‘It’s kind of apocalyptic’: San Francisco Bay Area residents describe coronavirus lockdown

(SAN FRANCISCO) — On any given weekday, as clocks approach lunch hour, the streets of San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood are bustling with pedestrians strutting to the clanging bells of iconic cable cars packed with wide-eyed tourists.

But as Ree Ree Li, 25, peeked out her apartment window on Tuesday, she described a desolate scene punctuated by eerie silence.

“I see the street. It’s very empty. There are no people,” Li told ABC News. It’s the first full day of a citywide lockdown prompted by the global coronavirus pandemic. “It feels kind of apocalyptic. People are really nervous, which is fair.”

At midnight on Tuesday, an order went into effect for the nearly 900,000 city residents to shelter-in-place until April 7, with the caveat it could be extended or shortened. Similar edicts to combat the spread of the virus through social distancing were issued for the more than 6 million Bay Area residents in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Another 250,000 people were put on lockdown in Santa Cruz County, about 75 miles south of San Francisco.

The rules call for people mostly to stay indoors except for essential travel to grocery stores, pharmacies or hospitals. Residents are allowed to take walks, but they must keep a distance of 6 feet from anyone they might encounter.

“Violation of, or failure to comply with, this order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment or both,” reads the order issued by the Public Health Department for the city and county of San Francisco. “Gatherings of individuals outside the home are generally prohibited, with certain exceptions for essential activities or essential travel or to perform work for essential businesses and government agencies or perform essential infrastructure work.”

Li, a legal assistant, was working from home on Tuesday.

“I had a virtual book club last night since we couldn’t meet in person,” Li added. “I think generally people are glad the city is being cautionary, and so I think that is a great thing. But what’s been difficult is not knowing when this will end. Also, if this isn’t enforced, it could continue to spread. I feel like the point of this is to keep this from spreading so the virus dies out.”

As of Tuesday, the virus had killed at least 102 people in the United States and infected nearly 6,000 people in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Globally, there are more than 196,000 cases and more than 7,800 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The Bay Area counties have recorded nearly 300 cases since the outbreak started, with half of those coming in just the past four days. At least 11 people have died from the disease in California, including four in Santa Clara County.

Since the inception of the virus, mass lockdowns have been issued in China, France, Italy and Spain in a desperate attempt to stop the disease from spreading.

On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio braced the city’s 8 million residents for the possibility they could be next.

“We have not made that decision. It has gotten to the point where a decision needs to be made very soon,” said de Blasio, adding that state officials could take action in the next 48 hours. He said there would be “leeway” for going to a grocery store or a pharmacy, but noted, “We would have to create that from scratch.”

There are at least 814 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, officially referred to a COVID-19, in New York City, officials said. At least seven people have died.

Steven Heidel, 29, who lives alone in San Francisco’s Castro district, said he started the first full day of the lockdown by going for a walk to, of all places, Corona Heights Park.

“It was a little awkward, because any time I approached someone, we kind of had to awkwardly walk around each other and smile and then cross to the other side of the street,” Heidel told ABC News. “There were a few people here and there walking their dogs, for instance, but mostly it was pretty empty. The tennis courts were empty, the basketball courts were empty. Lots of shops were chained up and closed. It was pretty surreal given that it was a rush-hour on a Tuesday.”

A software engineer, Heidel said he’s been working from home for the past week but has tried to maintain his regular routine to combat going stir crazy.

“Like, this morning I got dressed, had a shower, did everything like I normally would,” he said. “Normally I would walk 30 minutes to work. But instead I just went and walked in a circle for 30 minutes and came back.”

Given the isolation of social distancing, Heidel said he’s now having second thoughts about not having roommates.

“Normally, I like living alone,” he said, “because after a full day of meeting with people and seeing people it’s nice to have some privacy overnight. But obviously, now I’m regretting that choice given that it would be nice to have some other people around during the day.”

He said he and his work colleagues have started using Zoom to video conference after work to chat about non-work things.

“Everyone gets a cup of coffee and we all dial into Zoom and just chat about the day,” Heidel said. “Most of our conversations are obviously fully consumed with the breaking news that happens every day. But that’s been a nice break at least.”

Lucy Cheng, 25, who works for a startup in San Francisco, told ABC News she’s spent a lot of her time in lockdown perfecting her baking skills.

“Literally, Bon Appetite is the only thing that’s been keeping me sane,” said Cheng, who lives with her partner and a roommate. “I made these amazing scallion and cheddar biscuits.”

She said she hasn’t been outside since Sunday.

“It reminds me, personally, of when all the forest fires were happening up north in California, except now instead of like an eerie orange glow it’s just a similar silence and everyone is still wearing face masks,” she added.

Cheng said she finds it reassuring that the shelter-in-place order has finally provided some clarity.

“I find this a lot better than the last two weeks, where there was like a huge range of people going out,” Cheng said. “I remember I was going out to pick up some food when I was going to my friend’s house for brunch, and there were people waiting around all the bars and stuff, and that to me just seemed like a dumb thing to do. You’re in such close contact without there being any clear guidance from anyone with authority, and there’s so much information and people can just interpret it in so many different ways.

“We should all be taking this seriously, too, and not being like, ‘Can’t let fear keep us from partying,’ which is what I read someone literally say online. Now, I know that this is the expectation to keep us all safe versus the uncertainty before.”

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