KEY POINTS
  • San Francisco Bay area officials ordered some 7 million residents to "shelter in place" on Monday.
  • Residents there are prohibited from leaving their homes, except under "limited circumstances," according to the order. 
  • New York City officials are considering a similar move as they prepare for an "onslaught" of new coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

New Yorkers should prepare for a "shelter-in-place" order in the coming days as local officials try to contain the fast-moving coronavirus that's spreading throughout the U.S., New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, adding that a decision will be made in the next 48 hours.

"We are all deeply concerned ... this is quite clear this is a fast-growing crisis," he said at a press conference. "All New Yorkers, even though a decision has not been made by the city or the state, I think that all New Yorkers should be prepared right now for the possibility of a shelter-in-place order."

There are now 814 confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York City, he said, adding that 248 are in Queens, 277 in Manhattan, 157 in Brooklyn, 96 in the Bronx and 36 in Staten Island. Seven people in the city have died so far and 124 people are in the hospital, he said.

De Blasio said he doesn't take the decision lightly, acknowledging that New Yorkers will face "tremendously substantial challenges" under a shelter-in-place order.

"Folks have to understand that right now, with so many New Yorkers losing employment, losing paychecks, dealing with all sorts of stresses and strains, I'm hearing constantly from people who are tremendously worried about how they're going to make ends meet," de Blasio said. "In that scenario, a shelter-in-place begs a lot of questions. What is going to happen with folks who have no money?"

What is shelter in place?

San Francisco Bay area officials ordered some 7 million residents to "shelter in place" on Monday, prohibiting people from leaving their homes, except under "limited circumstances," according to the order. 

People who venture out are expected to remain six feet apart, wash their hands, cover their coughs or sneezes and abide by a number of other restrictions. Non-essential businesses across the state, including wineries and bars, will be closed. But essential services such as grocery stores, banks and pharmacies will remain open.

Residents are allowed to walk their dogs or go for a run, so long as they maintain a distance of at least six feet from anyone they don't currently live with, San Francisco health officer Dr. Grant Colfax said at a press conference Monday.

De Blasio didn't provide details on what a shelter-in-place order would look like in New York City. The city is working on a variety of ways to ease the burden on New Yorkers, including suspending alternate-side parking rules that require residents to move their cars for street cleaning and providing food for students while city schools are closed, he said. 

Great Depression

He compared the reach of the disease to the 1918 influenza pandemic that infected a third of the world's population and killed an estimated 50 million people and the economic impact to the Great Depression.

"In terms of the economic dislocation, I think it's fair to say we are going to quickly surpass anything we saw in the Great Recession and the only measure or the only comparison will be the Great Depression," he said, adding that the federal government will have to intervene. The U.S. government is going to have to provide "direct income support on a vast scale," he said. 

Over the weekend, de Blasio announced a number of measures to contain the virus' spread, issuing executive orders to limit restaurants and bars to take-out services only, cancel elective surgeries at hospitals and postpone an election. He also ordered New York City schools to close until at least April 20.

Call for health workers

De Blasio put out a blanket call for anyone in the city who has health-care skills. He said there are 9,000 licensed and retired health-care workers registered in the Medical Reserve Corps that will be mobilized immediately. 

He asked retired medical workers to return to service and said he would be expediting licensing for students. 

The city is preparing for an "onslaught" of cases, he said, adding that local officials believe there will be thousands of confirmed infections by next week. 

"We're in a period where we have a very few days and weeks to prepare for a massive number of cases," he said. "It's not that long before we hit 10,000 cases."

Across the state, the virus has spread to about 1,700 people, hospitalizing 19% of them and killing at least 12, state officials announced Tuesday.

The state is scrambling to expand its hospital capacity to handle an influx of cases before infections are expected to peak in about 45 days, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany.

New York state doesn't have enough hospital beds or respirators to handle the expected surge in respiratory cases, Cuomo said. There are 53,000 hospital beds across the state and 3,000 ICU beds, he said, adding that the state will need at least 55,000 hospital beds and between 18,600 to 37,200 ICU beds at the peak of the outbreak.

Quarantine vs. shelter in place

Earlier on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it clear that New York City will not be quarantined, saying that it can't legally happen. "No city in this state can quarantine itself without state approval and I have no interest whatsoever, and no plan whatsoever, to quarantine any city," Cuomo said.

De Blasio acknowledged he needs state approval to issue a shelter-in-place order.

It's unclear how much a shelter-in-place order differs from a mandatory quarantine. De Blasio said he believes there are differences between the two. Violating a federal quarantine, however, can carry fines or even jail time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Shelter in place to me is a kind of way of life, if you will, and a more total strategy," de Blasio said. "Quarantine suggests when you're dealing with a very specific, narrow area and who goes in and who goes out of that area. I think they're kind of two different things."

De Blasio said the New York Police and fire departments would enforce a potential shelter-in-place order. He noted that the city doesn't have a plan yet on how it would compensate New Yorkers for the inconvenience and lost wages from such restrictions.

"It's a very serious, complex decision. I see the numbers escalating, and I'm very concerned," he said, adding that the costs to compensate residents would be immense. "We don't have a plan right now because it's never been done before."