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COVID-19 Live Blog: Restrictions ease as count moves to red tier

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Santa Clara County, the Town Crier will maintain a live blog with the latest developments, including breaking news and updates from the county's live briefings. To watch the Facebook live briefings, visit facebook.com/sccpublichealth.

Wednesday, March 3: Indoor dining, gyms return as county moves to red tier

A number of COVID-19 restrictions are loosening beginning today, including the return of indoor dining and the reopening of gyms, because Santa Clara County is no longer in the state’s highest risk tier.

The county has met the requirements to move into the red tier of the state’s framework, an improvement from the highest-risk purple tier, where the county had been since mid-November. The tiers are based on COVID-19 case rates and the percent of tests that come back positive.

“We are coming out of a devastating winter surge that claimed the lives of too many county residents and left many others with grief, sorrow, missing family members, and all of us with a sense of loss of many kinds,” county health officer Dr. Sara Cody said at a press conference Monday. “But we now find ourselves on firmer footing, and as of today, we meet the metrics for the red tier of the state’s blueprint.”

The red tier means a variety of activities can resume or expand, including:

• Indoor dining at a 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer
• Gyms at 10% capacity
• Retail stores at 50% capacity, up from 25% capacity in the purple tier
• Movie theaters at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer
• Zoos, museums and aquariums at 25% indoor capacity

For more, visit https://bit.ly/3beZ0nw.

-Zoe Morgan


 

Wednesday, Feb. 17: Educators, food and ag workers eligible for vaccines starting Feb. 28

Santa Clara County educators and childcare workers, workers in the agriculture and food sectors, and emergency services personnel will all be eligible to get vaccinated for COVID-19 starting Feb. 28, health officials announced today (Feb. 17).

Thus far the county has been vaccinating individuals 65 and older, as well as healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents. The county has already vaccinated over 50% of those 75 and older, as well as “nearly half” of those 65-plus, county public health officer Dr. Sara Cody said today at a press conference.

“As we expand this access, we will continue our focus on equity to ensure that those who are living in communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 have access to vaccine and get vaccinated,” Cody said.

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Mike Wasserman urged people to spread the word about vaccinations and reach out to anyone they know who is eligible.

“The way that Santa Clara County will heal and return to normalcy is by getting vaccinated,” Wasserman said.

For more information on COVID-19 vaccination appointments, visit sccfreevax.org or call 211.

-Zoe Morgan


Friday, Feb. 12: New COVID-19 vaccine eligibility

Starting March 15, Californians of all ages over 16 who have disabilities or certain health conditions will be eligible to make vaccine appointments, the California Department of Public Health announced Friday afternoon. Healthcare providers will be allowed to use "their clinical judgement" to vaccinate those deemed to be at the very highest risk for morbidity and mortality from COVID-19, and those whose ability to receive care would be substantially impeded by an infection.

The list of recognized conditions included cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic pulmonary disease, down syndrome, an immunocrompromised state caused by solid organ transplant, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, certain heart conditions, severe obesity and some presentations of type 2 diabetes mellitus. This list of eligible conditions is described as "subject to change" as the department gathers and analyzes more information about how COVID-19 presents in patients with other medical conditions.

For more, visit bit.ly/3qgUpX5.

-Eliza Ridgeway


Thursday, Feb. 4: County Health System Offers Vaccine to Anyone 65 and Older

Santa Clara County public health officials announced in a briefing Thursday (Feb. 4) that the county health system would begin providing vaccines to residents aged 65 and older, specifying a “no wrong door” policy that will accept any resident even if they have a regular healthcare provider.

Previously, residents who had a healthcare provider were asked to go through that system, but oftentimes individual providers didn’t have enough vaccine doses, leaving people hanging. Now, residents can be vaccinated through the county, no questions asked.

“Our effort requires both simplicity and clarity, and we’ve had too little of both until today,” County Supervisor Joe Simitian said in a briefing.

About 37% of the population over 75 and 28% of the population over 65 have been vaccinated, according to county executive Dr. Jeff Smith, emphasizing that the county still doesn’t have enough supply of the vaccine.

Click here to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccination.

-Eric He


Tuesday, Jan. 27: County Expands Vaccinations to 65 and Older

Santa Clara County residents aged 65 and older will be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through the county’s own health system beginning today, according to a Tuesday (Jan. 26) press release. Stanford Healthcare has also begun offering vaccinations to those 65 and older.

This expands the age bracket eligibility for the vaccine, which was previously just residents aged 75 and older. Though vaccine supply remains limited, the county has enough vaccines to make the change. This puts the county in line with state guidance, which has allowed eligibility for those 65 and older.

The county’s health system has administered nearly 60,000 first doses so far.

“As the vaccine becomes available to more of our residents, the county continues its deep commitment to equity and ensuring access for our communities most at risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for the county’s health system.

To register for the vaccine, visit sccfreevax.com.

-Eric He


Monday, Jan. 25: Regional Shelter-in-place order lifted

Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the state’s regional stay-at-home order on Monday (Jan. 25), loosening restrictions in regions that have been under the order since December such as the Bay Area.

This means that Santa Clara County is back under the purple, widespread tier in the state’s COVID-19 blueprint, which allows for activities like outdoor dining and personal care services to resume immediately. Additionally, the county stated in a press release that sporting events can resume as well as outdoor gatherings with up to three households.

In a press release, the state’s Department of Public Health said that Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity projections for the Bay Area are above 15%, the threshold for regions to exit the order. The Bay Area’s ICU capacity suddenly shot up from 6% last week to over 23% as of Monday. But Santa Clara County’s ICU capacity was still at 14% as of Sunday.

“Californians heard the urgent message to stay home as much as possible and accepted that challenge to slow the surge and save lives,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, CDPH director and state public health officer. “Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains. COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it’s important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner.”

The lifting of the stay-at-home order comes as the state’s steepest surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations appears to be waning, but daily case totals remain much higher than they were during last summer’s peak. There is also the prevalence of a COVID-19 variant in the state that has some experts expressing concern.

“Santa Clara County continues to experience very high rates of COVID-19 transmission,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the county's public health officer, in the press release. “Our collective actions to date have saved lives and helped protect our healthcare system from collapse. I encourage all residents to remain vigilant, wear a mask anytime you leave your home, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from anyone outside your household, and get vaccinated when it is your turn.”

-Eric He


 

Friday, Jan. 22: Mountain View Community Center to serve as COVID-19 vaccination site

The Mountain View Community Center is serving as a mass vaccination site that will be able to provide up to 1,000 shots a day. The location opened up to Santa Clara County residents Friday.

The city worked with the county to turn the facility into a vaccination hub and aid in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, which has been slower than expected. It also provides a spot in the northwest portion of the county where residents can easily access the vaccine.

“We have three county hospitals. We have nine primary-care clinics,” said Supervisor Joe Simitian in a press briefing on Friday. “Unfortunately, none of them are located in the Fifth District.”
Simitian turned to a familiar partner in the city of Mountain View.

“We needed a place in North County to serve the folks that are in our region,” Simitian said. “As we put our heads together and thought, ‘Who can we work with to roll this out as quickly and expeditiously as possible?’ The answer was, ‘Let’s work with the city of Mountain View. They’ve been good partners in the past. They are once again stepping up to be a partner in this effort.”

Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei said converting the community center into a vaccine-ready facility was “no easy feat.”

“Mountain View was ready and willing to answer the call to action and provide the necessary leadership in standing up a vaccination site right away in partnership with the County of Santa Clara,” Kamei said in a press release. “Through this collaborative effort, we are making it more convenient for Mountain View residents and others who work and live nearby in North County to get vaccinated against this highly contagious virus.”

The Mountain View Community Center is located at 201 S. Rengstorff Ave. To make an appointment, visit sccfreevax.org.

-Eric He


Tuesday, Jan. 19: COVID-19 variant linked to County outbreaks

A COVID-19 variant has been linked to several recent large outbreaks in Santa Clara County, public health officials warned earlier this week.

The variant – called L452R – is different from the recent B.1.1.7 variant that was first traced to the United Kingdom. The L452R variant is not completely new, as it was found in Denmark in May, but has been more prevalent since November and has shown up in genomic sequencing across the state.

Santa Clara County public health officer Dr. Sara Cody said during a press briefing Sunday (Jan. 17) that the variant was found in the outbreak at Kaiser San Jose that infected more than 90 staff and patients.

Cody said Santa Clara County has been sending more of its specimens for sequencing, which might account for the prevalence of the new variant. The variant also has been found in 11 other counties across California, but just how many cases there are is uncertain because genomic sequencing is not done proportionally across the state.

Experts said more research must be conducted before it can be determined whether the variant is more transmissible or if it will have an impact on the effectiveness of the vaccine.

But preliminary data is “suggestive and worrisome,” according to Dr. Charles Chiu, professor of laboratory medicine at UC San Francisco. Between Nov. 22 and Dec. 13 of last year, researchers found the L452R variant in less than 4% of specimen samples across the state. A month later, in studies of samples collected between Dec. 14 and Jan. 3, the variant was discovered in more than a quarter of them. More than 90% of the samples collected were from Northern California.

“We’ve found it in Santa Clara County perhaps in part because we’re doing more looking,” Cody said. “But to really understand whether these outbreaks are behaving as they are because of the virus or because of some other condition, we don’t know. This is a very important signal to us that we have to lean in and do a lot more investigating.”

County hits pause on Moderna batch

Approximately 21,800 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine sent to Santa Clara County will not be immediately administered because of potential allergic reactions reported by some who received shots from the batch in San Diego last week.

Fewer than 10 people required medical attention after receiving a shot, but it was enough for the state’s Department of Public Health to recommend that providers pause administration of the vaccines from this lot, which consists of more than 330,000 doses sent out across the state.

In a press release Monday (Jan. 18), county officials said no dose from this batch has been administered to anyone in the county, and that they are not aware of any “unusual levels of adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccinations” within the county. But, it “has paused administration of this particular lot of vaccine” until it receives more information, officials reported. County officials added that they have notified El Camino Health, Stanford Health Care and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, the providers that received doses from the lot. 

County provides vaccine dashboard

The county has put together a dashboard of how many vaccines are being distributed by its hospitals and health-care systems. View the dashboard here.

-Eric He


Wednesday, Jan 13: County residents 75 and older now eligible for vaccine

Individuals aged 75 and older in Santa Clara County can now sign up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, county officials announced Wednesday (Jan. 13).

County Counsel James Williams said in a briefing that the county’s health system has been increasing its capacity of vaccine distribution.

While supply is currently limited and the county is still working vaccinating its initial group of healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents, the county expects healthcare providers to expand eligibility further after they find out how many vaccine doses they will receive in the coming weeks.

Click here to view the list of healthcare providers offering the COVID-19 vaccine.

-Eric He


 

Saturday, Jan. 9: Regional Shelter-in-Place Order Extended Indefinitely

Los Altos and the surrounding Bay Area will remain under a shelter-in-place order indefinitely, the state announced on Saturday (Jan. 9). The order was originally set to expire on Friday.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity in the region has plunged to 3%, nowhere near the 15% threshold required to lift the restrictions. To exit the shelter-in-place restrictions, a region must be projected by the state to meet or exceed 15% ICU capacity within four weeks. The state’s public health department said Saturday that it would assess the Bay Area’s ICU projections in the coming days.

ICU capacity in Santa Clara County is at 6%, which includes surge capacity. The county’s COVID-19 dashboard as of Friday indicated there are no standard capacity ICU beds remaining. Moreover, the county is in the midst of its steepest surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since the pandemic began, averaging over 1,200 new cases a day over the past week, and public health officials fear that the situation will only get worse due to the effects of Christmas and New Year’s gatherings.

County officials expect to be under the state’s shelter-in-place order “for some time,” according to a press release.

“Our capacity in every hospital is stretched,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer at a briefing Friday. “We are by no means out of the woods. We are really in the thick of it. The projections vary by the day. The key unknown is what bump will we see in our cases as a result of holiday travel and gathering.”

-Eric He


Friday, Jan. 8: Healthcare workers eligible for vaccines

Everyone included in the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which encompasses a broad array of health-care workers, is now eligible to get vaccinated.

Santa Clara County public health officials announced Friday (Jan. 8) that everyone who falls under Phase 1A can now receive the vaccine. That includes health-care personnel, as well as staff and residents of long-term care facilities. Those eligible can reach out to their own health-care provider to get vaccinated, or schedule an appointment with the county.

For more information, click here.

-Zoe Morgan


Wednesday, Jan. 6: Shelter-In-Place Order Likely To be Extended

The shelter-in-place order for the Bay Area is likely to be extended beyond its expiration date on Friday, Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said in a briefing on Wednesday (Jan. 6).

The region has been under the order since mid-December once its Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity dipped below 15%. Because capacity is still well below that threshold, the order will likely be extended this week.

“We have every indication that it will be extended here in the Bay Area,” Williams said.

As of Tuesday, there were just 14 ICU beds left in the county and 4% capacity.

At the briefing, county officials warned that the effects of New Year’s gatherings may not become apparent until next week and that a current slight dip in daily case counts were attributed to fewer testing being done over the holidays.

“As awful as it is, it could get worse,” said Dr. Ahmad Kamal, the county’s COVID-19 director of healthcare preparedness. “And there’s no other way to say that. Right now, we haven’t been in a situation where there’s two people gasping for breath and only one of them get the ventilator. We could get there.”

Additionally, the county asked residents to think before calling 911, because ambulance availability is strained.

“If you do need to call 911, think about whether it is an appropriate use of 911 services,” said county EMS Duty Chief Daniel Franklin. “We want to have ambulances available to handle every emergency.”

-Eric He


Monday, Jan. 4: County braces for New Year’s COVID-19 surge amid vaccine rollout

Hospital capacity in Santa Clara County remains stretched to the limit, as COVID-19 cases continue to peak and hospitals brace for the aftereffect of gatherings over New Year’s.

As of Monday, there were 30 available ICU beds remaining in county hospitals, or 9% capacity. The seven-day average of daily new cases totals 1,007, though reporting typically lags during holidays and it will take a few more days to determine whether New Year’s gatherings – which public health officials strongly discouraged – led to another surge on top of the existing spike. The Bay Area’s ICU capacity was at 7.9%.

