Updated: May 13, 2020
When it came to initially enforcing a Bay Area-wide stay-at-home order to stem the spread of coronavirus, San Jose has thus far exercised a light touch with a focus on educating residents potentially violating the restrictions, and non-essential businesses that were not shutting down.
Now that there have been a few days to process change, the city is taking a firmer approach, letting residents and business owners know that they risk being cited by police if they keep violating the order after being warned.
With the government response to COVID-19 growing as exponentially as the disease itself — Gov. Gavin Newsom warned of a worst-case-scenario 56% infection rate before putting the entire state under a sheltering order Thursday — San Jose officials are more firmly reminding residents to restrict their out-of-home activity to essential tasks.
“It’s important for all of us to stay home because it takes the pressure off our first responders to be out there having to interact with folks,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said at a news conference Friday. “And it distracts them from very important duties they have to keep us all safe.”
Police have assigned eight dedicated patrol units throughout the city to be on the lookout for businesses that stay open in defiance of the order, with the aim of telling a merchant or owner that they need to close.
Starting next week, though, they said repeat police contacts for violations could lead to misdemeanor citations — the strongest legal penalty authorized by the sheltering order — but also business license and health code sanctions.
“We’re not going to stay educational for long if people aren’t paying attention to this,” police Chief Eddie Garcia said.
Both the mayor and chief directed people who see potential violations to report them by calling 311, and not 911, to avoid straining already overtaxed emergency resources.
“911 is for the burning building, and 311 is for the burning question,” Liccardo said.
From when the stay-at-home order was issued in Santa Clara County on Tuesday through Thursday, more than 60 people or businesses had gotten their initial warning about being out or open against the order in San Jose: an assortment of repair shops, clothing and furniture stores, hair salons and barber shops, gyms, a car wash, and most famously, a gun store that stirred passionate discussion about what scared residents deem essential.
There were a couple of gatherings that were broken up involving people playing sports at city parks, including a pickup basketball game. So far, officials said, everyone who has been approached by police has complied.
The chief also addressed reports and rumors about the the possibility of the National Guard being summoned to bolster enforcement, saying he had not heard anything to that effect. Liccardo said he has not heard anything about the Guard’s involvement in the crisis beyond humanitarian aid like helping with distribution at food banks, as Newsom announced Thursday.
“I hope to God we don’t get to a place where we have the National Guard patrolling our city,” Garcia said. “I have not heard that yet, and I’d imagine any police chief in the state would say the same thing.”
Garcia said his department’s approach so far has been to be mindful of the fear and uncertainty people have as they grapple with all of the new, and sometimes daunting, restrictions.
“There’s businesses telling our officers they don’t know how they’re going to pay the bills, that they don’t know how long they’re going to keep the lights on. It touches our officers. We have much empathy, but at the same time they have a role and a job to do,” he said. “I think our officers understand as this prolongs, that desperation may get worse. I am hopeful our leaders will come up with way to alleviate some of those concerns, and I hope this entire community just bonds together.”