LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK: Tens of millions of New Yorkers and Californians adjusted to a new phase in the coronavirus crisis in the United States on Friday (Mar 20) – staying inside or making excursions while keeping six feet (two meters) away from each other following state orders for all non-essential workers to remain indoors.
Imposing tough new restrictions, the orders limit the activity of up to 60 million people in the two most populous states but allow businesses to provide essential services and goods such as food, medicines and electricity and water.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to give similar orders shutting down all but essential businesses within the next 24 hours. Nearly nine million people live in the state west of New York. Illinois, which includes Chicago and has about 12.7 million residents, also ordered non-essential workers to stay home.
The orders combined amount to roughly 1 in 5 people in the United States being told to stay home out of a population of 325 million.
The four states where governors have banned or will soon ban non-essential businesses and ask residents to stay home account for about 30 per cent of the US economy, the world's biggest.
In Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City, even fewer people were seen on the streets than have been of late after directives from California Governor Gavin Newsom and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In New York City's Central Park, several bikers and joggers were on the pathways, mostly alone but a few in pairs.
"It's real and it's scary, I hate it," said physical therapist Kerry Cashin, 49, of the stay-at-home order. "I feel like I always knew it was going to go this way, but it made me scared."
Just two dozen people milled outside Hollywood's Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, the home of the Oscars, an area normally teeming with hundreds of tourists.
Zane Alexander, 27, said he was on his way to pick up his last paycheck "until lord knows when." He had been working on a medical marijuana dispensary's street team, a job that normally had him outside. Alexander said he was told Thursday evening the street team was disbanded until further notice.
"It's totally understandable," Alexander said, but added "I sure wish it weren't the case."
Retiree Jerry Rasmussen, 73, sat on a sunny public bench reading the San Francisco Chronicle in the city's central neighborhood of Cole Valley, with hand sanitizer, gloves and a mask beside him.
"I figure being outdoors like this is pretty safe, as long as I'm not too close to anyone," he said.
Cuomo, in making his stay-at-home announcement, pleaded for more medical personnel and supplies such as ventilators and protective masks to treat coronavirus cases that could overwhelm the hospitals in his state of nearly 20 million.
"The ventilators are to this war what missiles were to World War Two," Cuomo said. He said the state would "pay a premium" to companies that could provide more personal protective equipment, gloves and masks. He asked companies that might be capable of making these products to "get creative."
Cuomo issued an executive order mandating all non-essential workforce to stay home and all non-essential businesses to close.
"Remain indoors, go outside for solitary exercise," he said.
The pandemic that has swept the globe has also shattered lifestyles across much of the United States in the past week, shuttering schools and businesses, prompting millions to work from home, forcing many out of jobs and curtailing travel.
The health orders imposed on Thursday by California authorities on the state's 40 million people allow for outside exercise as long as people stay six feet apart.
"We need to take it really seriously and prevent spread of the disease," said venture capitalist Meredith Finn, 37, while walking her dog Brady in the affluent West Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood. "It's definitely the right move."
More than 1,000 cases have been confirmed in California, where 19 people have died. New York officials said the state has 7,102 confirmed cases and of those, 4,408 are in New York City, the most populous US city with about 8.5 million people. Thirty-eight have died in the state.
Washington state, where the first US coronavirus cluster emerged, has since March 16 closed bars, restaurants and recreation and entertainment facilities, and has banned all gatherings of more than 50 people.
More than 220 people have died in the United States and over 14,100 cases had been confirmed by Friday afternoon, the surge in cases reflecting an increase in testing. Health experts believe the actual number of COVID-19 cases to be far higher.
In Washington, DC, President Donald Trump and other officials told reporters the United States was working with Mexico to suspend non-essential travel at the border. The border with Canada already is closed to non-essential traffic.
With businesses closing and daily life grinding to a near halt, and the US unemployment benefits programme about to face its biggest test in more than a decade, the Trump administration announced more moves to give relief to workers and students. Tax filing day was moved to Jul 15 from Apr 15, while interest and payments on federal student loans were suspended for at least the next 60 days.