El Camino Health had 71 COVID-19 patients with nine ICU beds available as of Monday, according to federal data. Hospital officials indicated last year that they hadn’t expected to exceed 50 COVID-19 patients at a time.

Dr. Ahmad Kamal, the county’s COVID-19 director of healthcare preparedness, acknowledged in a New Year’s Eve briefing that the post-Christmas surge was not as bad as anticipated, a sign that people heeded warnings not to gather. He hoped that the trend would continue for New Year’s Day, highlighting that the county is still seeing 59 new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 residents – a nearly twelvefold increase from the day before Halloween. 

For context, the threshold to exit the most restrictive, purple tier in the state’s COVID-19 blueprint is seven new cases per 100,000 residents. More than 50 patients a day are waiting in emergency rooms for a bed, according to Kamal. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that some ambulances carrying patients are waiting for up to seven hours outside county emergency rooms because there are no beds available.

“What we are seeing now is not normal,” Kamal said. “It is an order of magnitude more than we saw just two months ago. We clearly are not out of the woods. We are in the thick of the woods and we all need to redouble our efforts.”

Another factor that may complicate efforts to flatten the curve is the prevalence of a more transmittable COVID-19 variant, which originated in the United Kingdom and was found to be in California last week. Experts believe the variant is not deadlier, and that the vaccines should be able to account for the mutation.

The Bay Area, which has been under a shelter-in-place order since mid-December, will likely see the order extended this week because its ICU capacity remains well below the 15% threshold.

Vaccine update

As of last week, Santa Clara County had received nearly 100,000 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and was working through vaccinating health-care personnel and long-term care facility residents. Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s COVID-19 testing and vaccine officer, said some people in the first phase will be receiving their second dose by the middle of this week.

The next group to be eligible to receive the vaccine will be people over the age of 75 and some essential workers such as teachers, law enforcement and grocery store employees. People with chronic health conditions and remaining essential workers would be in the following phase. The rest of the general public would be next and last in line.

When the vaccine will be widely available in the county depends on how quickly the doses arrive. Already, federal officials have acknowledged that the vaccine rollout has been slower than expected nationally.

“Our priority is getting every single dose into somebody’s arm,” Fenstersheib said. “We do not want to sit on any vaccines like we’ve heard in other communities. We want to be a community that gets the vaccine and gets it out as soon as we can.”

- Eric He


Wednesday, Dec. 23: County Officials Beg Residents to Avoid Christmas Gatherings

Santa Clara County officials issued another stern warning to residents ahead of Christmas during a briefing on Wednesday (Dec. 23), as hospitals continue to run dangerously low on beds due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

There are 35 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds remaining in the county. Eight of the county's 10 hospitals have five or fewer ICU beds left, and three hospitals have fewer than 10 beds of any type remaining, according to Dr. Ahmad Kamal, the county’s COVID-19 Director of Health Care Preparedness Branch of Emergency Operations. There were 68 patients waiting for a hospital bed in emergency rooms as of Tuesday.

“We are talking about people in gurneys without a bed to go to,” Kamal said. “We are talking about people not getting hospital care. We are talking about rationing what scarce resources our exhausted health system has left to those who will benefit the most. We are talking about people dying who should not have died.”

An average of nearly six people a day are now dying of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County. COVID-19 is projected to be the third leading cause of death in the county this year — the top two were cancer and heart disease. As of this week, there were 632 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

The daily new case rate continues to spike. More than 1,100 people are testing positive for COVID-19 daily. Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said that the numbers are currently down a bit from the peak post-Thanksgiving surge, but Christmas will present another challenge.

“The surge that we’re in right now is so dramatic, it almost appears as though we hadn’t had two prior surges,” Cody said. “It has taken all of our collective might to try and calm things down. But if we have a surge on top of a surge, we will definitely break. We cannot afford that.”

Public health officials pleaded with the public to avoid gatherings over Christmas, emphasizing that this is a matter of life and death.

“Every single family, every single individual in Santa Clara County will bear the brunt of our decisions over the next several days,” Kamal said. “Our hospitals are at a brink. They are just on the verge of being pushed over.”

Kamal continued: “Please, I implore you all. Pick up your phones, cancel your gatherings, cancel your travel. Do it for yourselves, do it for your loved ones, so we can all see 2021 together.”

Los Altos Mayor Neysa Fligor, in a holiday message to the community posted online Wednesday, joined in.

“During the holiday season, and into 2021, we will have to ask you to continue to make these sacrifices,” Fligor said. “I know it is not easy, especially during the holiday season when you won’t be able to do many of your holiday traditions and see many of your loved ones in person. But by staying apart this year, we’re making it possible to be together for years to come.”

-Eric He


Wednesday, Dec. 16: El Camino Health to Begin Vaccinating Frontline Workers This Week

El Camino Health received 975 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer this week and plans to begin vaccinating frontline workers on Saturday (Dec. 19). The shipment is part of the 17,500 doses provided by Pfizer to Santa Clara County this week and is shared between the Mountain View and Los Gatos locations.

In a press release, the health system said that it anticipates being able to inoculate all of its employees by next spring. The first recipients of the vaccine include a nightshift critical care nurse, respiratory therapist and environmental services worker, as well as Dr. Daniel Shin, an infectious disease specialist who was part of the team that treated the first case of community spread in the Bay Area when the pandemic first began.

“When I was offered the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, my immediate answer was yes. It has been a truly grim year, and I’ve witnessed a lot of death and suffering over the past ten months,” Dr. Shin said. “I have full confidence that this vaccine is safe and effective. The speed at which it was created is a testament only to the power of science and the determination of those fighting this disease, and I fully trust in both.”

El Camino Health CEO Dan Woods called the first day of vaccine distribution a milestone for the health system and community.

“Just like the dedicated health care workers across the globe, our entire team has been working tirelessly this year to care for the COVID-19 patients in our community,” Woods said. “Ensuring their health and protection is a top priority as these individuals continue delivering the highest quality care to our patients. The timing of this vaccine as the holidays approach, also symbolizes hope and healing for us all.”

-Eric He


Monday, Dec. 14: Average Daily Cases Exceeds 1,000 as County Awaits Vaccines

Santa Clara County’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has crossed 1,000 for the first time since the pandemic began, as the county awaits its first shipment of vaccines from Pfizer this week.

The county reported a record 2,055 new cases on Sunday, and followed that up with 1,221 new cases on Monday, raising the average over the last seven days to 1,015.

But the first health-care workers and long-term care facility residents may be getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as this week, after the county receives an expected 17,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Next week, after Moderna’s vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the county is set to be getting 39,000 more doses.

Also on Monday, the county announced new quarantine guidance, reducing the number of days a person should be in quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 from 14 to 10 days, in accordance with the California Department of Public Health’s new guidelines. It also recommended that people who are not feeling symptomatic should be tested no sooner than six days into their quarantine.

-Eric He


 

Monday, Dec. 7: County TO REceive Initial Vaccine Doses Next Week

Santa Clara County is expected to receive 17,500 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine around Dec. 15, county health officials said at a briefing on Monday (Dec. 7). The vaccine is expected to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later this week.

