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COVID-19 updates for April 16 - May 1: extending the shut-down

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The County of Santa Clara Department of Public Health provides briefings on the coronavirus pandemic 10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through the department’s Facebook account. The Town Crier maintains a live blog detailing the highlights of the most recent reports. To watch the Facebook live briefings, visit facebook.com/sccpublichealth. To look back at how the updates have chronicled the virus over time, read on.


friday, may 1

Since announcing the extended Bay Area-wide shelter-in-place order Wednesday (April 29), the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department public information team has been fielding questions about specific provisions.

During today’s Facebook Live briefing, David Campos, co-lead of public information for the Emergency Operations Center, interviewed county counsel James Williams to provide clarity on the loosened restrictions.

The original regional order, enacted March 16, remains valid through Monday (May 4), after which the revised extension takes effect through May 31.

Use of outdoor recreational facilities, such as tennis courts and golf courses, are permitted in the revised order. Williams clarified that tennis courts are open only to those playing with someone in their household. Confusion arose surrounding golf – the state’s shelter-in-place mandate banned it, while the county’s allowed it; as of Thursday (April 30), Williams said, single-player golf is permitted in the county and state.

The revised order also allows resumption of construction projects, small-group child care and children’s educational and recreational programming, outdoor businesses and landscaping.

Revisions to the order were designed to maintain progress made over the past weeks of sheltering in place. It’s important to obey the sheltering-in-place directive, Williams advised, given there is “no widespread immunity, no vaccine and no pharmaceutical treatment” for COVID-19. Minimizing trips and personal contact, maintaining 6 feet of distance from others, practicing good hand hygiene and following essential business protocols posted in businesses remains critical, as the county continues to be in learning mode, he added.

Williams said learning from historical events, like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which he believes to be the closest analogy to the current coronavirus outbreak, is key if we don’t want to replicate the damage wreaked. In San Francisco in 1918, a second spike of flu cases occurred after “victory was declared prematurely,” he noted, and mass fatalities ensued.

“This is difficult for all of our families, my kids and my family, too,” Williams said of the shelter-in-place restrictions. “But this is the tool that we have and it has been extraordinarily successful. … Together we can achieve (flattening the curve of the virus) and be able to move forward. This community is so resilient.”

Campos reported COVID-19 case information newer than that posted on the county’s online dashboards as of the briefing. There are 2,179 confirmed cases of the virus countywide and 113 deaths. Mountain View has 45 cases, Los Altos 23 and Los Altos Hills fewer than 10.

A total of 150 people are hospitalized. Nearly all surge beds and ventilators are available for use, graphs show. Approximately one-half of acute and ICU hospital beds are in use at this time.

It’s estimated through the dashboards that 28,570 people have been tested for COVID-19, with 7.6% testing positive and a turnaround time for results of one to two days. A graph depicts the highest number of people being tested between April 23 and 25. Approximately 18,103 people were tested in April.

For more information, visit sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/coronavirus-facts.aspx.

— Melissa Hartman


wednesday, april 29 

The ramifications of extending the regionwide shelter-in-place order through May 31 dominated discussion at Santa Clara County public health officials’ Facebook Live briefing today.
 

The key differences between the current order, set to expire Sunday, and the extension include changes to permitted essential businesses, outdoor activities and outdoor businesses, according to Santa Clara County counsel James Williams. Read the new order here.

Regulations around essential activities and essential infrastructure remain the same. Leaving the house for groceries, medical care and work related to the operation and maintenance of roads, highways, public transportation and solid waste services is still permitted.

The “essential business” category remains largely unchanged, with two exceptions: child care and construction.

Child care establishments, summer camps and other educational or recreational institutions providing services to essential, government, outdoor business or minimum basic operations workers with fixed classes of 12 or fewer students may reopen. More than one class of 12 is permitted on a single site, but classes should be conducted in separate rooms and should not intermix to limit the number of social interactions, Williams said.

