Stay At Home Order Rules: What Can You Do & Not Do If Instructed Not To Leave Your House?

A man takes a picture of a poster which reads 'I want you to stay home'
David Ramos / Getty Images

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread throughout the country, states and counties are beginning to institute measures that would limit their residents’ movements, commonly referred to as “stay-at-home” orders. These orders, which are also referred to as “shelter-in-place” orders, vary by location but generally follow guidelines requiring all residents to avoid non-essential outings and remain at home as much as possible.

States currently under stay-at-home orders include Illinois, New York, California and New Jersey, with upcoming orders announced for Connecticut (March 23) Oregon (March 23), Ohio (March 23), Louisiana(March 23), Kentucky (March 23), Delaware(March 24) and Pennsylvania (March 26), and that list grows by the hour, according to a USA Today report. Any differences in the specific stay-at-home orders depend on the leeway granted to businesses that are deemed “essential” during the current emergency.


A person jogs at Eisenhower Park on March 21, 2020.
  Al Bello / Getty Images

What Can You Do?

Do continue buying groceries. Under all stay-at-home orders, supermarkets have been universally deemed as essential businesses. Recent weeks have seen packed supermarkets as panicked shoppers bought beyond what they need. Despite this, the markets have generally kept up with demand. Take the needs of the community around you into account when you shop and follow the rules regarding item quotas and social distancing while out. These rules apply to other businesses that so far have generally been determined essential, including gas stations, liquor stores, banks, veterinary hospitals, and drug stores.

Do go to your local doctor. Doctor’s offices are essential and have become even more so during this crisis for those who are sick but do not exhibit coronavirus symptoms. COVID-19 is not the only health issue affecting society, but it will be leading to packed hospitals across the country. While efforts have been made to shield those with COVID-19 symptoms from those dealing with other illnesses, avoiding emergency rooms and dealing with your personal doctor instead will keep you safe and allow medical professionals to better weather the storm.

Do responsibly go outside. The stay-at-home order isn’t a lockdown and does allow for residents to go outside in certain circumstances not related to essential businesses. The most common cases involve going out for a jog or taking a pet on a walk. Being stuck inside in such uncertain times can have a physical and mental impact, and some physical activity outdoors can help things seem a little more normal. Still, that’s not a reason to start a running club. Social distancing is of the utmost importance and outdoor activities should be solitary affairs if possible.


A member of the Metropolitan Police Department closes areas surrounding the Washington Monument and National Mall with police tape.
  Win McNamee / Getty Images

What Can’t You Do?

Do not throw a house party. With liquor stores remaining open and bars closed, there is the temptation to bring the bar home. This is irresponsible and dangerous behavior that puts lives at risk and makes a full lockdown unavoidable. For those missing out on their social lives, a Google Hangouts group call with your friends combined with some beers can replicate the experience. You don’t have to live like a hermit, but do respect the guidelines.

Do not treat this as a vacation. While the weather is nice and current guidelines allow for spending time outside under social distancing guidelines, this isn’t an excuse to pack up the car and spend a family day at the beach. The same goes for meeting your friends and laying out in the park or even taking children to a public playground. Some of these areas are remaining open to give residents the opportunity to get some time outdoors during this stressful period, but not for the purposes of loitering and hanging out. Dedicate your outdoor time to areas in the immediate vicinity, your hike or beach trip can wait.

Do not panic. This is the most important thing to remember. While it is stressful, this pandemic isn’t going to last forever. If the stay-at-home orders are respected, the rate of new infections will slow down and things will eventually return to normal. Consider checking in on those around you that are most vulnerable while doing everything you can to follow the guidelines and flatten the curve.