Health-care workers will be first in line to be vaccinated, followed by residents of long-term care facilities. There won’t initially be enough vaccines for everyone in both groups. The Pfizer vaccine also needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

More doses will come shortly, after Moderna is expected to receive approval for its vaccine next week.

The vaccine news comes as the county reported a record 1,450 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, more than double the previous record set last week. Hospital capacity continues to be a concern for public health officials, as Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity has fallen to 10.5% and there are just 50 ICU beds remaining in the county.

-Eric He


Friday, Dec. 4: Santa Clara County Announces Shelter-In-Place Order

Santa Clara County will be under a shelter-in-place order effective Sunday night, regional health officials announced at a briefing on Friday (Dec. 4). The order will be in place through Jan. 4, and was made in conjunction with four other Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley.

The news came a day after the state enacted a regional shelter-in-place order based on ICU capacity thresholds. That shelter-in-place order would have taken effect if a region dips below 15% ICU capacity. As of Thursday, the Bay Area was at 25.30% ICU capacity.

Rather than wait for hospitalizations to increase – the Bay Area had been projected to cross below 15% capacity by mid- to late-December – regional health officials decided to pre-empt the state’s order and become the first region in the state to implement it ahead of time because of an ongoing surge of both cases and hospitalizations.

“The dark COVID winter that we feared would come has arrived in the Bay Area,” said Contra Costa County Public Health Officer Dr. Christopher Farnitano.

The order prohibits all gatherings and closes many nonessential businesses, including bars, wineries and personal-care services. It also prohibits both indoor and outdoor dining for restaurants. Retail stores would be able to operate at 20% capacity.

“If you have a social bubble, it is now popped,” said Dr. Lisa Hernandez, Berkeley’s Public Health Officer. “Do not let this be the last holiday with your family.”

Santa Clara County has already dropped under the 15% threshold. Public health officer Dr. Sara Cody said during the briefing that ICU capacity was at 14%. The county saw a record 67 new COVID-19 patients admitted Thursday and is breaking records daily.

Cody said it usually takes at least three weeks for county restrictions to impact the trend of hospitalizations, and the county has not yet seen the predicted Thanksgiving surge reflected in daily case counts.

As of Friday, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the county had risen to 487, and 311 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. There are 47 ICU beds remaining.

The regional order will mirror the state’s shelter-in-place order announced Thursday, with the only change being the timing.

“We feel as a region that the trigger isn’t fast enough,” Cody said.

Cody recognized the economic burden the shelter-in-place order will have on businesses, but noted that action was necessary to mitigate what is likely to be a continuing surge in cases and hospitalizations during the holiday season.

“We aim to lift these restrictions as soon as we possibly can,” she added.

In a statement, Los Altos economic development coordinator Anthony Carnesecca said the city is monitoring the situation closely and updating businesses as information comes in.

“Our goal throughout this crisis is to maintain the health and safety of the Los Altos community, including our residents, business owners and employees,” Carnesecca said. “It’s imperative that everyone understands their role in keeping our community safe through this pandemic by following all county and state health orders as we head into this uncertain holiday season.”

-Eric He


Thursday, Dec. 3: Bay Area Likely To Be Under Stay-At-Home Order Within Weeks

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a regionally-based stay-at-home order on Thursday (Dec. 3) amid alarming increases in daily cases and hospitalizations.

The order splits the state into five regions, each of which will be put under the stay-at-home order if Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity in the region dips below 15%. The regions are: Northern California, Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

Projections suggest the Bay Area, which includes Santa Clara County, will fall below 15% ICU capacity in mid- to late-December, Newsom said during a press conference Thursday. The other four regions are expected to drop under 15% even sooner, likely within the next week.

Currently, the Bay Area is at 25.3% ICU capacity. Once a region sees ICU capacity dip below 15%, the stay-at-home order will be triggered and will then stay in effect within that region for at least three weeks.

“The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said. “If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see the death rate climb – more lives lost.”

Under the order, gatherings of any size are prohibited and certain sectors will have to temporarily close, including bars, wineries, personal care services and barbershops and hair salons.

However, retail will be allowed to remain open at 20% capacity, as well as restaurants for take-out and delivery only. Schools that are already open for in-person learning will also be able to continue.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Santa Clara County Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. George Han was asked about the new state order and said he had just heard about it himself.

“We’ll take some time to digest that information and formulate a response,” Han said.

Santa Clara County had announced its own restrictions last Saturday that included mandating a 14-day quarantine period for travelers entering the county from more than 150 miles away, and limiting capacity for both essential and non-essential businesses.

Santa Clara County’s seven-day average of ICU bed capacity is at 17%, or 50 beds, according to the county’s data dashboard.

– Eric He and Zoe Morgan


Wednesday, Dec. 2: County Submits Vaccine Plan to State For Approval

Santa Clara County submitted a vaccine plan to the state on Tuesday (Dec. 2), county health officials announced at a briefing on Wednesday. The plan describes how the county will engage with the community and work with health-care partners to distribute the vaccine.

As will be the case nationwide, the county will receive a limited amount of vaccine initially, and those doses will be given to health-care workers on the front lines — per federal guidelines. Vaccines are not expected to be widely available to the general public until next spring, most experts believe.

“It might take many months before anyone who is interested in getting a vaccine is able to get one,” said Dr. Jennifer Tong, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

Currently, two vaccine manufacturers — Pfizer and Moderna — have submitted for emergency use authorization to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. If approved, vaccines could begin rolling out by mid-December.

Tong declined to pinpoint exactly how many doses the county will receive because the number could fluctuate after FDA approves the different vaccines. California is expected to receive 327,000 doses in the next few weeks from Pfizer, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a briefing earlier this week.

The vaccine manufacturers will send doses for county-operated hospitals to the county. Healthcare providers that cover multiple counties, such as Kaiser, will be given the doses directly from the manufacturer.

The Pfizer vaccine, expected to be the first to be distributed upon approval, requires storage at extremely cold temperatures. Only certain sites approved by the state or county to handle those “complex logistics” will be given that vaccine.

- Eric He


Monday, Nov. 30: Another stay-at-home Order possible for certain regions, governor says

Certain regions of California, including the Bay Area, could be subject to another stay-at-home order soon amid an alarming spread of COVID-19 cases across the state, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced during a briefing on Monday (Nov. 30).

Newsom presented a dire message regarding COVID-19 hospitalizations, with projections that the state could run out of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds by Christmas. The Bay Area currently has 72% occupancy of its ICU beds, but is projected to be 91% full by Dec. 24. By early January, ICU capacity is projected to be met.

The governor stressed that the data contains projections assuming that nothing is done to mitigate the concerning upward trend in cases and hospitalizations. If that is the case, Newsom said that he would potentially issue a stay-at-home order for regions in the strictest purple tier in the state’s COVID-19 blueprint with concerning hospitalizations and ICU capacity.

Santa Clara County, which imposed stringent restrictions on businesses, travel and sports that began Monday, is one of the 51 counties in the state currently in the purple tier. The county had been among the first to issue a stay-at-home order during the onset of the pandemic in March. As the current surge has been occuring, county officials have stopped short of issuing a second stay-at-home order so far, but have asked that residents stay in their homes as much as possible.

