The “Stay Home, Work Safe” order issued by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff on March 23 acts much the same way as shelter-in-place directives that have been issued in such states as California and New York.

The new city- and countywide orders formally mandate individuals to stay at home, as social gatherings outside of a household are prohibited to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus. 

Activities centered around non-critical, in-person interaction– such as getting your hair or nails done, shopping at a boutique, and playing contact sports – will stop, but the order allows other employees to work from home and venture out to acquire supplies needed to sustain themselves, their families (including pets), and their homes.

You can still go outside for a walk or run, go to the hardware store, hire a landscaper or home cleaner, and even get pool cleaning supplies if you need them, according to City and County officials. (See more activities exempt from the rule.)

As a general rule of thumb, “things necessary to maintain [a] household and live your life are probably going to be exempt [from the rule],”  said Larry Roberson, civil division chief of the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office

Officials are erring on the side of “allow it rather than not,” he said. “What we’re really worried about are social gatherings,” such as parties, barbecues, and quinceañeras.

Roberson spoke during an hourlong, live-streamed Q&A session hosted by the City and County to answer lingering questions about what is and what is not allowed under the ban. Click here to watch in English, here for Spanish.

Nirenberg’s order from March 16 had already “strongly recommended” those measures, while also directing bars and restaurants to close in-person dining services until April 18. Under the new order, which is effective through April 9, they are still allowed to operate on a take-out and delivery basis.

Businesses exempt from the order are health care services, infrastructure and public works, construction and public transportation, information technology, grocery stores, pharmacies, child care, financial institutions, gas stations, and the media. Businesses and operations that are part of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the National Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency are also exempt.

The exemptions also include businesses that provide support to those industries and businesses and those that support normal household functions – such as visiting a friend or family member, or grooming a pet. 

“The general idea here is for residents to stay home as much as possible,” said Jeff Coyle, the City’s Government and Public Affairs director. 

Read the full list of exempt businesses here

Businesses that are not explicitly exempt in the order can still operate as long as they can abide by social distancing rules (more on that below) or enact a work-from-home policy, said Liz Provencio, deputy city attorney. 

A previous emergency order also closed gyms, bingo parlors, bowling alleys, health studios, commercial amusement businesses, and other entertainment businesses confined to a single indoor space. Those businesses must remain closed according to the new City order, which City Council voted to extend on March 26.

As of April 5, 410 people have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus in Bexar County. The first local COVID-19 death occurred on March 21.

“Stay home unless you must go out,” Nirenberg said in a statement March 22. “Follow the health experts’ guidelines. We can all play a role in saving lives through social distancing and healthy behaviors. Together we will overcome this challenge.”

So what activities are still allowed?

People can still shop for groceries, pick up prescriptions, visit the doctor, fill up their gas tanks, and go to work if necessary.

Going outside to walk the dog or exercise is still OK and even encouraged, Roberson said.

“If you need to get out of your house for your mental health do so,” he said. “Take a walk.”

A young woman walks her dog at the Pearl. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

But when you go to the park, you should still practice proper social distancing. That means not playing soccer the way you usually would – substitute a pickup game for just kicking the soccer ball around.

You can still visit family members under the stay-at-home order, which includes picking up your child as part of a custody agreement. The order does not prevent family members from interacting as long as the gathering is small, Gonzales said.

“What we’re going to try and discourage is the big barbecues in the backyard, the quinceañeras, the birthday celebration that we’ve been looking forward to,” he said. “Those have to be put off, unfortunately; otherwise we’re never going to flatten the curve.”

The governor’s executive order, which Bexar County incorporated into its stay-at-home declaration, prohibits unnecessary visits to nursing homes, retirement homes, and long-term care facilities. Provencio also implored Bexar County residents to think about the health of their family members who may be older or part of a high-risk population.

What businesses does the order actually shut down?

Personal care businesses will need to close their doors starting at 11:59 p.m. on March 24. This includes the following:

  • Hair salons
  • Nail salons
  • Massage parlors
  • Spas

During a question-and-answer session March 24 featuring City and County representatives, Provencio answered a question about African American hair care stores.

“That’s going to be the same answer as hair salons, which is no,” she said. “However, if it’s a supply store, that can provide the supplies or the hair care directly by way of telephone and pick-up service or online service,” they can operate under the order.

Vape shops, smoke shops, and door-to-door soliciting are also not exempt from the stay-at-home order.

On March 27, the mayor and county judge both ordered the closure of basketball courts, outdoor exercise equipment, playgrounds, skate plazas, and splash pads at City and County parks. At City parks, community and adult/senior centers, clubhouses, and gyms will also be closed, and all classes and programming suspended. Nirenberg urged people to follow social distancing guidelines in public spaces.

“We have observed congregating in our public parks this weekend,” Nirenberg said on March 29. “That’s not good; it is not allowed. You should go out and get fresh air, but congregating in parks or anywhere else is not permitted.”

On April 3, Nirenberg issued an addendum to the stay-at-home order that closed golf courses, both public and private, until further notice.

