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Live blog: Today's SCC Public Health Dept. briefing in a nutshell

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The County of Santa Clara Department of Public Health will provide briefings on the coronavirus pandemic 10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through the department’s Facebook account. The Town Crier will maintain a live blog detailing the highlights of each session. To watch the Facebook live briefings, visit facebook.com/sccpublichealth.

This will be the last entry for the foreseeable future.

Monday, June 15: covid-19 and the 2020 census 

COVID-19: 2020 Census:Why Being Counted Matters | 2020-06-15

Today, the County’s 2020 Census program talks about the importance of census, how to participate, how to assist and how your participation is beneficial in assisting the County prepare for future emergencies. Join us Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on Facebook Live at 10AM PST for the latest information on COVID-19. Full transcripts will be provided and linked here later in the day. *Our panel participants take off their face coverings to allow ASL translators to better follow the conversation. The public is encouraged to keep on their face coverings when conducting essential activity outside of the home

Posted by County of Santa Clara Public Health Department on Monday, June 15, 2020

During today’s Facebook Live briefing, Monica Tong of the Santa Clara County 2020 census program and public information officer Marianna Moles highlighted the importance of this year’s census count and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected it.

As soon as Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody and her counterparts around the Bay Area instituted the first shelter-in-place order, the census program took its outreach digital in an effort to protect residents’ physical health while carrying out their mission.

Even with a heavy focus on the virus, Tong said outreach teams – who have an extended Oct. 31 deadline to promote census participation – are encouraged by the initial response. A total of 70.5% of Santa Clara County residents have filled out their census forms, putting the county in second place in the state for information gathering to date. More than 490,000 households have been counted, Tong said, but work remains. Census Day was April 1, but it’s possible to provide details on paper forms, over the phone or online for several more months.

“It’s important everyone participates because we need to ensure our fair share of funding, but also ensure political representation in Congress and local aid,” Tong said.

All members of a household, including children from newborn to age 5, should be listed on the census form. Children were among the most underrepresented groups in the 2010 census. Forms can be submitted as an individual or a family, whichever is easier, Tong said.

Personal information included in the U.S. Census Bureau questionnaires is protected by law, Tong said, noting that it is never shared with other agencies and the only details that go public involve the demographics and statistics of a neighborhood, or a census tract. For example, anyone interested can find out in 2021 the general percentage of people living in an area who are 0-18 years old. No questions about citizenship are included in the 2020 census, but the census is still evolving, as the gender question remains binary, Tong said. For the first time in history, it is possible to mark someone’s relationship as a same-sex partner.

“We want to make it more inclusive in 2030,” she said of the census, conducted every 10 years. “One of our key phrases is, ‘It takes 10 minutes for 10 years of impact in your community.’”

To participate in the census, call (844) 330-2020 or visit my2020census.gov.

– Melissa Hartman


FRIDAY, JUNE 12: WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT COVID-19 TESTING 

Santa Clara County public information officers Larry Little and Maribel Martinez at today’s Facebook Live briefing answered residents’ questions about free coronavirus testing.

The county’s public health department is working with health-care providers and nonprofit organizations to establish community testing sites – both drive-thru and walk-in at converted community spaces or pop-up mobile sites. Those with health-care providers can call their doctor to schedule a testing appointment at their designated hospital or clinic, Martinez said. It is no longer required to be symptomatic to get tested.

Some locations require an appointment and others don’t, so it’s best to check the map at sccfreetest.org, Martinez advised.

The testing process in the county has changed, making it more comfortable for the person being tested. Previously, a health-care worker inserted a long swab to the back of the nostril and wiggled it around to collect a sample; now, a swab is swirled a few centimeters into the nose for a few seconds. Anyone who is tested is required to fill out a demographic form and give basic information so that testing staff can call or email results, as well as a consent form that allows the county to perform the test.

Martinez said it takes approximately three days to receive results, depending on the site.

According to Little, many residents have complained that the testing hours are not conducive to their work schedules. He suggested asking a supervisor to take time off for testing or continue to check the testing website, as county health officials are working to add evening and Saturday hours at as many sites as possible.

Anyone with questions on testing can call the Santa Clara County Resource and Referral Line at 211. Those who don’t have a health-care provider but are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should call the Valley Connection Line at (888) 334-1000 for guidance.

To date, more than 96,000 residents and workers in the county have been tested for the virus, with 3,063, or 3.2%, testing positive. Mountain View has recorded 70 cases, Los Altos a total of 25 and Los Altos Hills fewer than 11.

For more information on the county’s COVID-19 resources, visit bit.ly/2UDRb1W.