-Eric He


Saturday, Nov. 28: County imposes stringent business, travel restrictions amid record daily case Count

Santa Clara County public health officials stopped short of issuing a second shelter-in-place order, but imposed additional restrictions on Saturday (Nov. 28) as COVID-19 cases continue to surge at an alarming rate. The county had 760 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday and 239 total hospitalizations due to COVID-19 — both numbers shattering records.

Beginning Monday, the county will impose restrictions on indoor businesses, sports and travel. People who travel into the county from more than 150 miles away will be required to quarantine for 14 days. Contact sports will be temporarily prohibited, meaning professional and collegiate teams based in the county like the San Francisco 49ers will not be able to play at their home stadiums.

Stores will be limited to 10% capacity indoors, though essential services like grocery stores, drug stores and pharmacies will be allowed 25% indoor capacity. The businesses will be required to have a “metering system” to track the number of people inside the building.

“This pandemic is like a high speed train, and our projections tell us that we are on target to derail by around the third week of December if we don’t apply brakes right now with all our collective might,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer.

These are the strictest public health orders since the county issued a shelter-in-place order in March, and Cody said that the recent surge in hospitalizations was the main reason behind the decision. Hospitalizations in the county from COVID-19 have more than doubled in the last two weeks. There are just 72 remaining Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds left in county hospitals and the seven-day average of available bed capacity has dipped to 18%.

The county’s current hospitalization projections do not account for cases of the flu, which typically spike during this time of year. The projections also don’t factor in an anticipated post-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 cases.

The county’s seven-day rolling average of new daily cases is up to 405. That number had hovered below 100 as recently as October.

“We do not ask people to take these measures lightly. We do not put these restrictions on businesses lightly,” Cody said. “These are extraordinary, extraordinary decisions. But it is a matter of life and death and we must slow this train or we might derail.”

-Eric He


 

Tuesday, Nov. 24: County to Step Up Enforcement over Thanksgiving Weekend

Santa Clara County will step up its enforcement of COVID-19 protocols over Thanksgiving weekend by conducting additional inspections of businesses and getting rid of a grace period for fines.

The county will “enhance” business compliance efforts over the break, according to a press release on Tuesday (Nov. 24).

“Additional compliance staff will be visiting high traffic shopping areas to look out for the public’s safety,” the release stated.

Additionally, fines for businesses found in violation of protocols will not have a grace period. Prior to Thanksgiving, the county has allowed for businesses who fix their compliance issues to have their fees waved. The fines can amount to $250 or higher.

The county’s update comes as both cases and hospitalizations continue to rise at an alarming rate. Santa Clara County reported 512 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the first time the daily case rate has topped 500. Available hospital bed capacity is down to 29% and 197 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized. The number of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds available is down to 68.

In a briefing on Wednesday, county officials made a final plea for residents to avoid gathering over Thanksgiving, expressing deep concern over dwindling hospital capacity.

"For Thanksgiving, we are urging all residents: Do not have gatherings, and do not travel. Period," said county counsel James Williams. "I know that can be difficult. We know it’s been a long time. But right now is a critical moment." 

-Eric He


 

Friday, Nov 20: Los Altos Police to encourage 'voluntary compliance' of Curfew

Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea told the Town Crier that the police department will encourage voluntary compliance of the state's curfew order beginning Saturday (Nov. 21), and document and refer anyone in “willful disregard” of existing health orders to the county. Santa Clara County and most of California will be under a month-long curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Saturday.

“We have been fortunate that the majority of the community has been receptive to the various heath orders over the past several months,” Galea said.

Santa Clara County reported 407 new COVID-19 cases on Friday. Its seven-day average of new daily cases has risen to 294. Across the state, case rates increased by approximately 50% during the first week of November. From Nov. 12 to Nov. 19, the number of hospitalizations also increased by more than 50%. At the current rate, county hospitals would exceed capacity in three weeks. 

-Eric He


Thursday, Nov. 19: State orders curfew for Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County will be under a curfew beginning Saturday night as COVID-19 cases soar across the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday (Nov. 19).

The curfew, which will be from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and applicable to counties in the purple tier of the state's COVID-19 blueprint, begins Saturday and is expected to last a month. In a tweet, Newsom said that “non-essential work and gatherings must stop” during that time period.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a press release. “It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges. We’ve done it before and we must do it again.”

Approximately 94% of Californians are on track to be placed under the curfew, given that more than 40 counties are currently in the purple tier. The state called it a “limited Stay at Home Order,” and said that activities that are done between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. are “often non-essential and more likely related to social gatherings” that lead to a higher risk of transmission.

Santa Clara County reported 345 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday. Its seven-day average of new daily cases has risen to 265. Across the state, case rates increased by approximately 50% during the first week of November.-

-Eric He 


Monday, Nov. 16: County Jumps Back To Most restrictive Tier

Santa Clara County, along with 28 other counties across California, moved into the most restrictive, purple tier in the state’s COVID-19 framework Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced.

The county jumped two tiers, from “moderate” to “widespread.” The move closes off indoor activities such as dining and gyms, and limits capacity in retail stores. Newsom said he was considering a statewide curfew.

The directive also prohibits indoor gatherings as holiday season approaches. County officials strongly discouraged travel outside of the Bay Area for any reason.

“We need every single person living and working in our county to take this extremely seriously,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer, Monday.

The announcement comes as the county is experiencing its most severe surge in COVID-19 cases since the summer. The county is tracking twice the average number of new cases per day as in early October. After reporting its second-highest single-day new-case total earlier last week at 358, the county topped that with 388 new cases Monday – believed to be the most new cases reported in a single day. There are 145 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, up from an average of 80 in October.

Los Altos has recorded 163 COVID-19 cases among residents since the start of the pandemic.

- Eric He


Friday, Nov. 13: County to Fall Back INto Red Tier, Close Indoor Dining

Santa Clara County plans to close indoor dining starting Tuesday and is expected to move into the more restrictive red, “substantial,” tier in the state’s COVID-19 framework, county officials announced Friday (Nov. 13). The county also expects to be moved further into the most restrictive purple, “widespread,” tier within the next few weeks if current case trends continue.

Additionally, under the red tier, fitness centers will be limited to 10% capacity. Outdoor bars, bowling alleys and indoor family entertainment centers will close. Retail stores will be limited to 50% capacity.

The announcement comes as the county is experiencing its most severe surge in COVID-19 cases since the summer. The county is tracking twice the average number of new cases per day as early October. After reporting its second-highest single day new-case total earlier in the week at 358, the county topped that with 362 new cases Friday. There are 110 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, up from an average of 80 in October.

The news comes as the holiday season approaches, and health officials worry about large gatherings with people from different households congregating and spreading the coronavirus.

“Similar to March, we may need to take additional restrictions quickly,” county public health officer Dr. Sara Cody said.

Cody expressed concern about the steep rise in the county’s seven-day average of new cases. After hovering around 100 or lower per day as recently as last month, Santa Clara County’s seven-day average has shot up to 194 cases per day as of Friday. 

