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In an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, governors in Connecticut, Illinois and New York announced executive orders on Friday requiring all nonessential workers to stay home as much as possible — a day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a similar order requiring all nonessential workers to stay home. In total, about 75 million Americans will be affected.
At a press conference on Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea that his executive order was a “shelter in place” mandate.
“It is not 'shelter in place.' And this is why words matter,” Cuomo told a journalist. “Because people are scared and people panic.”
Earlier this week, use of the phrase “shelter in place” had caused some confusion. Prior to Newsom’s statewide action, several counties in California issued orders instructing residents to “shelter in place,” and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had also warned New Yorkers that a “shelter in place” order could be implemented.
A “shelter in place” is typically used to refer to acute or short-term situations in which people are supposed to stay indoors until authorities say that it is safe to evacuate. The phrase “shelter in place” might be used after a chemical or radiological event or when there is an active shooter.
"The situation of having everyone in a wide geographic area — including people with no known exposure — limit their contacts with others for an extended period of time is not one for which there is a set vocabulary,” Yahoo News public health contributor Kathryn Jacobsen says.
"My guess is that in a few weeks we’ll have clearer definitions — or, more likely, new language — to describe various types of disease-control strategies. For now, phrases like ‘shelter in place’ or ‘stay at home’ are intended to convey the core message."
The order issued by New York — which is similar to orders issued by other states — encourages people to stay home as much as possible. But residents can still leave their homes for groceries, medicine and exercise, as long as they stay at least six feet away from others. Nonessential businesses are required to close, but a long list of essential businesses including restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations and health care providers will remain open. Public transportation and roadways will also remain open.
These orders are different from a “quarantine,” which is specifically applicable to people with an active disease or a positive coronavirus test, requiring them to stay in their homes, for periods typically ranging from a few days to a couple of weeks. The orders covering California and New York residents, who are allowed outside with appropriate precautions, are not quarantines.
On Friday, President Trump said he did not anticipate issuing a nationwide “stay at home order,” though days earlier he did issue “15 days to control the spread” guidelines urging people to avoid public gatherings of more than 10 people.