– Melissa Hartman


WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10: ACTIVITIES FOR A SUMMER OF COVID-19 RECOVERY 

Psychosocial occupational therapists Farina Ahmed and Laura Seidel joined Santa Clara County health care program manager Lidia Bueno at today’s Facebook Live briefing to discuss activities parents can introduce in their children’s schedules now that summer under quarantine has begun.

The county’s shelter-in-place orders have caused social isolation for kids and increased stress for their caregivers, Bueno acknowledged. Ahmed provided three basic tips to parents during this “time of crisis”: Aim to spend one-on-one time with each child every day, make sure they are practicing self-care to be better caregivers and establish a routine for the family that gives children the stability they need – including limits on screen time and setting specific mealtimes and bedtimes.

Seidel listed activities families can do together, such as starting a garden in containers or the yard, taking nature walks or scavenger walks, where kids can search for things along the way. Younger kids might enjoy “sensory boxes” filled with materials such as water, soap, sand and even dirt to allow them to get messy. School-aged kids might find enjoyment in an obstacle course, while teenagers might appreciate physical exercise such as hikes, yoga or dance.

To promote social-emotional learning, Seidel said caregivers should find activities that engage kids of all ages, including cooking, baking or board games. Imaginative play, like kinetic sand for young kids or creating new characters for elementary-aged kids, also allows them to express their creativity and connect with siblings or peers in a new way. When there’s too much stimulation, giving children time for quiet independent activity, such as listening to music or taking a bath, can help children recognize and regulate their emotions, Ahmed advised.

All in all, each child responds to changes differently, the county reps said. Watching a child’s mood, sleeping and eating habits and responding accordingly with opportunities to increase or decrease the intensity of their sensory experiences by engaging their bodies or calming them down, respectively, is the best strategy for parents to use.

Those who need additional support can consult with the child’s pediatrician, call 211 for a resource and referral line or contact to Bueno and her team at the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Department at sccbhsd.org.

– Melissa Hartman


MONDAY, JUNE 8: THE IMPORTANCE OF WORKER SAFETY 

Jessie Yu of the Santa Clara County Office of Labor Standards Enforcement joined county public information officer Larry Little at today’s Facebook Live briefing to highlight how her department, established in 2017, has been working to ensure safe workplaces for employees and customers alike.

Yu said most of the Office of Labor and Standards Enforcement’s work is outreach and education around making sure business owners and workers know their rights and responsibilities, an especially imperative task during a pandemic that is “far from over,” Little told viewers.

“A lot more businesses will be opening up now due to the new order in place,” Yu said. “We believe all businesses, workers and the public have a role to play in keeping the community safe.”

Yu added that the county’s seven-page social-distancing protocols packet, required to be filled out and distributed to employees before being posted near a business’ entrance, is one way to guarantee everyone is doing what they can to limit exposure to COVID-19.

“People are returning to a totally different environment,” she said. “The way you did things three months ago is not the way you do it now, which is why we have (the guidelines).”

The last two pages of the packet include a green check mark poster business owners can display to show they cooperated with county requirements to operate safely and a poster with green, blue and red bubbles titled “Social Distancing Protocol Visitor Information” that advises customers to report violations by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Workers who believe their employer is not doing what’s necessary to keep all parties safe can call a free attorney advice line at (866) 870-7725 for information on how to access the county guidelines or file a complaint, even anonymously.

Workers can protect themselves by being informed of their employers’ social-distancing protocols and other safety measures, continuing to screen themselves for coronavirus symptoms and getting tested regularly if they are in constant contact with the public– every three weeks for service workers and every two weeks for skilled nursing facility employees, Yu said.

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

For more information on testing sites, visit sccfreetest.org.

Due to the ongoing protests against police brutality, the Town Crier did not have the opportunity to cover the Facebook Live briefing from Friday (June 5). We apologize for the inconvenience this causes.

– Melissa Hartman


WEDNESDAY, JUNE 3: THE AMENDED ORDER AND WHAT'S ALLOWED 

Santa Clara County counsel James Williams and deputy county counsel David Campos met in the Emergency Operations Center for today’s Facebook Live briefing, highlighting what the latest amendments to the shelter-in-place order, effective Friday (June 5), mean for residents.

For the first time since the shelter-in-place orders were instituted in March to combat the spread of COVID-19, more businesses and activities are open in the county than closed, Williams said. Although the gradual reopening includes strategic precautions required of both business owners and customers/clients, it is an important milestone, he added, made possible by the “extraordinary progress” county residents have made.

Acknowledging criticism from some residents about the county’s stricter regulations over the past few months, Campos asked Williams how the county’s restrictions compared to other counties in the Bay Area and across the state. All counties are operating under California’s stay-at-home order and resilience road map, and at this point Santa Clara County is in what state officials call “extended or expanded Stage 2,” Williams said.