The county reluctantly reopened indoor dining in mid-October because it had moved ahead to the orange, “moderate,” tier in the state’s framework. But cases have surged dramatically over the past month.

“In October, the seven-day rolling average was rising, but it was rising slowly,” Cody said. “What’s very worrisome is, right now, the rate of rise is very fast.”

-Eric He


Tuesday, Nov. 10: County In Danger of Falling Back Into Red Tier 

Santa Clara County remained in the orange, “moderate” tier in the state’s COVID-19 blueprint on Tuesday (Nov. 10), avoiding the fate of 11 other counties which fell back a tier amid rising case counts across the state and the country.

However, if cases continue to trend up in the county for the next week, a move back to the red, “substantial” tier appears likely. Currently, Santa Clara County’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 people is 4.1, which is above the 4.0 threshold needed to stay in the “moderate” tier. The county has been in the orange tier since mid-October, but case counts are surging back to summer levels.

Counties who have their metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks are assigned a more restrictive tier under the state’s guidelines. If the county were to move back into the red tier, that would mean the closure of some non-essential businesses and likely the rolling back of indoor dining privileges for restaurants — which would be problematic given the cold weather as winter approaches.

In the Bay Area, Santa Cruz and Contra Costa counties moved from orange back to red this week. More could be coming. California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said during a briefing that the state expects for over half of the counties to move into a more restrictive tier by the end of next week.

No county moved ahead into a less restrictive tier this week for the first time.

-Eric He


 

Monday, Nov. 9: County Warns of New UPtick in COVID-19 Cases

Santa Clara County officials warned of a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases in a press conference Monday (Nov. 9), as the county begins to trend in a similar direction to the rest of the country, where daily case totals are rising to record numbers.

The county reported its second-highest single-day total of COVID-19 cases Sunday, with 358 people diagnosed. Most of the positive cases are from samples collected in the past week, according to county officials. More than 100 people were hospitalized over the weekend, and the number of hospitalizations Sunday increased by nearly 10%.

Daily case counts had dropped in recent months since the summer surge to below 100, but last week, the seven-day average of news cases rose to between 131 and 139.

Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer, was blunt: What started as a slow trend upward in the beginning of October is accelerating.

“It is no longer a drift,” she said. “Our cases are surging up. And that is cause for concern.”

Nationally, the virus is spiraling. The U.S. set several record totals last week in daily new cases, with numbers upward of 120,000 a day.

Cody said case totals are rising in younger adults, specifically between the ages of 25 and 29. She reiterated that with Thanksgiving approaching, it is important for families to avoid the impulse to host large gatherings outside of immediate household members. The county is currently in the “moderate,” orange tier of the state’s COVID-19 blueprint, but Cody warned that it could move up to more restrictive tiers if the numbers continue to climb.

“All of us have been worrying about COVID for a very long time,” she said. “We got a head start on worrying here in Santa Clara County. … And people are tired. We hear you. We understand you’re tired. And you still have to keep it up. There is an end in sight. It’s just not next month or the month after that.”

-Eric He

Monday, Nov. 2: County Surpasses 1 million COVID-19 tests conducted

Santa Clara County has surpassed the 1 million mark in COVID-19 tests conducted, according to a press release on Monday (Nov. 2).

The seven-day average test positivity rate continues to hold at under 2%, and the average turnaround time at 1.5%. Around 30% of tests have been conducted by the county’s health system and the remaining by private healthcare systems and the state.

“This shows the exemplary commitment from our community to confront COVID-19,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s COVID-19 Testing Officer in the press release. “We are all in this together and it is important that all essential and frontline workers continue to be tested regularly.”

-Eric He


 

Tuesday, Oct. 20: County pushes back against Allowing fans at Sporting Events

Santa Clara County strongly pushed back against updated state guidance on Tuesday (Oct. 20) that allows for fans to attend professional sporting events and theme parks to reopen. The new guidance said that counties in the orange tier of the state’s COVID-19 blueprint could fill stadiums to 20% capacity and theme parks at 25% capacity or 500 people.

The county almost immediately shut down both guidances, writing in a press release within hours that “audiences at professional sporting events will not be allowed anytime soon in Santa Clara County, and theme parks will not resume operation.”

County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith said in a press conference on Tuesday that fans attending sporting events would constitute “super spreader events.” The San Francisco 49ers, who play at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, would be allowed to have 13,700 fans at 20% capacity, and the San Jose Earthquakes would be able to have 3,600 fans at Avaya Stadium.

Smith believed that the state allowing people from a 150-mile radius to purchase tickets means that fans from areas with much higher positivity rates for COVID-19 than Santa Clara County would be mingling with residents of the county.

“No question this is dangerous,” Smith said. “This is the worst thing in the world to be doing.”

Smith, speaking for county public health officer Dr. Sara Cody, said that Cody makes decisions based on science and expertise, and the science doesn’t support the concept of large congregations of individuals. According to Smith, Cody attempted to lobby the state against the updated guidance. Smith could not clarify the state’s guidance because “it doesn’t make sense” to him.

“Basically, they’re putting lives at risk,” Smith said. “People who think that they’re safe are going to be at risk. People who attend the games will be at risk. We haven’t even opened schools. We are still worried about businesses being able to survive. It makes no sense whatsoever to have audiences at stadiums.”

Santa Clara County has been among the most stringent in COVID-19 restrictions, and for the most part it has paid off. The county moved into the orange, “moderate” tier earlier this month but it has continued to caution residents, especially as more high-risk activities like indoor dining have been allowed to take place.

-Eric He


Tuesday, Oct. 13: County to move into orange tier, allow indoor dining and gatherings

Santa Clara County will shift into the orange, “moderate” tier in the state’s COVID-19 tier system for counties on Wednesday (Oct. 14), allowing indoor dining and gatherings for the first time since shelter-in-place orders were issued in March.

Strict limitations will apply to the two activities, more stringent than what the state allows under the orange tier. Both indoor dining and gatherings are capped at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

As of Tuesday, the county had a positivity rate of 1.7%, lower than the 5% required. It also had an adjusted case rate per 100,000 residents of 3.7, below the benchmark of 3.9. And it had a health equity metric of 3.8%, meeting the state’s new criteria for the most disadvantaged quartile of residents.

All businesses must submit an updated social distancing protocol within 14 days. The county counsel, James Williams, said during a press conference on Tuesday that officials will be enforcing restrictions on indoor dining. In a press release, the county warned that just because additional indoor activities are now allowed “should not be construed as implying such activities are safe.”

“We are very concerned, to be honest, about what might happen with opening indoor dining,” Williams said. “Folks generally should think hard about indoor dining."

Dr. Sara Cody, the county health officer, when pressed about whether she would personally be willing to dine indoors, said that she would not because people in her household are in a high-risk group for COVID-19.

“Any indoor activity where you have to remove a face covering is going to increase your risk,” Cody said. “Anyone who is in a higher risk group or who is in a household with someone in a higher risk group: We strongly discourage higher-risk activity like indoor dining.”

Cody called the move into the orange tier “hard fought.” Santa Clara County is the largest county in the state to move into the orange tier since the state revamped its COVID-19 county monitoring system last month.

