Shelter in Place vs. Lockdown: The Differences and Social Impacts

March 29, 2020

Cities, counties, and states across the country have set up Shelter in Place or Stay at Home policies to help prevent people from being exposed to Coronavirus (COVID-19). Some people have called these tactics “lockdowns,” but in truth, Shelter in Place and Lockdown are two very different emergency responses. Continue reading to learn more about what Lockdown and Shelter in Place policies mean to individuals, and what they mean for our neighbors and communities.

Lockdown: A lockdown is an emergency measure that purposely restricts the movement of people, and urges them to stay in one place temporarily. We’ve become familiar with the term “lockdown” through the nation wide responses to gun violence and and bomb threats on school campuses. Lockdown protocols emphasize safe evacuation when possible and hiding in a secure location for as long as necessary.

Use of the term lockdown often suggests some type of very dangerous situation, perhaps with a weapon of some type, or some other risk of immediate bodily harm. It also suggests being trapped or unable to leave a designated location. When using the term “lockdown” we are also subtly hinting at these types of images which can instill fear or panic. Any type of lockdown on a school campus or surrounding neighborhood, will trigger immediate emergency response and you may find law enforcement on your doorstep if you do not comply. When discussing government response to COVID-19 with your neighbors, try to avoid using terms like “lockdown” which can be misleading about what our leaders are hoping to achieve at this time.

Shelter in Place: Shelter in place policies and recommendations are similar to lockdown in that they are intended to limit the movement of people, but it is not temporary and people are not necessarily required to stay in one place. You may have heard of the term shelter in place if you live in an area with strong weather events such as hurricanes or tornadoes. Shelter in place or stay at home policies encourages people to get out of public spaces and find a safe location to take shelter. In the instance of COVID-19 the main purpose of shelter in place is not to protect people from a strong weather system, but to keep people out of public spaces, where it is extremely difficult to tell if we are unknowingly transmitting illnesses to others, or they are unknowingly transmitting illnesses to us. The biggest difference between shelter in place and lockdown is that with shelter in place there is some broader threat, but there is no immediate threat of danger from a weapon or dangerous individual.

With shelter in place as the new norm people are actually encouraged to get out for fresh air. Walk your dog, enjoy some time in the sun with your family, but avoid crowded places like beaches and parks. Even though we are absolutely allowed to leave our homes and go outside we must limit contact with other people as much as possible, which along with avoiding crowded places also means keeping a minimum of six feet between ourselves and other people when we are in locations we must visit - like the grocery store.

Use of the term “shelter in place” may also cause a bit of worry but, in many ways it is a positive and preventive measure. An important component of sheltering in place is having enough food, water, and general household supplies to last several days to two weeks so that you can avoid leaving the house whenever possible. You may have observed long lines at the grocery store at the beginning stages of shelter in place policies. Some people participated in “panic buying,” which is a psychological response to feelings of worry in situations that are beyond our control. Panic buying may appear to be the norm at the moment, but many markets have begun to restock and will continue to do so regularly. As you buy enough groceries and supplies to keep your kitchen full for longer than usual - avoid panic buying. Make sure that people who are coming to the market after you will have some supplies and food to take home for the next week or two. Don’t be afraid to check in on neighbors by phone or knocking on their door (just be sure to keep a safe distance once they answer). If you have an especially vulnerable elderly neighbor reach out to them and ask if they need help securing any food or hygiene items. If you do find yourself in a position to help someone else by purchasing supplies or offering supplies you already have, be certain to sanitize everything thoroughly before sending them. For instructions on how to wash your hands and sanitize products check CDC recommendations by clicking here.

Moving forward: We will all be adapting to a new way of life over the coming weeks. The most important thing we can all do is work as a team to keep each other safe, that means keeping our distance, remaining calm, and doing our best to sort through rapidly changing information and news. If you haven’t had the chance to step outside today, don’t be afraid to. The world is still here and we can still go into it as good neighbors and friends. Keep an eye out for more upcoming blogs!
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