But as of Friday, the county will have more businesses reopening than other neighboring counties, according to Williams. Most of the Bay Area is aligned in what is permitted, with Santa Clara and San Mateo counties able to argue they are the “most open counties in the Bay Area,” Campos said.

Outdoor dining and other outdoor facilities, such as swimming pools, are able to reopen after county health officer Dr. Sara Cody and her colleagues determined that outdoor activities, in general, are less risky than indoor ones. Even with that knowledge, all merchants must post a COVID-prepared sign with social-distancing protocols and customer information tailored to the business and how it operates. In-store shopping is riskier but can be done responsibly when customers honor the capacity limits set forth by the county that only allow a certain number of people in stores at one time.

Where the business is indoor or outdoor, face coverings are mandatory in the county, Williams reminded viewers. Practicing social distancing and maintaining “outstanding” hygiene also will be key to keeping safe when out and about, he said.

Personal services with direct extended contact between people, such as hair salons and barbers, are not permitted to reopen yet. County health officials hope they can resume operations soon, but Williams gave no timeline. The same is true for gyms and other studios where there is a greater risk associated with enclosed spaces and the sharing of equipment, he said.

“Trying to map out very specific dates in the future when there are so many moving pieces can give a false sense of precision,” Williams said.

Williams noted that no changes or additional permitted activities will be announced for at least three weeks, as Cody wants to study data daily and through the entire incubation period after the changes take effect.

“What (Cody) shared with the (Santa Clara County) Board of Supervisors yesterday is that the (changes) are significant, and it’s important to take a measured approach,” Williams said. “This is something she has outlined for quite some time. … In order to make thoughtful decisions, you have to have that little bit of space.”

County officials tried to synchronize their reopenings with the state’s guidance to make the process as seamless as possible, Williams said.

Employees and customers who witness unsafe conditions at a business or in an active space are urged to report the violation. Employees who work in an establishment failing to follow county social-distancing protocols can call (866) 870-7725. Customers can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Speaking to the ongoing protests taking over county streets, Campos said county officials understand the pain people are experiencing, and respect their right to peacefully demonstrate. He urged those attending protests to take precautions such as wearing face coverings and maintaining distance.

Those who attend the gatherings should be tested for COVID-19 in the days following. To schedule an appointment, visit sccfreetest.org.

– Melissa Hartman


The Facebook Live briefing scheduled for Monday, June 1 was cancelled, a Santa Clara County Emergency Operations Center public information officer confirmed at approximately 10:15 a.m.


FRIDAY, MAY 29: COVID-19 CASE INVESTIGATION AND CONTACT TRACING

Santa Clara County residents who receive a call from the 408 or 916 area code or with the ID “California COVID team” should answer their phones, contact tracing expansion lead Evelyn Ho and county health expert Dr. Sarah Rudman said at today’s Facebook Live briefing. Calls with those identifiers are from health agents providing information on a positive COVID-19 test result or contact with someone who received a positive result.

Rudman said people who tested positive for the coronavirus can expect to be asked how they are doing and whether they need help accessing health care. They also will be questioned about their occupation, places they visited and people they came face-to-face with while contagious. The health agent will inform them it’s imperative to stay home and direct them to resources such as grocery or medication deliveries and rent assistance.

Those exposed to COVID-19 will receive a similar call, with one additional challenge: The health agent is allowed to reveal only minimal information to protect the infected person’s privacy. For example, the person exposed may only learn the date he or she was exposed.

“We always share the absolute minimum information we need to keep someone healthy and safe,” Rudman said. “This may mean we cannot tell you who exposed you. … It’s to protect people’s privacy whenever we can.”

As of the briefing, the county reported 2,701 cases of the coronavirus and 140 deaths. The numbers mean the team investigating active cases is handling 10, 20 or even 30 cases daily, Rudman said. Case investigation and contact tracing methods have been used for a long time in the county, but it’s now on a much larger scale than what the Public Health Department is used to. To meet the need, the county is recruiting and training volunteers to help stop transmission before it starts.

As efforts peak, the county will need 1,000 people working in its Emergency Operations Center and from their homes to call those diagnosed with the coronavirus and their potential contacts. That number of volunteers isn’t yet needed, because numbers continue to remain “fairly steady,” Ho said, but the county is proactively preparing and training a workforce. Approximately 50 public health and other county staff are ready to go, 30 applicants were trained this week and an additional 75 are scheduled to come on board next week.

