the bill’s proposed hearing date was postponed. So California was almost a “compact” state. The timing just didn’t work out.

But we don’t have to rely on the compact in these extraordinary times. Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that President Trump ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to allow all doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines. They’re expected to issue new rules this week. 

So the short answer is, yes, we will be able to accept the help, and we’ll almost certainly need it. 

One reader wants a moratorium on the term “social distance.”

Can we stop saying ‘social isolation’ or ‘social distance’? Through the lens of equity, we need to avoid language that separates us. Can we say ‘physical distance’ instead? It’s clear if we say a six foot physical distance between each other.

The linguist and former U.S. Senator from California S.I. Hayakawa says the map is not the territory, by which he means that the words we use to describe a thing are not the thing itself. 

Polish-American scholar Alfred Korzybski wrote that humans are guided by two systems: Their own nervous systems and their language, and they lack the capacity to understand the world around them in anything but abstractions. “Reality,” therefore, is simply each individual’s own assemblage of those abstractions.

Taken together, these broadly comprise the field of general semantics, the thrust of which is that human behavior can be modified through language. Let’s talk about social distancing. 

Merriam-Webster tracks the concept of “social distance” to 1874, but the context was closer to your question: Social distance was a problem to be conquered among groups with differences — class, caste and ethnic. But today, it’s a goal, and it’s unclear where this term originated. 

We can tell from Google Trends that people pretty much never looked this term up before February. But now it’s everywhere. Your question asks, can we find a different term? Is another term appropriate? 

Your issue seems to be with the use of “social” to mean putting actual physical space between people. We’re not, after all, telling people not to talk on the phone (or sing off their balconies). We’re just saying keep some space. 

But there is a social element to this pandemic. By using the term “social” instead of physical distance, we’re telling people very clearly, this will disrupt your life. In other words, the state and some counties aren’t just saying keep your physical distance — they’re saying avoid in-person socialization if at all possible. Don’t go to a friend’s house if you don’t need to, don’t go to a big gathering of people no matter what and, when you’re forced by your essential needs to be out in public, then keep your physical distance. 

So we’re not just talking about physical distance. This is a pandemic that spreads through more than just droplets (saliva, sneezes, etc.). It appears to stick around, especially on steel and plastic, for several hours or even days. So having people over — socializing — while maintaining physical distance isn’t going to cut it. 

Should we use a different word? One that isn’t quite so isolating? We’re not sure that’s the right move. The “social” in social isolation has to be hammered on, again and again. 

After all, there were still spring breakers in Florida who packed the beaches until the governor told them “the party’s over” on Thursday and began enforcing the CDC advice on limiting crowds. Sometimes, you can’t alter human behavior through language and you just have to put up a “Closed” sign. 

The next question is about social isolation among neighbors, and what habits we can keep and what we must leave behind during the pandemic.

We have a very friendly, tight-knit neighborhood.  Because we’re on a cul-de-sac, we don’t have through traffic and our children are accustomed to playing outside. Now they must stay separated from their friends and parents are stressed trying to entertain them. Are we allowed to make a large circle, keeping the 6 ft rule, outside on our street, once a week just to share some conversation and ideas?  Each neighbor would bring their own chair, and no food would be shared, nothing would be passed from person to person. Only one parent would participate to get a break, while the other parent would get a turn at the next session. Will we be penalized in any way for keeping a check on our stress levels/mental health in this way?

For most of our postwar history, this sounds like the American ideal: Families sitting in a circle on a quiet street in a small neighborhood, chewing the fat. And it’s apparent that you’re trying to maintain your distance, keeping with the general guidelines for safely dealing with the coronavirus.

Can it be that this pandemic has shifted society to such a degree that getting together with your cul-de-sac neighbors is playing with fire?

Yes. You’re playing with fire. 

Right at the top of the list of guidelines from the Los Angeles Department of Public Health: “Postpone social visits and play dates.” Furthermore, the county advises cancelling all non-essential activities. While you might feel like you need this and it’s essential, it’s probably not. 

Let’s think it through. How will this actually play out? First, one parent watching the children means, despite your absolute best efforts, by accident or by volition, those kids are gonna find a way to make contact with each other. 

To the second part of your question — will you be penalized? Well, at present there have been no plans announced by the governor to personally come to your home and scold you. (In Italy, the mayor really might come yell at you.)

Law enforcement in some cities is actively breaking up gatherings. But the main penalties that we as a society can assess right now are social: Shame the beachgoers and subtweet your friends who refuse to socially isolate. But in your case, your whole social circle is participating. Gatherings like this might be happening across the country. Sure, the bars are closed, but what about just a few people who know each other well getting together and staying six feet apart? 

At this point, you don’t know each other well in the one way that matters during a pandemic: Exposure. We’re all risking being exposed, daily, to a virus that is forecast to infect 40 percent to 70 percent of the world. We’re each in some form of contact with something from the outside, whether it’s delivery food, groceries or someone’s sneeze that caught your car’s door handle 24 hours ago. (The coronavirus bug can apparently survive on steel for up to 72 hours.)

