Six Bay Area counties will order residents to — mostly — stay inside. Photo: Daniel McPartlan

Health officials across the Bay Area — including Berkeley — issued a sweeping order Monday requiring all residents to mostly shelter in place and shutting down all “non-essential” business in hopes of stemming the spread of COVID-19.

The rules are far more stringent than Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Sunday guidance to close bars and keep seniors over age 65 at home.

The Bay Area order, announced by officials in six counties during a 1 p.m. press conference in Santa Clara, only permits residents to leave their homes for “essential activities” — for health and safety reasons, to pick up food and supplies, or to go outdoors without coming in close contact with another person. (Berkeleyside watched the press conference remotely.)

The order goes into effect Tuesday at 12:01 a.m., and will not be lifted until April 7 at the earliest, officials said. The order applies to Berkeley and Alameda County (which have separate health departments), along with Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

“Collective action is powerful,” said Dr. Lisa Hernandez, who runs Berkeley’s health division, at the press conference. “With no vaccine or medicine for COVID-19, our unified actions have the power to slow the virus and continue to maintain a healthy community.”

The crackdown is within the realm of the isolation rules in effect in Italy, where the coronavirus has over-burdened hospitals and killed close to 2,000 people. Across the Bay Area, there are 273 confirmed COVID-19 cases so far and four deaths, and officials are counting on the new shelter-in-place order to prevent those numbers from growing exponentially.

Unhoused people are exempt from the order, but the officials urged local governments to make more shelter options available for them.

Some businesses — including pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, banks and laundromats — are allowed to remain open. First responders are “categorically exempt” from the rules, and other government entities can determine, and keep running, essential operations. Restaurants can only stay open for delivery or take-out. All those businesses will still have to abide by “social distancing” guidance, even keeping customers who are in line spaced out. And the order shutters everything from religious institutions to gyms.

Many local businesses are already feeling the squeeze from COVID-19 — and laying off employees — as shoppers and diners follow official health guidance to stay far away from crowds.

Educational institutions can stay open to provide “distance learning.” (Berkeley Unified is not requiring distance learning, but is providing optional academic resources as well as free takeout meal service.) The new orders also say child care facilities can only serve up to 12 kids at a time.

Travel, by any vehicle, is only permitted to carry out essential activities, and mass transit will stay open for that purpose.

“We do not expect empty streets,” said Matt Willis, Marin County’s health officer. “We’ll all start feeling some cabin fever and it’s important to remember we can get outdoors. You can walk your dog.”

The officials said enforcement will be up to local police departments, but they recommended waiting until people have more time to understand the new rules.

Asked about how Berkeley will enforce the order, and whether citations will be issued, spokesman Matthai Chakko said, “Our priority right now is to get the information out to as many people as possible. Most people understand this is a very, very serious risk and threat to our community.”

The Bay Area order stops short of the most severe rules in Italy, which require residents there to carry paperwork stating personal information and “reason for travel” any time they leave their home — or receive a fine and potential prison time.

This story was updated after publication with additional comments from the city.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...