Mayor Lee Brand called it an unprecedented problem and said his attitude has changed over the weeks, especially after meeting with other big-city mayors.
"We are literally making life and death decisions here," Brand said.
He says public health officials have told mayors that because of a lack of testing, they should take whatever their local numbers of confirmed cases are and multiply them by 50.
"We've been advised to take action now and not wait for those (official) numbers," said council president Miguel Arias. "If we underreact, people could die."
The Fresno city council voted on the order Wednesday afternoon.
People will be allowed to leave their homes for these purposes:
City leaders emphasized that there's no problem with water services. Nobody will lose water, even for non-payment. The same is true for power. PG&E has pledged not to disconnect anyone's power.
They're relying on voluntary compliance for now, but say businesses could lose licenses for breaking what is now a city ordinance.
Police involvement is under consideration, but they're hoping it's unnecessary.
Some of the businesses deemed essential include:
Guidelines exclude gun stores from being essential services, but there's no ban on gun sales, so online sales are still allowed.
City leaders say they expect some businesses to have questions about where they fall. They can call the city attorney's office for clarity.
They also recognize the economic implications of an order like this, so the city is lowering business licensing fees and delaying business taxes for 90 days.
They're allowing the completion of construction on new homes and for homeowners to take possession of their new homes. They're working on a possible moratorium on evictions and rent increases, but also trying to ensure they can give some protection to landlords, like loan forbearance.
They're encouraging people to get out and go running, walking, or hiking. They've waived parking fees at city-operated parks, but they're strongly encouraging social distancing and discouraging large gatherings.
Mayor Brand says he's been in contact with city officials in Clovis and other Valley cities.
With more than 530,000 people, Fresno is by far the largest city in the area and Brand expects a lot of the other cities will follow Fresno's lead.
The ordinance expires on March 31 and city leaders hope that will be long enough to flatten the curve of the spread of the virus so they won't have to extend the harsh measures.
"There is an end in sight," Brand said.
Read the full order here:(Tap here to read the document on mobile)
For more news coverage on the coronavirus and COVID-19 go to ABC30.com/coronavirus