Construction and public works projects may resume Monday if they follow safety protocols established based on the size of the project. The new safety protocols supersede previous social-distancing protocols that all essential businesses were required to post and enforce beginning April 1 to ensure customers wore face masks and kept 6 feet apart from others.

“There are many, many guidelines to make sure (construction) job sites are safe,” Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors president Cindy Chavez said. “They will have the opportunity to lead the way.”

For “nonessential businesses,” like retail stores, owners, employees and contractors may now be on-site to execute the minimum necessary activities to “maintain and protect the value of the business’s inventory and facilities,” the order states, including tasks such as processing payroll and employee benefits. The order does not permit such businesses to provide curbside pickup to customers.

The category of “outdoor recreation” now allows walking, hiking, bicycling and running in public spaces, as well as the use of golf courses, skate parks and athletic fields, if people practice strict social-distancing protocols and refrain from sharing equipment. Areas with high-touch surfaces and ones that encourage gathering are still closed to residents countywide, such as playgrounds, park gym equipment, picnic areas and dog parks.

“Outdoor businesses” – wholesale and retail plant nurseries, agricultural operations and garden centers – may resume operations, but not restaurants, bars or cafes.

Service providers that focus on outdoor services – landscaping and gardening services, and environmental site remediation services – may open again, too, as long as employees follow social-distancing guidelines.

Although some county restrictions are being eased, Williams advised that whichever guidelines between the regionwide and statewide orders are more stringent are the ones everyone must abide by. For example, though the county’s order now permits the use of golf courses, the state’s order does not. The county’s order offers child care with conditions for all types of businesses, while the state’s order only allows it for essential workers.

Coming up with a system

The new order is designed to preserve progress the county has made in battling the spread of the coronavirus, said Dr. Sara Cody, county health officer. Much has been learned about COVID-19 since the first case landed in the county, but research is still underway and a vaccine is a long way off. Acknowledging that “virtually the entire population is at risk,” Cody said the Bay Area health officers are working to “gingerly chart a course to be most health protective.”

Staff at the Emergency Operations Center are taking into account five indicators of the coronavirus and will use their observations of each indicator, with Cody at the helm, to either tighten or loosen shelter-in-place regulations. The indicators include tracking that the total number of cases in the community is flat or decreasing; hospital capacity is sufficient to meet the needs of residents; the number of COVID-19 detection tests being conducted daily is sufficient; capacity for case investigation, contact tracing and isolation/quarantine efforts is sufficient; and there is at least a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment available to health-care providers.

Both Cody and Chavez have received criticism about the economic impacts of the shelter-in-place orders. Cody said her team is working to “measure what they know against what they don’t know,” and they are trying to understand and balance the health risks of the virus with the health impacts of the orders. Chavez said residents have fallen into three camps: those who never want to resume routine social activity, those who want everything opened immediately and those who aim to find a happy medium between reopening quickly and responsibly.

“We as a community have lots of opinions and I appreciate that,” Chavez said. “But we also need to act as one.”

To read the order, visit bit.ly/3cWwOUz.

To access a list of COVID-19 resources from the cities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, visit bit.ly/35fVrsE, bit.ly/3aQsyUY or bit.ly/2ySizRS, respectively.

— Melissa Hartman


monday, april 27

The coronavirus has infected those who least expected it, including members of the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department’s County Emergency Operations Center, county employees told viewers at today’s Facebook Live briefing.

Public information officer Larry Little interviewed a colleague from the communications team, public information officer Ricardo Romero-Morales, about his personal experience battling COVID-19. Romero-Morales, a young man who exercises daily and does his best to eat healthy foods, developed an emergency plan with his roommates and family in case one of them were to contract the virus. Romero-Morales “was the one who was supposed to take care of everyone,” but he ended up getting taken care of himself, he said.

“(We decided) that person would stay in a room with a bathroom and everyone else was to disinfect all the areas touched by that person,” Romero-Morales said. “Somebody else was going to bring food to the person at the door.”