To believe you can absolutely protect yourselves from infection by maintaining the public protocols of social distancing is the downside of postwar America: The unerring belief that our next step is the right one, no matter what the science says. 

It’s not simple hubris that’s leading you to these measures. It’s habit. And maybe a little bit of desperation. It shouldn’t be condemned outright. But maybe have another talk — group chat from your homes, specifically — with the other parents about why this might not be the best idea. Maybe make a schedule to get together via Zoom or Facetime instead.

For one thing, think of that poor parent in the hot seat — two kids collide while not paying attention, and that parent gets death stares at the next potluck (assuming we still do potlucks when and if this ends.)

Second, it’s a bad example. For the kids who are old enough to remember this, try to show them that a little pain today — not seeing your friends, hanging only with your boring family, skipping school and playing Red Dead Redemption 2 all day — is worth it for the long-term payoff of containing a pandemic. 

Next, we have someone moving during the pandemic: 

My wife and I are closing on a house this week we purchased (at least interest rates are rock bottom right now). We currently live in Orange County and are moving to Riverside County. We have to be out of our current house by the end of next week as someone else is moving in the following week. We are scheduled to move with a moving company next Friday (3/27). Given the current orders in Orange County, is moving considered an “essential service”? Or will be fined/arrested if we attempt to move out of our current house and into our new house? Will we be forced to become homeless and not allowed to move into our new home? 

Housing was already at a crisis point in California. We don’t have enough of it, and we’re not building enough to keep up with demand. Homelessness, both as an absolute number and a percentage of the population, is the highest in the country here. And the homeless are considered by Newsom among the most vulnerable populations to the virus, along with seniors and those with chronic conditions. 

But we get it — you’re not talking about actually being homeless. You want to know if you’re allowed to move into a new home or start construction on one. Keeping people housed is obviously a priority during a statewide advisory to shelter-in-place, and new housing is at a premium — even the seven Bay Area counties with shelter-in-place orders have an exemption for homebuilding. 

Before you worry, we would ask whether the next family is still planning to move into your current house on the day in question. If it’s at all possible, could you work something out with them to wait until the state declares the emergency over? If not, let’s see what your options are. 

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office tells us you will not be arrested for simply being outdoors. Housing is considered an essential need in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and while the state and its counties are in states of emergency, there are still no patrols in the streets or anything resembling martial law — which is really what you’re asking. 

As with anything now, practice safety. Stay six feet from the movers when practical and don’t be afraid to call things off if one of them appears to be ill. 

And consider giving a big tip to those movers. 

Our next question is about homeless people. 

What are they doing to homeless during the lockdown?

When the state first declared an emergency, Newsom identified three groups as significantly at-risk for complications arising from the virus and COVID-19: seniors, people with chronic medical conditions and people who are homeless. 

If you’re unhoused, how do you shelter-in-place? And if you choose to wait out the pandemic in a homeless shelter, are you any safer than relative isolation on the street? 

Manuela Tobias, a Report For America fellow and California Divide reporter at the Fresno Bee, tackled that question on Friday.

“I’ve already lived here for years. I’ve got lupus and fibromyalgia. I don’t fear the coronavirus,” Andrea Harper, 34, told Manuela. “I’d rather be out here and continue helping people before I go and actually put my health at risk in a shelter.”

She found that shelters are using some of the same safety protocols as other communal living spaces. “Katie Wilbur, executive director of RH Community Builders, said the shelters are enforcing the same shelter-in-place guidelines as the city. Meals are delivered to residents’ rooms and residents are encouraged not to leave the property,” Manuela wrote.

Newsom estimates that of the state’s approximately 150,000 homeless residents, 60,000 could catch the virus. The state has been scrambling to find them beds — an estimated 50,000 are needed, Newsom said Monday. 

The state also is doling out $100 million to cities, counties and local aid organizations to fight the coronavirus among the homeless. Newsom has said he wants to add another $50 million to that pot. 

“This is money that will be immediately available to help those who are homeless – among the most vulnerable to COVID-19,” Newsom said in a press release. 


Homelessness was a crisis in California before the pandemic. Now, as people swarm food banks and test the tensile strength of the social safety net, the way in which the state accommodates and cares for its neediest will dictate whether California, amid a tanking economy and housing crisis, helps stanch its homelessness emergency or watches it worsen.

More on the coronavirus in California:

Tracking coronavirus hospitalizations in California by county

CalMatters is tracking positive and suspected cases of COVID-19 in patients who are hospitalized throughout the state, broken down by county.

California’s response to coronavirus, explained

Gov. Gavin Newsom says the state appears to be flattening the curve. We unravel the response to the coronavirus outbreak and look at what lies ahead.

Timeline: California reacts to coronavirus

This timeline tracks how California state and local governments tackled the evolving COVID-19 crisis since the first case was detected.

This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

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Nigel Duara joined CalMatters in 2020 as a Los Angeles-based reporter covering poverty and inequality issues for our California Divide collaboration. Previously, he served as a national and climate correspondent...