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COVID-19 Live Blog: County orders healthcare providers to expand testing

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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, 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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