Romero-Morales said he woke up feeling fatigued on a Tuesday in early March. The following day, he felt fine, even serving productively at work. But on Thursday, he woke up with chest pains and breathing that felt like being stabbed with every exhale. He showed up at work and two hours later told his supervisor he was going home. His roommates knew something was wrong when he drove home early, watching from afar as he experienced additional coronavirus-related symptoms such as a fever and a dry cough.

Not wanting to expose anyone if he could manage it, Romero-Morales drove himself to the hospital. He passed out twice at the hospital and still was told to return home and isolate for 14 days. He did so and remained home for an additional 10 days out of an abundance of caution and a recommendation from his doctor.

“The doctors said, ‘It’s highly likely you do have COVID, but even though you’re not feeling well – you feel like you’re dying – at this point this is actually very mild compared to others who have passed away,’” Romero-Morales recalled. “Even those mild symptoms for me were the worst I’ve ever been sick in my entire life. I’ve never … felt that way before.”

He had fears of getting sicker or dying alone in his room, as no one was allowed near him to take care of him. The worst part was the feeling of not being able to interact with anyone, Romero-Morales said. Picking up a video call took everything out of him, but he knew his family “needed to hear from him, needed to know he was fine.” It has made him value interacting with others, even new friends on Instagram, that much more.

Little concluded the briefing by thanking essential workers and local residents who are doing their part, either by serving or by staying home, to flatten the curve of the coronavirus. Everyone has been impacted, whether through limited access to family or rituals or losing their jobs entirely. Little reared up when he spoke about his own internal struggle.

“For me, it’s personally very difficult not being able to see my parents,” he said, stopping to gather his emotions. “But we have to make the sacrifices now and it will pay off later. We will get through this together.”

As of the briefing, the Public Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboards showed 2,084 confirmed cases in Santa Clara County and 100 deaths. Approximately 86% of those who died of the virus had one or more underlying health conditions, new data reveals. A total of 24,580 people have been tested in the region, with 8.48% testing positive – a decline of approximately 2% since the county made COVID-19 data available to the public. The average test result turnaround rate continues to improve as well, now at 1.76 days.

The Asian and Latinx/Hispanic communities have been hit the hardest, with each of the populations accounting for 32% of deaths. The majority of those who died were between the ages of 71 and 90. More men in the area have died of the virus than women, with totals at 59% and 41%, respectively.

An estimated 163 people are hospitalized with the virus. Mountain View has 45 confirmed cases, Los Altos has 22 and Los Altos Hills continues to record fewer than 10.

For more information on the coronavirus in Santa Clara County, visit bit.ly/2KGdlvf.

– Melissa Hartman


friday, april 24

Santa Clara County public health employees at today’s Facebook Live briefing described the possibility of staff, residents or patients at long-term senior care facilities contracting COVID-19 as “not unexpected” and “almost impossible (to avoid).”

Because of the high risk the coronavirus poses, the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department is collaborating with skilled nursing facilities, assisted and independent living homes and boarding facilities countywide. The department has assigned disaster service employees to check in on the facilities with offers of advice, extra personal protective equipment and a helping hand when short-staffed.

Assistant public health officer Dr. Elsa Villarino said the department is doing all it can to help managers and directors of nursing at the facilities care for residents during the pandemic, whether that means touching base daily to discuss preventive measure to ensure that seniors – many with underlying health conditions – do not fall seriously ill or die of the virus. The county prioritizes lab testing for residents and staff of senior living and care facilities, as it does for hospital workers and first responders.

As of Tuesday (April 21), 357 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported among staff and residents of long-term care facilities in Santa Clara County; 50 of the cases led to hospitalization, and 31 victims died. The case counts encompass statistics from 26 facilities.

