Violating stay-home orders can mean jail, fines in newly locked-down America

What sort of punishment is each city or state enforcing for violating their stay at home orders?

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A foggy New York City during the coronavirus pandemic
A foggy New York City during the coronavirus pandemic
(Victor J. Blue / Getty Images)
Last Updated:
April 1, 2020 - 7:12am

State and local officials are becoming increasingly punitive in their efforts to keep residents indoors to slow the coronavirus – issuing executive orders that include an arrest, a $5,000 fine or jail for repeat offenders. 

Washington, D.C., has issued some of the most austere rules including curfews and punishment for those who violate the municipality’s stay-at-home order – including a maximum $5,000 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail.

“When we saw this order, we thought, ‘You want to send them where?' ” Monica Hopkins, the executive director of the ACLU for the District, told The New York Post.

Hopkins further suggested that jail time, which would add to more people to confined living spaces, would "cause all sorts of problems that are antithetical to the goals of lessening the virus." 

Mayor Muriel Bowser on Tuesday tried to calm some of nationwide uproar over the order.

"The point is not to arrest anybody, the point is for people to stay at home," the mayor said Tuesday. 

The District now has 401 reported cases of coronavirus.

Maryland has also made violating its social distancing orders punishable by law. Offenders are charged with a misdemeanor that carries a maximum $5,000 fine or jail for up to one year.

This past weekend, a suburban Maryland man was arrested for hosting a 60-person bonfire, violating Gov. Larry Hogan’s order that bans gatherings of more than 10 people.

"We are no longer asking or suggesting Marylanders stay home," Hogan said Monday. "We are directing them."

That same day, Virginia extended its stay-at-home orders through early June. The changes didn’t add stiffer punishments but enforces ones imposed in previous orders – including a maximum one year in jail, a $2,500 fine, or both. 

Gov. Ralph Northam also specified that colleges and universities are forbidden from holding classes in-person

Bowser's order will be in effect until at least April 24, Northam's until June 10 and Hogan's was left open-ended.

At least 30 states have in place some version of a stay-at-home order, all of which include exemptions for essential endeavors. 

Arizona's Gov. Doug Ducey is calling his order "Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected." 

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently told residents to stay at home as much as possible. 

His terminology of choice is the acronym PAUSE, which stands for "Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone." The so-called PAUSE order will be in effect until at least April 24. 

Though each state’s "stay-at-home" order means something slightly different, none so far have reached Europe's levels of stringency. 

In Italy and France, shelter-in-place order means that residents leaving their homes must be equipped with documents explaining why they are doing so. 

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines would result in a fine ranging from $250-$500. One man has already been arrested in Brooklyn for running a speakeasy that violated the mayor's executive order, and did not have a license to sell liquor. 

The city has shut down several outdoor weddings in the past weeks, and has suspended issuing permits for any type of public gathering, regardless of size.

The city is also reportedly keeping a watchful eye on parks and playgrounds. De Blasio has said he will close playgrounds, if it becomes necessary. 

On March 19, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide shetler-in-place for eighth weeks. 

Violating the state order is a misdemeanor and may be punished by a fine, jail time or both. However, the San Francisco Police Department has said that actively enforcing the order and dolling out those punishments is a "last resort."