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Your State Is Probably Under a Stay at Home Order. Here’s What It Means for Families.

What the new rules are and how to follow them

If you’re an American, there’s about a 95 percent chance you’re living under a “stay at home” or “shelter in place” order. The governors of 42 states and the mayor of the District of Columbia have issued such orders, as have the leaders of numerous municipalities, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The specifics of each order vary — Kentucky’s bans most out-of-state travel and Michigan’s eschews the common 10-person limit and bans all public gatherings — but there are things every family can do to stay safe and comply with these orders.

What do these orders mean?

No matter the specific phrase used, these orders mean that you and your family need to spend the vast majority of your time at home. With widespread school and business closures, this hopefully won’t be too difficult to accomplish.

When can I leave the house?

We’re not living under house arrest, and there are numerous exceptions to shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders. These vary by state, but they generally include:

  • Going to work if you have a job defined as essential by your state (i.e. firefighter or grocer)
  • Exercising (Some states have added provisions specifically exempting those pursuing nature activities too.)
  • Visiting grocery stores, pharmacies, and other “essential businesses”
  • Obtaining medical services, though you should call first if you suspect you have COVID-19

Do I have to wear a mask when I leave the house?

The CDC now recommends that everyone over the age of two wear a cloth mask (it doesn’t have to be medical) in public to limit the transmission of COVID-19. Some cities, including Los Angeles and Miami, are ordering residents to cover their mouths.

Regardless of the laws in your jurisdiction, wearing a mask is an essential best practice; you should do it not because you have to but because it’s the safe thing to do. Your kids should too, difficult as it might be to keep them from ripping it off.

What is the punishment for violating a stay-at-home order?

Besides the permanent stain of putting their fellow citizens’ safety at risk, those who violate these orders can face large fines and/or time in jail.

In Hawaii, the governor’s office said that fines of up to $5,000 and up to a year of jail are possible for those who disregard the state’s stay-at-home order. Seven out-of-towners who violated shelter-in-place guidelines in Santa Cruz received $1,000 tickets for their transgressions.

Can my family go to religious services?

Republicans in some states have fought to exempt houses of worship from shelter-at-home orders closing other public gathering places. If you live in one of these states and yours remains open, you still shouldn’t go. Any large gathering is a dangerous thing at this time.

Can my kids play in the yard?

Yes! Just make sure they stay socially distant from passersby.