Villarino said when the coronavirus strikes a senior care community, her team at the Public Health Department is in constant communication with the facility and works side by side with staff. The county has developed a contact tracing process in which a detailed investigation is executed when a new case is discovered in a congregate housing facility. Those who have been in contact with the infected person and could potentially become infected are observed and tested for COVID-19.

“We create listings of residents and where they are listed within those facilities,” Villarino said. “We are also working with hospitals, because when some people are ill they go from a facility to a hospital until they are discharged and (can return) back to the facility. … We want to minimize risk for transmission during those exchanges.”

For more information on the Public Health Department’s collaboration with long-term care facilities, read the description above the Long-Term Care Facility (LTCF) Dashboard at sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/dashboard.aspx.

– Melissa Hartman


WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22

Santa Clara County representatives used their Facebook Live briefing today – the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – to highlight proper food handling and delivery in accordance with the shelter-in-place order.

The order aims to minimize physical interaction among people, but it’s still important to ensure that everyone has access to essential goods and services, said Ricardo Romero-Morales, one of the county’s public information officers.

Maintaining sanitary food-service conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic is key, according to Michael Balliet, director of the county’s Department of Environmental Health. His team, which typically regulates everything from food to water and solid waste, has been working closely with the county’s Public Health Department to reach out to nearly every type of business in the region that serves food, including grocery stores, farmers’ markets, food stands, restaurants, convenience stores and food banks.

Balliet’s department sent three different mailers and 9,500 letters detailing food-service guidelines since the stay-at-home directive was issued March 16. Thousands of phone calls, emails and site visits followed to underscore the new operating requirements, he said. Some requirements, like disinfecting and sanitizing high-touch surfaces, are not new to industry workers.

The county now requires restaurants to post a social-distancing protocol – a plan specifically outlining the ways the owners will ensure safe and sanitary conditions for staff and customers.

“We really encourage people to stop and take a quick look (at the protocol) so that they understand what the restaurant’s plan is,” Balliet said. “They may have expectations of you as well, such as keeping a 6-foot distance from your co-workers.”

Restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses serving food are electing to take protective measures on top of the county’s guidance, such as requiring that all food-service workers wear face coverings, which Balliet strongly urges all to do. Others have installed plexiglass between customers and essential workers, marked spots on the floor 6 feet apart and developed a process for distributing utensils and condiments, rather than allowing customers to take them themselves. Some restaurants are opting to sell milk, eggs and bread, which Balliet said is fine as long as they abide by the guidelines posted on the Department of Environmental Health’s website.

As for worries about whether the coronavirus could be transferred through delivery of online orders, Balliet said there’s no evidence confirming such transmission in multiple reports authored by representatives of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the World Health Organization and the European Union. Rather, he added, people should focus on washing their hands for 20 seconds before putting food near their mouths and minimizing the number of people who handle their food by opting for a no-touch delivery through a third-party app.

For more information on the Department of Environmental Health and its coronavirus recommendations, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit EHinfo.org/coronavirus.

– Melissa Hartman


monday, april 20

Despite practicing social distancing for more than a month, some Santa Clara County residents remain confused over the true definition of the preventive measure, according to two of the region’s public information officers at today’s Facebook Live briefing.

Public information spokeswoman Marianna Moles said social distancing does not mean front-yard happy hours with people drinking 6 feet away from one another or driveway visits with extended family. Social distancing, she clarified, means sheltering in place, removed from all other people one does not live with – excepting essential trips, which should still be limited.

“Social distancing is only for essential activities, it’s not how we socialize nowadays,” Moles said, noting that she’s seen far too many cars on Highway 101 in San Jose. “Unless a lot more people became essential workers, we are bending the rules.”

County spokeswoman Hilary Armstrong discussed her personal experience of sheltering in place, which has turned into a struggle as she tries to entertain her 5-year-old daughter, who doesn’t like communicating with friends and family via video chat.

“We acknowledge it’s super hard, but also implore you to keep abiding by the (area) public health officers’ orders,” Armstrong said.

