Confessions of shelter-in-place rebels


Mike Combs

Dog owners meet at Prince Park and flout the county’s social distancing requirements which mandate people from different households stand at least six feet apart from one another.

Mike Combs, Staff Writer

On a weekday at noon, it was harder to find a parking spot in front of the Home Depot off Bicentennial Way than in front of the Lucky’s supermarket next door. Shoppers of all kinds walked through the entrance: young, old, single, couples and families. No one answered the staff member asking to fulfill online orders curbside.

A month after Sonoma County officials issued the shelter-in-place order, residents are rebelling.

When the order was issued there were nine active COVID-19 cases in Sonoma County and zero deaths. As of April 13 the numbers had increased to 81 active cases of 152 total and two deaths. The largest single day increase to active cases was on April 8 with 16 new cases.

Despite the growth in cases, residents continued to venture out to “essential” businesses.

“I came for my mental health,” said Michelle Johnson, 51. Her opinion and Home Depot cart containing potting soil and flowers mirrored the myriad shoppers in the gardening section outside. She admitted the sunny weather had inspired her to shop for gardening supplies, despite them not being essential. “I needed something to do at home,” she said.

Most of the shoppers are aware of the risk they take by spending time in these stores.

“I decided to take a chance,” said a woman named Lynda, 62, who declined to give her last name.

Others feel perfectly safe. “We are healthy, young adults and are capable of going out,” said an anonymous couple ages 30 and 24.

Many Sonoma County residents are also defying shelter-in-place orders to exercise their dogs.

Since the county has closed all dog parks, Rob Lee, 47, has been taking his Belgian Malinois, Aria, to Prince Park in Petaluma.

“She needs to run,” he said, “or she gets destructive.” Even though Prince Park is closed to traffic, Lee said it was easy to find a way in through the neighborhood.

Lee was part of a dog meetup group that had started using its Facebook page to share information on where they can bring their dogs. “We meet everyday at 4 p.m.,” he said.

While the folks at the meetups are being good about physical distancing, many still pet each other’s dogs, Lee said.

People are choosing to enter closed state parks as well. It is easy enough to enter Howarth Park from the street, and the gate that blocks access to Annadel State Park has been moved aside for easier passage. While the park is eerily quiet for April, it still doesn’t take long to spot a rebel hiker.

Johnathan Peters, 49, a construction worker, simply stepped over the orange plastic fencing that was supposed to block passage to Annadel on one of the dirt trails. He said he was going stir crazy because he couldn’t work.

“People still need to go out and walk around,” he said, noting his disagreement with the state, county and city decisions to close beaches and parks. “This is the safest place for it.”

In an April 6 press conference, Governor Gavin Newsom said California’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is based on computer modeling that assumes people are sheltering in place. “If we change our behavior, the model changes radically,” he said.