What that says is we have been working extraordinarily hard in our county for a long time,” Cody said. “We were a bit stricter than many jurisdictions. Now, that is paying off.”

-Eric He


Wednesday, Oct. 5: County would allow indoor dining, gatherings If It Moves Into Next Tier

Santa Clara County announced on Monday (Oct. 5) that when it moves into the orange, “moderate” tier in the state’s new COVID-19 tier system for counties, restaurants can open indoors and indoor gatherings will be allowed.

The earliest the county can move ahead from the red, “substantial” tier is next Tuesday, Oct. 13. This would mean that the county would anticipate falling below 3.9 daily new cases per day, per 100,000 residents. Currently, the county is currently at an adjusted case rate of 4.7 new daily cases, putting it in the “substantial” tier. Its 2.4% positivity rate is well into the “moderate” tier.

Though more indoor operations will be allowed if the county moves ahead, there are still additional county-wide restrictions. Indoor gatherings will be limited to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Indoor dining will be permitted up to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 200 people.

“We haven’t always been so aligned with our neighbors and even with the state health system,” said Dave Cortese, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in a press conference. “Today is a huge leap forward in that regard, which I think creates clarity, certainty and some level of good simplicity for those who are doing their best to follow the rules.”

County public health officer Sara Cody called a move into the next tier a “very significant easing of restrictions,” and warned that just because the county might soon open up more doesn’t mean residents should relax their guard.

“We can get into trouble very fast,” Cody said. “It takes a very long time to get ourselves out of trouble, so we must continue to be cautious.”

- Eric He


Wednesday, September 30: Turnaround time for test results decreasing

The turnaround time for COVID-19 test results to be reported in Santa Clara County has been steady at around two days for the past week, a decline from when the time frame was above four days in mid-September.

The shift comes two weeks after the county issued an amended order asking healthcare providers to expand testing and quicken the turnaround time for results.

In a briefing on Wednesday (Sept. 30), county officials continued to push for private healthcare systems to increase testing. Santa Clara County remains in the red, “substantial” tier this week in the state’s new monitoring system because its case rate per 100,000 people is above the minimum requirement to move ahead to the orange, “moderate” tier. The county’s rate is currently at 4.7, and needs to drop to 3.9 for a new tier assignment.

The county’s positivity rate is at 2.4%, which is squarely in the “orange” tier — but the stricter requirement stands for tier assignment.

Eric He

Wednesday, September 16: County Orders healthcare providers to expand testing

Santa Clara County issued an amended testing order on Wednesday (Sept. 16), urging the county’s large private healthcare providers to expand COVID-19 testing to the public.

In a press conference, various county public officials along with public health director Dr. Sara Cody and county counsel James Williams called on healthcare providers such as Kaiser Permanente, HCA Healthcare and Sutter Palo Alto Medical Foundation to increase their testing. The amended order requires the providers to offer testing to those who are symptomatic or who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, along with all essential workers.

If providers are found to be in violation of the order — for instance denying access to a test to a person who is entitled to a test — the county can levy a fine of up to $5,000 per instance. The county is also asking that providers turn around test results within three business days.

Multiple mayors along with County Supervisor Joe Simitian expressed concern with Kaiser’s lagging testing numbers. From Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, Kaiser — one of the largest private healthcare providers in the country — conducted 4,261 tests compared to 13,072 by the county’s health system.

“They have 600,000 lives for which they are responsible in Santa Clara County,” Simitian said. “My expectation is that they will step up and comply with the public health order.”

Los Altos Mayor Jan Pepper echoed the county’s directive, pointing out that El Camino Hospital will offer free pop-up testing in Los Altos next week.

“I hope all health care providers step up to keep all of us healthy and safe by providing easy access to testing and rapid results,” Pepper said.

-Eric He


Tuesday, September 8: County moves ahead into red Tier

Santa Clara County moved into the “red” tier on the state’s new COVID-19 framework on Tuesday (Sept. 8), allowing certain businesses to open or expand services, though indoor dining, movie theaters and gatherings are still prohibited.

Under the “red” or “substantial” tier, schools in the county will be allowed to reopen if it remains in the tier for 14 days. Personal care services, museums, zoos, aquariums and gyms and fitness centers are also allowed to open with modifications or limited capacity. Shopping malls, previously allowed to open indoors at 25% capacity, can now expand to 50% capacity.

The county was placed in the most restrictive tier last week when the state unveiled its new framework for reopening the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was allowed to move up based on the amount of testing done by the county along with daily case rates and test positivity. As of Tuesday, the county stood at an adjusted daily new case rate of 6.9 per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of 3.5%. Counties must stay under a daily new case rate of seven per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of 8% to stay in the “substantial” tier. It is possible for the county to slide back into the most restrictive tier if the daily case rate increases this week. The county must remain in the red tier for three weeks before it can move ahead to the next tier, the “moderate” category.

In a press conference on Tuesday, county officials warned that the gradual reopening process will likely lead to additional cases and that the situation is fluid. The county is averaging 176 new cases a day over the last week.

“COVID-19 is still here,” said Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, the county’s COVID-19 testing officer. “It hasn’t gone away. The fact that we moved into the red tier doesn’t change the fact that we still have to be vigilant. We still have to wear our masks. We still have to socially distance ourselves.”

-Eric He


Wednesday, September 2: Man Arrested for threats against Dr. Cody

A Gilroy man was arrested last week for making threats against Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. Alan Viarengo, 55, was arrested on Aug. 27 on charges of felony stalking and threatening a public official. According to police, Viarengo sent 24 letters to Cody, each one “becoming increasingly aggressive, offensive and threatening.”

After searching his residence, detectives found 138 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition and explosive materials. Officials believe that Viarengo is associated with the “Boogaloo” movement, a far-right, anti-government extremist movement.

Cody, who has been at the forefront of issuing county directives and orders to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic since March, has been protected by a 24-hour security detail by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office after she began receiving threatening communication via letters, emails and phone calls.

- Eric He


 

Friday, August 28: State updates Reopening Guidelines

The state announced updated guidelines for counties to reopen businesses on Friday (Aug. 28), creating a four-tier system based on the number of new cases and percentage of positive tests. The color-coded tiers range from “minimal” to “widespread.”

Santa Clara County is in the “widespread” category, meaning it has more than seven new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and the positivity rate is higher than 8%. Counties can only move ahead to the next less restrictive tier after they remain in a tier for at least three weeks, and they meet the criteria for the next tier for two weeks after that. So, it will be at least five weeks before the county can move into the “substantial” category.

However, the state lessened some restrictions for counties in the “widespread” tier, opening up retail and shopping centers at 25% capacity and allowing hair salons and barbershops to open indoors beginning Aug. 31.

The new guidelines, deemed the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” replaces the state’s County Data Monitoring List as the method for determining reopening status.

The state’s new website can be found here.

-Eric He


WEDNESDAY, august 26: County pushes back against stunning cdc guidance change on testing

Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody strongly pushed back against a sudden change in CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19 testing during a press briefing on Wednesday (Aug. 26). The stunning reversal indicates that people without symptoms of the coronavirus do not need to get tested, even if they were exposed to someone who has COVID-19.