Moles, who lives alone, said she has not seen her family in months but has connected through phone calls and social media. She now aims to shop for necessities just once a month, whereas before she went to the store every few days. Armstrong similarly said her family has limited its shopping trips to one person going once a week.

Keeping 6 feet apart from others is not the mandate, either, Armstrong advised, but the minimum space people should maintain between one another to stay safe – the more space between people, the better. Health officials have learned that 25% of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning they have been walking around not knowing and possibly spreading the virus to others. The uncertainty is another reason to communicate strictly virtually, Moles said.

“If you have to shout to have a conversation, you’re doing it correctly,” Armstrong added.

Short-term pain will lead to long-term safety, the spokeswomen said, at the same time acknowledging how hard it is to be isolated from friends and family for months at a time.

“Take pride in knowing your action of staying at home is saving thousands of lives,” Moles said.

Because of a data update in the Reportable Disease Information Exchange, managed by the California Department of Public Health, the county’s COVID-19 online dashboards were not updated over the weekend. They will be updated as soon as the department has reviewed the state’s changes. As of Friday (April 17), there were 1,870 confirmed coronavirus cases and 73 deaths in Santa Clara County.

Beginning this week, the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department will host its Facebook Live briefings 10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

For more information on social distancing and sheltering in place, visit bit.ly/2VlG0Mi.

Those struggling with the mental health effects of isolation are urged to contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness Santa Clara County office through its hotline, email or website. For more information, visit namisantaclara.org/covid-19-support-resources.

– Melissa Hartman


friday, april 17

Two Santa Clara County staff members and a representative of a nonprofit organization discussed at today’s Facebook Live briefing actions taken by the county and its community partners to offset the economic damage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The financial toll the shelter-in-place order has taken on county residents is so great that an initial $11 million in aid the Board of Supervisors allocated has already been depleted, according to Jennifer Loving, CEO of the nonprofit Destination: Home. After her organization partnered with Sacred Heart Community Services to open a relief fund, residents who learned of the effort filed 4,500 applications for funds in the first three days.

Destination: Home and Sacred Heart are halfway through processing the applications, which Loving described as “a lot of work being handled by a lot of different folks who have jumped in.” Funds are being disbursed every day, and 14,000 families remain on the fund’s interest list.

“If you’re not in need of financial support, know that the situation is dire,” Loving said. “People don’t have food. … The pandemic is hitting households differently based on household incomes.”

Lead deputy county counsel Christopher Cheleden reminded residents of the eviction moratorium the Board of Supervisors adopted March 24 to provide relief to tenants not only experiencing financial hardship as a result of layoffs or reduced hours, but also unable to work because they lost child care or must take care of a sick relative.

Those with substantial medical expenses related to COVID-19 are also protected through the moratorium, Cheleden said, which prohibits evictions through May 31, a date subject to extension by the board.

The ordinance, which allows tenants 120 days following the expiration of the ordinance to pay without any penalties or interest tacked on by the landlord, applies to both residential and small-business tenants.

Loving said the “amazing response” from the county will be even more valuable the longer the shelter-in-place order is in effect, as many people will still be worried about whether they can pay their rent once the restrictions are lifted. Efforts enacted thus far are just the beginning of protections the county and its collaborators will establish so that “no one loses their home by no fault of their own,” she added.

Loving and Cheleden agreed that the pandemic has exacerbated existing societal issues, including the wage gap and the housing crisis. The silver lining, they said, is the call to action the situation presents, specifically the opportunity to find solutions for everyone and empower the parties who can turn those solutions from concept to action.

Cheleden said a number of affordable housing units have become available in the past few months, and the county’s work to help homeless and at-risk residents has not stopped. The Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing has arranged an interim supply of rooms for the homeless through hotels and other temporary facilities. And shelters continue to operate and practice social distancing, Loving noted.

“I don’t want to give the impression that the eviction moratorium is all the county is doing,” Cheleden said.