All City parks will be closed between midnight April 10 and 5 a.m. on April 13, which is Easter weekend.

What can stay open under ‘Stay Home, Work Safe?’

Businesses that have exemptions under the order include the following:

  • Health care operations (and yes, that includes your veterinarian)
  • Government functions such as trash collection, water and electric utilities, first responders, and military
  • Schools, education personnel, and colleges and universities that facilitate remote learning
  • Companies providing or maintaining infrastructure, like public works construction, housing construction, architecture firms, water, sewer, gas, electricity, and internet
  • Transportation-related businesses such as gas stations, repair shops, car dealerships, manufacturers, public transportation, and the airport
  • Information technology companies
  • Call centers
  • Businesses that sell food, gas, and household products 
  • Liquor stores
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners
  • Charitable organizations providing food, shelter and services
  • Animal shelters and animal care organizations
  • Hotels and Airbnbs
  • Home maintenance businesses such as electricians and exterminators
  • Businesses that help people work from home, such as shipping companies
  • Businesses that help people comply with legally required activities, such as accounting services
  • News media
  • Financial institutions
  • Child care services
  • Worship services, as long as people attend remotely through videoconferencing or similar technology
  • Funeral services
  • Business and operations necessary to the 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the National Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA.)

The work-from-home order does not apply to state and federal employees.

Though specialty retail stores are not listed as exempt, businesses such as bookstores can still operate as long as they do so on a pickup or delivery basis, and by maintaining proper social distancing.

How is this going to be enforced? Am I going to have to prove I’m going to work or to a store?

“San Antonio police [and Bexar County sheriffs] are not going to pull you over if you’re outside of your home,” Provencio said. “You do not need a permission slip.”

Law enforcement is going to be keeping tabs on businesses – not residents – to make sure they are compliant with the order, Gonzales said. “We’re going to operate under the assumption that you have a legitimate [reason] to be out on the street.”

Violating the order comes with an up to $2,000 fine and possible jail time, but so far all businesses who have been notified of a violation have taken corrective measures, and no citations have been issued.

“We’re going to give people [and businesses] the benefit of the doubt,” Gonzales said, as the last thing Bexar County needs is more prisoners.

What is social distancing?

In short, no hugs or handshakes.

Social distancing means keeping sick people away from healthy people so that the new coronavirus can’t spread further. The problem with practicing social distancing comes from people who are asymptomatic but still carrying the coronavirus – they can still infect people without symptoms.

“Social interactions are fine,” said Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, a local infectious disease epidemiologist and consultant. “Physical distance is essential. And a 6-foot distance must be maintained.”

In the Municipal Plaza “B” Room, tape marks an appropriate social distancing measurement between people while standing in front of the room. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

In order to prevent spreading COVID-19, the CDC recommends people practice social distancing. But Rohr-Allegrini said keeping up with friends from a safe distance outside works just fine.

“Once you’re indoors, the dynamic changes, and it’s harder to maintain that 6 feet,” she said. “When you’re outside, it’s easier to maintain that distance. And it’s easier not to touch stuff when you’re not inside. If you’re at a friend’s house and you’re sitting across a 6-foot table, you’re probably going to touch the table, and maybe they coughed on the table.”

Around the country, people have already started hosting virtual happy hours via videoconferencing technology or Netflix watch parties with a helpful Chrome extension.

Because older folks are particularly susceptible to infection, the governor has banned visits to nursing homes, retirement homes, and long-term care facilities. Certain conditions also seem to make individuals more at risk, so take care when you visit people with diabetes, suppressed immune systems, or who are pregnant. And if you’re healthy, avoid people who are sick.

The general rule for proper social distancing is staying at least 6 feet away from others. H-E-B is one of the stores to mark that distance with large stickers, so that shoppers know the distance to keep between them and other shoppers.

What about isolation and quarantine?

These two words are different from social distancing and shelter in place. 

Previously, the medical industry used those terms for other purposes, Rohr-Allegrini said.

“Quarantine is a legal term which means you’re required by law to remain in a certain place,” she said. “When we do quarantine for [tuberculosis], that means we keep someone under lock and key. But when they’re isolated, they’re isolated at home.”

According to the CDC, “isolation” is used for someone who either has been positively diagnosed with the new coronavirus or is believed to be infected. While health authorities can mandate isolation, individuals who think they may have been infected can self-isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Quarantine” refers to people who believe they have been exposed to the coronavirus but have not yet been diagnosed or shown symptoms of COVID-19 that are staying away from others to avoid spreading the coronavirus. The CDC recommends quarantined people to monitor symptoms for 14 days.

And, of course, prevention

Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, including the back of the hand, between fingers, and under fingernails. The CDC recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds each time – about the same amount of time it takes to sing or hum “Happy Birthday” twice. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and frequently touched surfaces such as handrails and elevator buttons. Clean and disinfect your home daily, especially high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and light switches.


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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the Rivard Report.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com