Posted On: March 26, 2020

What Does a Shelter-In-Place Order for COVID-19 Mean?

The United States government has been slow to respond to a novel, invisible enemy. As COVID-19 proliferates across our nation, one-by-one, states are learning just how drastic of measures are needed to win—no, to defend—against this enemy. What appears to be the most effective preventative measure is shelter-in-place.

What is Shelter in Place?

The definition of shelter in place is to find a safe location indoors in the case of an emergency and stay there until you are given the "all clear." Traditionally, a shelter in place order is employed by local governments during an emergency, such as a mass shooting or natural disaster. However, there are other circumstances where requiring the general populace to stay at home is a prudent decision. Our current COVID-19 pandemic has many states issuing shelter-in-place orders to prevent the spread of this highly contagious variation of coronavirus.

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What Does Shelter in Place Mean as far as COVID-19?

States issuing a shelter-in-place order are asking all residents to stay at home unless they have an essential reason to leave. The penalty for failing to stay at home ranges from state to state, including warnings, fines, and jail time. Essential activities include:

  • Buying groceries
  • Picking up prescription medication
  • Visiting the doctor
  • Getting exercise (as long as social distancing is practiced)
  • Going to work at an essential job

Similarly, a shelter-in-place order asks/requires all nonessential businesses to temporarily shut down. Businesses that are considered essential include:

  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Farmer's markets
  • Restaurants (Pick-up only)
  • Food banks
  • Liquor stores
  • Animal shelters
  • Funeral homes
  • Media companies
  • Gas stations
  • Banks
  • Insurance agencies
  • Hardware stores
  • Critical trades (Construction, plumbing, HVAC, etc.)
  • Mail services

That's what shelter-in-place means during the coronavirus pandemic. However, before COVID-19 made shelter-in-place a prevalent phrase, it was used as a safety precaution at job sites globally in accordance with the Emergency Alert System.

What is the Emergency Alert System?

Since 1997, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implemented the EAS (Emergency Alert System) on a national level. As reported by the FCC:

The EAS Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national public warning system that requires broadcasters, cable television systems, wireless cable systems, satellite digital audio radio service (SDARS) providers, and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers to provide the communications capability to the President to address the American public during a national emergency.

However, FEMA reports that the "EAS Test that was designed to assess the President's ability to send a message to the American people within 10 minutes of a disaster. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also recently changed the color-coded system for alerting citizens to a terrorist attack over to the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS). The government coordinates all of these systems in workplaces with Shelter-in-Place codes, should a disaster occur that directly affects the region in which employees work. Americans have learned much about the potential for disasters, natural or otherwise, over the past three decades, and especially in the past three months.

How is the Current Coronavirus Pandemic Different?

The current coronavirus crisis is different from most disasters in that it is relatively slow-moving. Unlike a mass-shooting, COVID-19's effects aren't felt immediately. Instead, they have a way of creeping up on you. Unlike a hurricane, it hurts the entire country. Unlike any dire circumstance we've seen for generations, it will directly affect us all for months, and indirectly for years.

What Does OSHA Say About Shelter in Place?

OSHA provides a full listing of evacuation plans and shelter-in-place procedures to be followed by employers for employee safety. Mainly, employers must provide an area of the workplace, "free from serious recognized hazards and comply with standards, rules, and regulations issued under the OSH Act."

Types of Labor Industries Mandated to Provide Shelter-in-Place

In terms of the types of labor industries who must comply with Shelter-in-Place mandates, this includes:

  • Construction
  • Agriculture
  • Manufacturing
  • Educational facilities
  • Public facilities such as libraries and museums
  • Chemical
  • Warehousing and Distribution

It is also important to study each state's specific laws on compliance for shelter-in-place. Workers whose duties keep them outdoors should be informed by managers of where and how to shelter-in-place.

Shelter-in-Place Safety Features for Workers

Employees should receive outreach training provided by their employers regarding workplace safety in the event of emergencies. In some states, emergency evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures are practiced by all occupants of a facility on a bi-annual basis to fulfill pertinent state laws.

Shelter-in-Place Procedures for Employers

OSHA places full responsibility for facility warning signs and alarm systems on employers as part of workers' safety. Employees who work with heavy equipment or chemicals may also be required to complete OSHA Outreach Training courses. These are offered online and provide workers with advanced and basic training in 10 and 30-hour safety training courses. Those who complete the course are given an OSHA completion card to validate their training.

Protecting Yourself and Others From COVID-19

Shelter-in-place protocol is critical for defending against the spread of COVID-19. If your state has issued a shelter-in-place order, please do not take it lightly. Staying inside your home except for essential activities like buying groceries or visiting the doctor. Failing to do so can put the lives of real people who are loved dearly at risk. For more information about coronavirus and how to prevent its spread, take our Free COVID-19 Awareness Course.

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