As of today, the county Public Health Department recorded 1,870 coronavirus cases (a 2% increase from the day before, said Mariel Caballero, deputy public information officer for the Emergency Operations Center) and 73 deaths. The COVID-19 Long-Term Care Facility Data Dashboard, added to the county’s tracking dashboards Wednesday, estimates that 17 of those deaths have been patients at senior facilities – 15 residents or staff at skilled nursing homes and two residents or staff at independent living centers.

The numbers have yet to be updated on the county’s dashboard, as the team has faced a few technology obstacles this week.

There are now 40 confirmed coronavirus cases in Mountain View, 21 in Los Altos and fewer than 10 in Los Altos Hills. A total of 188 people are hospitalized countywide. More than 17,000 people have been tested, with approximately 10.7% testing positive for the virus. The average turnaround time for test results is approximately two days.

To apply for aid from or donate to Destination: Home and Sacred Heart Community Service’s COVID-19 relief fund, visit sacredheartcs.org.

For more information on emergency funding at the state level, visit covid19.ca.gov.

– Melissa Hartman


thursday, april 16

Santa Clara County officials dedicated to reducing domestic violence delivered a message at today’s Facebook Live briefing they hope all residents will amplify: Around-the-clock help is available for those forced to shelter-in-place with their abusers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Carla Collins, manager of the county’s Office of Gender-Based Violence Prevention, said that though her office was founded just six months ago, solid community partnerships have developed with YWCA Silicon Valley and Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence. Tanis Crosby, CEO of YWCA Silicon Valley, and Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, executive director of Next Door Solutions, joined Collins to shine a light on the additional stressors abuse survivors and their families may experience while under lockdown.

Five domestic violence agencies within county limits offer 24/7 services in multiple languages: AACI Asian Women’s Home, Community Solutions, Maitri, Next Door Solutions and YWCA Silicon Valley through its Domestic Violence Department Support Network Program. All services are free and confidential.

“COVID-19 has not stopped this work from happening,” Collins said.

According to Peralez-Dieckmann, calls to Next Door Solutions’ crisis line have declined in recent weeks, largely due to abuse perpetrators making it difficult for victims to communicate with privacy, as many monitor calls, text messages and emails or chats sent. Additional emotional abuse has been inflicted by abusers who, for example, use COVID-19 as an excuse to ask for expanded visitation with their children or claim that restraining orders aren’t active when the courts are closed.

“We are already living in a very lonely and isolated time in this shelter-in-place order, but you’re not alone” Peralez-Dieckmann assured abuse survivors. “Call any of the five assistance agencies in Santa Clara County and take that first step. Pick up the phone, go on Safe Chat Silicon Valley (safechatsv.org) or reach out when (you can). Do so when it’s safe, and be aware of your surroundings. We are here for the long term.”

Crosby emphasized a three-pronged approach for abuse victims: Consider reaching out to a local agency to create a safety plan with an expert, keep and sustain a network of support to feel connected and don’t hesitate to use the resources the five agencies offer.

“Just like COVID-19, the signs of domestic violence and sexual assault may not always be visible,” Crosby said. “For many survivors, feelings of isolation have been in place for years and it’s being compounded by COVID-19. Really just know that there is help, there are options and we encourage you if you are experiencing (violence) ... we are here to help. Contact us.”

A month after the regionwide shelter-in-place order was announced, Collins reported there were a total of 1,833 coronavirus cases and 69 deaths in the county. The Public Health Department’s online dashboards will be updated later today to reflect the latest numbers.

For a list of resources for those experiencing gender-based violence, visit bit.ly/2XHRwTQ.

For more information on services offered by the Office of Gender-Based Violence Prevention and its affiliates, visit sccendviolence.org.

– Melissa Hartman

 

Want to read coverage of the early days of the shut-down? See more of our reporting at COVID-19 Updates for April 1-15: The early days of 'shelter-in-place'.


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