Can I Be Arrested For Violating Shelter-In-Place Orders?

by Mar 24, 2020

On March 17th, the Sonoma County Health Officer issued an order for all county residents to “shelter in place.” The goal of this order is to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) throughout the county and greater Bay Area. What you may not know is that this order is legally enforceable, and violating it can land you in trouble with the law.

The order states that “Violation of or failure to comply with this Order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.” So technically, yes, you can be arrested for violating the Sonoma County shelter-in-place order. If your behavior is particularly egregious, or you repeatedly get caught violating the order, you may end up in jail as a result.

For most residents however, the likelihood of that happening is relatively low, and you’re more likely to receive a fine.

Will I Be Arrested For Going Outside?

No, absolutely not. The primary goal of the shelter-in-place order is to prevent people from gathering publicly in large groups, as this is how the virus is most readily spread. Getting some fresh air by yourself, or with your family, is perfectly legal.

If you are in a public space with other people (a local park, for example), make sure to maintain a distance of at least six feet at all times. This “social distancing” helps prevent the spread of the disease.

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What Are “Essential Activities?”

The shelter-in-place order requires that you only leave your residence for “essential activities.” These activities include things like:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Obtaining medicine and/or medical supplies
  • Receiving healthcare services
  • Caring for family members in another household

Going to your local gym, eating out at a restaurant, having a large party in a public space–those are examples of things that, during the shelter-in-place order, are not considered essential activities.

When Will The Shelter-In-Place Order Be Lifted?

Right now, the answer is: when there is no longer a significant risk to public safety. As difficult as it may be, staying inside and limiting your contact with people outside your household is the safest way to ensure the virus does not continue to spread.

A good source of information and updates is the Sonoma County Emergency and Preparedness Information website. Check that site regularly for updates and links to additional resources.


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