Fresno 'shelter-in-place' order extended, now mandatory; violators could face fines

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The city of Fresno's emergency coronavirus order has new teeth and a longer lifespan as of April 11.

In 23 days of a Fresno shelter-in-place order, Mayor Lee Brand says he's seen a team effort and almost everybody in voluntary compliance.

But as Fresno County approaches the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, he's expanding and extending the order.

"Unfortunately, there are people out there that just totally ignore this and when they do that, they not only endanger their own life, they endanger the lives of their families, their neighbors and anybody they come in contact with," Mayor Brand said.

The second extension lasts through May 6 and it is not voluntary any more.

People who violate the order could face $1000 fines and even arrest.

But the mayor says that's a tool they're saving for egregious violations and repeat offenders.

"We don't want to use a heavy hand," he said. "We want to use a gentle hand to get people to be in compliance for their own good."

The new order doesn't change the exemptions very much at all.

You can still go for a walk or a run. You can still make trips to the grocery store.

But it adds some new requirements for essential businesses staying open.

They have to mark increments inside and outside for customer lines, use contactless payment systems with disinfection after every use, screen employees for signs of illness, and give them facial coverings.

The city isn't anticipating much trouble with the order.

"What you'll see this weekend is hopefully a lot of compliance from folks that understand the seriousness of how devastating and aggressive this virus is, said city council member Luis Chavez.

Chavez led a call for a new order with stronger enforcement for violators.

Several city council members have been pushing for this change, but there's still one voice saying it's too heavy-handed.

"Politicians always feel like they have to respond," said council member Garry Bredefeld. "And this is very authoritarian. People have been following the guidelines."

Bredefeld says he knows the pandemic is serious, but his fellow city leaders are overreaching with even a remote possibility for arrests and misdemeanor charges leading to a year in jail.

On the business end, city code enforcement has issued a few citations for non-essential stores still operating despite warnings to close during the crisis.

Mayor Brand agreed to the added enforcement tools, but doesn't want to have the city to have to police people.

"To be successful we need voluntary compliance," he said. "We don't have the resources to arrest our way out of it and we don't have any intentions of doing that."

Chavez says these emergency orders are not sustainable long term, but he wants to be able to look people in the eye and say he did everything he could to save lives.

"We can rebuild our economy," he said. "And we will. But you can't rebuild a dead person and that's what we're trying to prevent."

Fresno first issued its shelter-in-place on March 18.

Public health officials say Fresno County should see it's coronavirus peak near the end of April.

Brand says May 6 seems like the best time to reassess where we stand.

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