Why I didn’t wait for my city to order me to stay home

A street of ornate apartments with the tracks of iconic cable cars down the center is seen mostly empty in San Francisco, California on March 17.The
entire state of California has been ordered to stay home to slow
the spread of the deadly coronavirus. | Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP
via Getty Images

The choices we make to stop the spread of coronavirus today will
help those closest to us tomorrow

This week, for the first time, Los Angeles County’s health
department started releasing the number of COVID-19 cases
by location
. The places were familiar. Where I lived. Where I
worked. Where my children went to school. Threaded by the public
transit I rode. Seeing the numbers alongside the neighborhood
names, it was suddenly clear that the novel coronavirus sweeping
the globe has likely been just down the block for some time.

The federal government has issued a
15-day plan
for the country to stop the spread of COVID-19,
based on the newest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s
distancing guidelines
: don’t go to work or school if
possible, limit gatherings to 10 people, and avoid bars,
restaurants, and shopping centers. In other words: stick close to

incredible visualization
by Harry Stevens at the Washington
Post helps to explain why the next two weeks are so critical. Just
watching the
—each dot is a person, and the interactions are
randomized every time it plays—it’s clear that social
distancing only really works when enough people eliminate all
contact with every other person around them.

In South Korea, consider that one infected person—a single
have infected a cluster of 1,000 people
by participating in
seemingly innocent activities like going out to lunch and attending
a church service.

With so many asymptomatic carriers and so little testing, at
this point, we all have to assume that we are that one infected
person in South Korea, and behave accordingly.

Yet those calls to
don’t seem to be resonating with some people
who have chosen to treat this national emergency like an extended
spring break
or a
late-season snow day

Because there isn’t a whole lot of specific information
provided about what you can and should actually do, the lack of
urgency is understandable. Even
six experts interviewed about the ethics of social distancing

could not agree if certain activities should be avoided for those
of us trying to stop the spread of COVID-19.

That’s why our family went one step further. Earlier this
week, we started following the shelter-in-place
that the city of San Francisco
put out
, along with five other Bay Area counties. The mandatory
order very clearly
spells out
what is allowed and what is not, listing specific
instances in which you might leave your home. (Going for walks or
bike rides is okay, as long as it’s with the people you’re
isolating with.)

My own gut-check has become this: If it feels “normal” to
you, it’s probably risky to others.

This was an excruciatingly difficult decision for me to arrive
at, but I couldn’t figure out why until I read Tom Kludt’s
story about “9/11
.” In the face of a national emergency, many Americans,
including myself, get this idea that we can spend our way out of a
crisis. As the economy reeled in the days after the September 11,
2001, leaders insisted the country was open for business and only
we, the consumers, could save it.

I’ll be honest here. Even though I had spent weeks
thinking about how to prepare my family and community for
, spreading my money around to local businesses was
my first instinct, too. And the only real way I knew to do that was
by eating and drinking at places. How else to support our

There are a few things you can do, of course, if you want to
lend immediate financial support to your neighbors. The first is
look at your calendar. Were you planning to go to shows or events
that have been canceled? You can make donations to artists or
nonprofits. Do you normally stop by the same coffee shop or cafe?
You can buy gift cards that you can redeem later. But stay

You might also spend your time taking action that will help
people who do not have the privilege to stay home. Cities are
taking bold action to stop the spread of COVID-19 by limiting
social interaction, but that must be backed by equally bold actions
to pass
eviction moratoriums
, offer
paid sick and family leave
support small businesses
, establish relief centers to
dispatch meals and services
, build a
safety net
for the
restaurant industry
, and house a
half-million unsheltered Americans
. Hold your elected officials
accountable—but stay home.

It’s not just staying home—it’s about making choices
that enable other people around you to stay home.

In the epic scope of this particular disaster, as Jon Mooallem
writes in an
exquisitely beautiful piece in the New York Times
, staying home
might feel crushingly inadequate, but it is literally the most
heroic thing we can do. “We can’t afford to feel that canceling
a school band concert, or suspending a basketball season, is a
withering retreat; we must see them as parts of an empowered,
collaborative undertaking,” he writes. “We are coming together
to keep our distance.”

It’s not just staying home—it’s about making choices that
enable other people around you to stay home. The best way you can
help retail employees is to stay home. The best way you can help
unhoused residents is to stay home. The best way you can help
elderly neighbors is to stay home. The best way you can help
essential city workers is to stay home. Until the end of March, we
need to worry less about each other’s economic livelihood and
more about each other’s lives.

That means thinking really hard about decisions like getting
items delivered to your house, for example, because it means
someone else has to leave their house to get to yours. Amazon has
made this a little easier for everyone by
limiting what it will deliver
until April. When I make a choice
about what I want to buy online or for local delivery, I think
about those tiny gray dots bouncing around like ping pong balls in
Washington Post simulation
. The fewer ping pong balls put in
motion by my actions, the better for everyone.

As someone who writes about trying to stop climate change,
I’ve had it drilled into my head that
my individual actions will not matter
. How we will actually
have to
elect better leaders
, or
litigate polluting corporations out of existence
, in order to
eliminate the use of fossil fuels at the scale needed to create

But that’s not how it works when halting the spread of an
infectious disease. With coronavirus, it’s
all on the individual
. And we will start to see results

“This is an absolutely critical moment in our city’s
history,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who, by Thursday
night, had
issued a similar order
, along with the entire state of
California. “We are all first responders. This isn’t just
someone else’s responsibility, but it is the responsibility of
each one of us. Your actions matter, and they can and will save

That’s the truly phenomenal reward of staying home. Not only
do your personal actions matter, but they will matter the most in
your neighborhood. They will make a difference for all those places
that you used to go every day that you are no longer going. They
will not only protect lives, but they’ll protect the lives of the
people who are nearest to you—your friends, your coworkers, your
bus driver, your barista. Your parents. Your grandparents.

Despite the declaration of a global pandemic, the response to
the novel coronavirus is local. There are places like
—which has seen no deaths—where we can see

just how well social distancing works
. There are even specific
cities within Italy
which have managed to flatten their curves,
despite the odds. By the end of March—and possibly sooner—we
will be able to tell if our efforts are paying off.

Among the many online pleas to stay home, some of them providing
in this life and death situation, I found myself drawn
to the argument made by the authors of the #StopTheSpread
pledge. “Current data suggests that COVID-19 is spread to at
least two additional people by each impacted individual,” it
reads. “We need our bold collective action to spread faster than
this virus. Share this with at least three people in your

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, which I can almost see
as a giant numeral
hovering over our neighborhood now
, is almost certainly much
higher than has been documented. Tomorrow, it will grow. I will get
more worried, and I will want to do more to help. But for my family
of four, staying home is providing the most exponential benefits to
our community today.

Source: FS – All – Architecture 10
Why I didn’t wait for my city to order me to stay home