On a typical Monday evening at Morgan Hill Bowl, local residents weary from the workday and their commute begin to fill the bar seats at Strixe Lounge for a cold happy hour beverage and a variety of live sports on the televisions that surround them. Avid bowlers begin to file in to warm up for their weekly competitive league night.
Soon the entire family fun center at Tennant Station would be filled with the echoing sound of bowling balls and pins bouncing off each other while children and teenagers play arcade games or shoot pool off to the side, and cocktail waitresses rush drinks between the lounge and adult league bowlers.
But March 16 was not a typical Monday at Morgan Hill Bowl. As General Manager Tim Brown sat in the shuttered, darkened, eerily quiet lounge about 4pm, he explained that over the weekend, he was hoping that Morgan Hill Bowl could stay open through the ongoing coronavirus scare with accommodations for social distancing—a practice that health experts say is key to reducing the spread of the COVID-19 illness.
When he heard the news early Monday afternoon that public health officials of six counties in the Bay Area implemented an unprecedented “shelter in place” order for three weeks beginning March 17, Brown and the property owner decided to close down immediately and until April 7.
“My 30 hourly employees will be greatly affected,” Brown said. “We have nine leagues in the middle of the second half of the season; they’re affected. Everybody’s got bills to pay.”
While Brown said Morgan Hill Bowl employees accrue up to 24 hours of sick pay annually, that’s not enough to last through the three-week closure. Karaoke night, a popular attraction at Strixe Lounge, is on hold for three weeks. Troy’s Bocce Room, also part of Morgan Hill Bowl, is closed for events and regular patrons. Betsy’s restaurant, which is not under Brown’s management but is attached to the bowling complex, is also closed for the same three-week period.
Brown’s dilemma is shared by business owners and employees throughout Morgan Hill and the Bay Area, where authorities on Monday effectively banned all residents from leaving their homes except for “essential” activities. With no ability to predict how long the stay-home order will last and with uncertainties mounting about how to pay the bills, employers and workers thus far can only hope for the best.
The March 16 order capped off a weeklong cascade of increasingly restrictive directives for residents and students in Santa Clara County, which has emerged as an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If it works, they’re saviors,” Brown said, referring to the authorities who called the shelter in place order. “If it doesn’t, they cause an economic crisis.”
Shelter in place
Public health officials of six Bay Area counties on March 16 called the three-week “shelter at home” order a “bold, unified step to slow the spread of COVID-19.” The legal order, effective at 12:01am on Tuesday, March 17, limits all individual activity, travel and business functions to only the most essential needs, allowing an exemption for a range of business and services for communities totalling more than 7 million people.
Grocery stores, healthcare facilities, banks and farmers are among the exemptions listed in the order. Restaurants may only provide food on a take-out basis.
The announcement also capped a flurry of news breaking over the weekend and this week. On Monday, March 16, all Santa Clara County schools began a three-week shutdown. Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco announced March 15 that an 80-year-old Gilroy woman had become the second county fatality tied to COVID-19. County health officials had announced a second death March 13.
The Santa Clara Public Health Department Monday announced two more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths to four in the county. An adult man in his 80s was hospitalized on March 7 and died on March 15. An adult man in his 50s was hospitalized on March 12 and died on March 15.
On March 13, the City of Morgan Hill approved a declaration of emergency, allowing city staff to deploy local resources in response to the public health threat. As of Tuesday, the city has closed all of its public buildings and facilities, continuing to provide only essential services such as public safety and utilities. The popular Centennial Recreation Center—along with its senior center programs—as well as the Community and Cultural Center, public library and Outdoor Sports Complex are included in the local three-week closures. All public meetings within the shelter period have been canceled, except the March 18 city council meeting.
The Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce has canceled upcoming breakfasts, mixers and other events for the next three weeks. And Santa Clara County Superior Court has suspended almost all court proceedings while the shelter-in-place order is effective.
The original six-county order was announced one day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged all seniors over 65 years of age to “self-isolate” for an indefinite period, and at the same time President Donald Trump was encouraging all U.S. citizens to avoid gathering in groups larger than 10 people, and avoid “discretionary travel, bars, restaurants and public food courts.”
Also on Sunday, Newsom ordered the shutdown of California bars, nightclubs, brew pubs and wineries to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Newsom also said restaurants should reduce capacity by half, and provide “deep social distancing.” Newsom said there should be no hospital visits, unless it was an “end of life” situation.
As of March 16, the state had confirmed 557 cases of the virus and recorded its seventh death. Also Monday, Newsom was expected to announce halting evictions in California related to workers laid off as a result of coronavirus sanctions.
The order from the local public health officers comes “after substantial input from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and best practices from other health officials around the world,” the officers said in a joint statement. The public health officers of each county—Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo—plus the city of Berkeley, simultaneously issued orders in their jurisdictions Monday afternoon.
Violation is misdemeanor
In the March 16 escalation of the battle against the coronavirus in one of the nation’s hotspots for the pandemic, the health officers mean business: Failure to comply with any of the provisions of order constitutes an imminent threat to public health—a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.
The Bay Area’s combined confirmed number of cases is more than half of California’s case count. This does not account for the rapidly increasing number of assumed cases of “community transmission” occurring in Santa Clara County. As testing capacity increases, the number of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases is expected to increase markedly.
The counties’ order directs “all individuals living in the county to shelter at their place of residence except that they may leave to provide or receive certain essential services or engage in essential activities and work for essential businesses and governmental services,” and directs all businesses and government agencies “to cease non-essential operations at physical locations in the county” and prohibits “all non-essential gatherings of any number of individuals and ordering cessation of all non-essential travel.”
The intent of the counties’ order “is to ensure that the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible, while enabling essential services to continue, to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the maximum extent possible.”
At Morgan Hill Bowl on the south side of town, Tim Brown hinted that his customers might see a silver lining to the six-county directive when they are able to return for more bowling, video games, singing, socializing and dining in three weeks.
“We’ll be coming in, giving everything a fresh cleaning to get it where it’s better than it was when we closed,” Brown said.