North Carolinians have been asked to ‘shelter in place’ before; this is not that.
Until this week, it had been a little more than six months since a government official in North Carolina had urged residents to “shelter in place.”
Gov. Roy Cooper’s message was to people who live along the state’s coastline as Hurricane Dorian approached in early September. The time for evacuations had passed, the governor said, and now people needed to hunker down and stay indoors until the wind and high water were gone.
“If your area is feeling the impacts of Dorian, please stay home and safe,” he said.
That’s what is usually meant by shelter-in-place. Shield yourself from something outside your door, whether it’s a storm, a man with a gun or a cloud of toxic chemicals.
The shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders being issued in places like Wake and Mecklenburg counties and the city of Durham this week have a different goal of reducing the spread of a communicable disease. In essence, they are to protect us from each other.
The scale and indefinite nature of the orders also make them unusual.
“I don’t know of any precedent for this,” said Tom Birkland, a public policy professor at N.C. State University who studies how natural disasters are managed.
Birkland said curfews are common after natural disasters, sometimes out of misplaced fears of looting but largely to protect people from unsafe conditions. When a chemical depot exploded in Apex in 2006, some nearby residents were ordered to shelter in place until toxic clouds stopped billowing from the complex.
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