Cody reiterated that the county’s guidance is clear and remains unchanged: Anybody displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested right away, and those who have been in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus should “absolutely” be tested.

“When I first heard about this change in guidelines, I didn’t entirely believe it, for it seemed entirely bizarre in that it undercuts our very basic tenets for how we control an infective disease,” Cody said. “Testing and having individuals know their status is foundational to our ability to control an infective disease.”

Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, the county’s COVID-19 testing officer, added that he believes the change in guidance is coming not from the CDC directly, but instead from the White House. President Donald Trump has publicly lamented how more testing leads to more cases of COVID-19 and has called testing a “double-edged sword.”

“They are totally misdirected,” Fenstersheib said. “Failing to test is not going to end this pandemic. Failing to test will not make the virus go away. Lacking a strong testing program nationally has been one of the largest failures of the federal government. We will not change our guidance because of this.”

-Eric He


Tuesday, august 25: Health secretary urges COVID-19 precautions amid wildfire evacuations

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly warned during a Tuesday (Aug. 25) briefing of a two-pronged issue in the state, as thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes due to wildfires during an ongoing pandemic.

Ghaly assured those who must evacuate to follow the directives, and to do their best to remain vigilant of social distancing. Evacuation shelters have protocols in place to check for COVID-19 symptoms.

“If you are staying with a family member or a friend who you haven’t seen in some time, follow as many of our precautions as you possibly can,” Ghaly said.

The precautions include visitors having a room or a bathroom to themselves if possible, and wearing masks indoors when around people they have not seen in awhile.

Ghaly added that regular face coverings — which are recommended to protect against COVID-19 — are insufficient to when it comes to protection from smoke inhalation due to wildfires, and that those close to wildfires should wear N-95 masks. Ghaly advised those around wildfires to stay home as much as possible, keeping doors and windows shut.

Overall, Ghaly said recent COVID-19 figures for the state are trending in a positive direction. Over the last week, 5.7 percent of COVID-19 tests in California have come back positive.

“Now, we’re telling many folks who haven’t left their home for months, who are worried about exposure to COVID that it’s safer to leave than to stay,” Ghaly said. “The risk of fire is a very temporary one, albeit a serious one. We can mitigate the COVID-19 risks with your cooperation. Please heed to those directions to evacuate.”

-Eric He


wednesday, august 12: COunty to extend eviction moratorium

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted on Tuesday to approve an extension on an eviction moratorium beyond Aug. 31. The extension will apply to tenants unable to pay rent due to unemployment or wage reductions, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The moratorium was set to expire at the end of the month. The new expiration date won’t be decided until the board’s next meeting on Aug. 25. A recent report by Working Partnerships USA and Law Foundation of Silicon Valley found that over 43,000 renters in Santa Clara County are in danger of being evicted, which is 16 times the usual number of evictions per year. This could lead to an increase in homelessness in the region of as high as 225%, according to the report.

At the next meeting, the board is expected to discuss more protections for tenants and penalties for landlords in violation of the moratorium.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented event that took everyone by surprise,” said Jeremy Avila, deputy county counsel for Santa Clara County in Facebook Live county briefing today. “The purpose of the eviction moratorium here locally is to meet the economic needs of tenants and small business owners. We know they are going to be struggling. We know they are continuing to struggle. So the goal of the ordinance is to prevent homelessness, displacement and loss of businesses that are vital to the fabric of our community.”

-Eric He


Monday, August 10: COunty expects uptick in reported cases as state resolves data issue

Santa Clara County reported 751 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, which it attributes to a backlog of data that was not processed over the last few weeks. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a briefing today that the data issue with the state’s CalREDIE system, leading to an underreporting of cases, had been resolved.

In a press release, the county said it expects a large number of cases to be reported over the next few days. The majority of the 751 cases reported on Monday are from last week, but some stretch as far back as July 8.

On Sunday, Dr. Sonia Angell, California’s top public health official, resigned days following the state’s acknowledgment of the data issue — though no official reason was given for her departure.

– Eric He


wednesday, August 5: cody says 'we're back to feeling blind'

In a press conference on Wednesday, Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody lamented the statewide technical issues that have led to incomplete data being submitted regarding the number of COVID-19 cases.

Cody expects for the case count to go up after the complete data is processed. Until then, she said it feels like the county is back in February and March when there wasn’t enough testing.

“We’re back to feeling blind,” Cody said. “We don’t know how the epidemic is trending. We don’t know where it’s heading, how fast it’s growing.”

Cody added that the county has offered to assist the state as it fixes the technical issues. The state is still diagnosing the problem, which appears to involve electronic lab results not being routed properly into the state’s system, according to Cody.

The health officer did present a graph indicating that hospitalizations have plateaued county-wide in recent weeks, which to her is “reassuring.”

Cody reiterated that COVID-19 is still spreading and that rates are increasing for people under 35 and in Latinx communities. If the updated data indicates a spike in the number of cases, Cody said that the county may impose stricter controls, as it did back in March.

– Eric He


tuesday, August 4: county's data labeled 'incomplete'

The current data listed on Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 dashboard is incomplete due to a “significant and unresolved problem” with the state’s reporting system. The county added a statement to the dashboard on Tuesday afternoon and highlighted most of its specific data sets with the disclaimer “recent data are incomplete.”

The revelation sparks concern that the number of cases county and state-wide might be underreported. At a briefing on Tuesday, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly warned of the technical issues affecting data. Just yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that there had been a 21% decline in the positive infection rate from the past seven days compared to the previous week’s average.

On Tuesday, Santa Clara County reported 240 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death. The county had passed 10,000 total cases over the weekend. However, because the county has received incomplete information regarding test results, it is “impossible for State and local health officials to identify the extent to which COVID-19 is circulating in the community,” the statement read.

The county added that the data collected so far is “valid, but incomplete” and to expect for numbers regarding positivity rate and case counts to change as the issue is fixed.

– Eric He


Monday, August 3: case count soars over the weekend 

Santa Clara County reported 723 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, including a record high 410 cases on Saturday (August 1). An additional 185 cases were reported on Monday (August 3), though there have been no deaths since Friday. The county also passed a grim total on Saturday, surpassing 10,000 coronavirus cases since the beginning of the outbreak.

Last Friday (July 31), four Costco locations in the county reported outbreaks of COVID-19. The store in Mountain View had four cases between July 15 and July 29. A total of 31 Costco employees have tested positive in the county. The stores, however, remain open.

In a briefing on Monday, the county reiterated its guidelines for workplaces that have employees who test positive for COVID-19. Employees should immediately notify their employer, who should then tell the county. Then, the process of contact tracing starts, and other employees who have been in contact with the infected employee must also be isolated and tested.

“COVID isn't going anywhere,” said public information officer Todd Naffziger. “It’s living within our workplaces.”

– Eric He

For more information on county resources, visit sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/home.aspx.


To read the Town Crier’s coverage of the shelter-in-place revisions, click here.

Want to read coverage of the early days of the shut-down? See more of our reporting at COVID-19 updates for May and June: testing and preparing for summerCOVID-19 Updates for April 1-15: The early days of 'shelter-in-place' andCOVID-19 updates for April 16 - May 1: extending the shut-down

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