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Regionwide order extended to slow coronavirus crisis

Valley Health and Acupuncture
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
A sign in the window of Valley Health and Acupuncture on Castro Street in Mountain View assures passersby the business is adhering to coronavirus cleanliness guidelines.

The six-county shelter-in-place order enacted March 17 to combat the coronavirus is working to combat spread of the disease, but it’s not enough, according to Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody, who presided over a press briefing Tuesday (March 31).

Cody and health officers from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo counties as well as the city of Berkeley extended their stay-at-home directive from April 7 to May 3 and added new restrictions for residents and businesses. The updated order is more constrictive than the first.

Health authorities acted largely in response to an increase in diagnosed coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the original order. Cody said on the day they announced the initial order, March 16 – “what feels like about a year ago” – there were 138 cases; today the total rests at 890. There were three deaths, and now there are 30. The spread is putting a strain on health-care resources.

The outbreak is predicted to escalate, and health-care agencies need time to plan for a likely – or, as Santa Clara County chief executive Dr. Jeff Smith described it, “inevitable” – surge of patients flooding into hospitals across the county. To give health-care workers and facilities a fighting chance, the county must implement more thorough social distancing guidelines.

“Our overarching goal is to decrease to the greatest extent possible the average number of contacts each of us has with each other every day,” Cody said. “Every unnecessary contact with another increases the chance of spreading the virus from one person to another. Every revision (to the order) is guided by that (goal).”

Although preliminary statistics reveal that residents’ commitment to sheltering in place may be “bending the curve” of the coronavirus, Cody noted that Santa Clara County is still the epicenter of the pandemic in the Bay Area.

The health officers believe the county’s demand curve, or the number of people requiring hospitalization and intensive care, is too high in comparison to its supply of beds and personal protective equipment. Health-care workers must be able to care for all patients, whether they have coronavirus-related symptoms or another illness, in the way they deserve. The demand is not “nestled” underneath the supply, an achievement Cody said she and her team must see before lifting the shelter-in-place order.

Important takeaways

Santa Clara County counsel James Williams outlined key changes to the order at the briefing, set to take effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. The new order complements Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 19 statewide directive.

• Playgrounds, dog parks, sport courts, pools, rock walls and other recreational areas are now fully closed to the public.

• Sports requiring people to share equipment can be played only between members of the same household.

• Construction, both residential and commercial, is prohibited with few exceptions. Most exceptions revolve around whether or not the facility being constructed will provide essential infrastructure or is designed to carry out an essential government function. Also permitted is construction on affordable housing projects or projects that give aid to homeless and/or vulnerable populations.

The city of Los Altos has been preparing for a site shutdown at the under-construction Los Altos Community Center. Although the project was on schedule to wrap up in December, city management fellow Trevor Marsden said Tuesday that staff decided in a meeting that afternoon to halt all construction for the time being. A statement is expected to go out to the public soon.

• Essential businesses that have remained open through the shelter-in-place order, such as restaurants and grocery stores, are required to operate only the arms of their businesses deemed essential and develop a social distancing protocol by Friday (April 3). The protocol, required to be completed, posted and implemented within the next 72 hours, can be modeled off a template on the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department website at bit.ly/2WXu5p9.

Enforcement

The vast majority of local residents are following the shelter-in-place order, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said, and by doing so, they are saving lives in a way the county likely will never be able to measure.

“Your good deed, your sacrifice, your civic duty, will be measured in lives,” the Los Altos resident said. “Someone’s grandfather, someone’s mother, someone’s child will survive this pandemic because you’ve done the right thing.”

Rosen said the county set up a hotline and website where residents can report violations of the order. In the past week, the District Attorney’s Office fielded approximately 2,000 reports that investigators and prosecutors followed up on. In nearly all cases, a call from a representative of his office resolved the violation. With a small group, it may take a visit from a police officer.

Beyond a call from the District Attorney’s Office or a visit from a local cop, business owners who continue to break the law could lose their licenses, be subjected to penalties for unfair business practice (including punitive damages), or be charged with a misdemeanor.

In Los Altos, incident data provided by the police department confirms Rosen’s assertion: Most city residents and business owners are complying with the restrictions. As of Tuesday afternoon, the department had received 21 calls related to the health order. Only four of those calls resulted in warnings; the rest were either resolved without a report or were the result of residents asking for clarification on the order.

Nine calls reported people gathering in groups, six reported people playing games with shared equipment or using closed playground equipment and three reported people congregating or loitering around local businesses. Three callers complained about businesses operating outside their “essential” responsibilities, specifically landscaping, which is allowed only minimally to maintain fire safety.

To read the updated order, visit bit.ly/3aBDWVq.

Owners of essential businesses who are preparing a social distancing plan they wish to share with Town Crier readers can email Melissa at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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