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The city of Gustine is taking part in the “Stay Home, Save Lives” initiative. City workers Jesus Alonso, left, and Osvaldo Palomino put signs in place Tuesday morning to help emphasize that message.

GUSTINE - City officials are joining those across Merced County in emphasizing the importance of staying home through the COVID-19 crisis.

Through social media, signs and other avenues, the city is promoting a “Stay Home - Save Lives” message to its residents.

“We want to put out positive messages that say please stay inside. We’re all in this together,” said City Manager Doug Dunford. “The citizens of Gustine have been outstanding (about) staying in their home. We have been having outstanding success with that so far. We want to make sure that we do what we can.”

While voluntary compliance is the goal, Dunford said, the city is also implementing restrictions and can issue administration citations - with a $1,000 fine - for those who flout the rules.

The City Council last week affirmed a state of emergency which formally closed city parks and community facilities, and authorized the city manager to implement measures in the interest of public health.

One focal point, Dunford said, is halting gatherings in city parks and its Jensen Road soccer facility.

“We don’t want people congregating in our parks. Our parks are closed,” he emphasized. “We don’t want to be heavy-handed, but we also have to look at the health of the citizens of Gustine.”

Police officers are dispersing groups that they see, Dunford added.

The city understands that residents must go to the grocery store and tend to other essential errands, he said, but encourages them to quickly - and safely - go about their business and then return home.

As part of the “Stay at Home” campaign, the city is posting social media photos of employees displaying signs promoting the importance of staying at home, and encouraging residents to do the same.

The city-sponsored food delivery is one tool to keep residents safely at home, Dunford said, and Recreation Coordinator Tiffany Vitorino has been posting a variety of Facebook tips on activities and exercises which individuals and families can engage in while at home - including a variety with Easter themes to help keep youngsters busy over the holiday.

“The idea is just to kind of keep everybody busy,” Vitorino explained. “There are so many different things that you can do. There are so many different things you can do....the parents who are now home-schooling don’t have to reinvent the wheel. For the adults, I’m just trying to keep people moving (with exercise suggestions).”

Throughout the crisis, Dunford said, city employees have been on the job. Residents who adhere to the stay-at-home guidelines are safeguarding themselves and others, he emphasized.

“(City employees) are making sure that we have the essential functions,” he commented. “The police department is out there, and so is fire. By people staying at home, it also helps protect them.”

The COVID-19 restrictions are likely to be in place for some time, Dunford remarked.

“This is not a short race,” he reflected. “It is a marathon.”