Ho said the Public Health Department has been overwhelmed and inspired by the number of contract-tracing applications flooding in. Although there is a backlog, applicants are being called daily. Those qualified to work from home for a minimum of three months for at least 24 hours a week with customer service skills and reliable Wi-Fi are trained on the facts of the virus and its spread as well as the data platform the county uses to store information, Rudman said.

“We are all a part of the solution for moving forward,” Ho said. “Your part is taking the call and staying home if you are asked to. … We know this is an unprecedented time, and we appreciate the community’s tremendous response in participating.”

To volunteer and for more information, visit sccgov.org/icanhelp. For a list of county resources, visit sccgov.org/coronavirus.

– Melissa Hartman



WEDNESDAY, MAY 27: SHELTER-IN-PLACE PROGRESS AND NEXT STEPS 

Slow and steady wins the race. That’s the mentality of Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody, even in the wake of the state’s accelerated reopening in various sectors.

The county’s shelter-in-place restrictions to fight COVID-19 were “pretty straightforward” until California’s Department of Public Health released its resiliency roadmap in early May, Cody said at today’s Facebook Live briefing. Compared with Santa Clara County – which Cody ensured will continue to reopen one stage at a time – the state is moving at a “brisk clip,” she added.

“COVID-19 behaves much like a fire during fire season,” she said. “We have dry tinder everywhere, and we do not want to have a large fire again. We know we will have little spot fires, but we don’t want a fire burning out of control that we cannot see.”

Because the county’s order is now more restrictive in most categories than the state’s, it’s harder to explain to residents what is and is not allowed, Cody said.

“It’s difficult to articulate the why,” she said. “The state … is not waiting to see what the impact is. … It’s basically like looking at a buffet – the state may lay (options) out and say, ‘You can pick from these things but not from those things.’ We as a county can say (which options are) most health protective at large for our community.”

Moving at a gradual, calculated pace has benefited the region, according to Cody, and the collective sacrifice has led to fewer hospitalizations and deaths – the ultimate goal. Deputy public information officer David Campos, who joined Cody at the briefing, noted that many people have asked him or others why the county couldn’t just reopen if there were enough acute, ICU and surge hospital beds to accommodate a spike. A rash reopening, Cody explained, would hurt the communities already hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic all over again.

“COVID-19 has unmasked some very severe pre-existing inequities in our communities,” Cody said. “If we let the virus go, if we don’t stay on top of it, the people hurt the most will be people living in places where they are working low-wage jobs, (residing) in crowded households and may have less access to care. … Those are frequently poor communities and communities of color. Those are the people who will disproportionately be in the hospital and have a disproportionate number of deaths. That is not acceptable.”

Cody urged briefing viewers to promote testing for all residents, use county-established “cooling centers” when their homes do not have air conditioning and continue to shelter in place and follow all health official recommendations.

“I know this is extraordinarily hard; no one has been untouched,” she said. “I look forward to being able to gradually reopen and for Santa Clara County to be a safe place.”

As of today’s briefing, the county reported 2,675 COVID-19 cases and 139 deaths. A total of 54 people remain hospitalized, a new low since statistics were posted beginning in April on the county’s coronavirus dashboards. Minorities continue to be more affected by COVID-19, with 40% of cases reported in Hispanics and 20% in Asians.

Nearly 66,000 people have been tested for the coronavirus in Santa Clara County, with 4% testing positive – another record low – and 374 test results still pending. The average turnaround time for results is a day and a half.

For more information on the county’s response to COVID-19, visit sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/home.aspx.

– Melissa Hartman


Due to the Memorial Day holiday, the Town Crier did not provide coverage of the county briefing on Monday, May 25.


FRIDAY, MAY 22: ILLUMINATING POPULATIONS FOR TESTING

COVID-19 testing is now free and confidential for all Santa Clara County residents, and health officials encourage at-risk demographic groups to take advantage of the service.

County public information officers Marianna Moles and Ricardo Romero-Morales discussed at today’s Facebook Live briefing who should get tested for the coronavirus and why the county opened a site in east San Jose that will test anyone, symptomatic or asymptomatic. The site, one of the first co-funded by the state and Verily, a subsidiary of Google’s Alphabet, was designated for expanded services because of the number of underserved residents living in the area.

Romero-Morales, who studies and works to improve the county’s health equity, noted the systemic barriers in place historically that limit some residents’ access to necessary health services. Residents of east San Jose, an area home to many essential health-care, grocery, restaurant and other workers, are primarily Hispanic. According to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard, the Hispanic population comprises a large percentage of cases recorded regionwide. The trend is exacerbated by the fact many do not have health insurance or a primary-care doctor to refer them for testing, Romero-Morales said.

However, Romero-Morales and his team are working to combat the health disparity by expanding access to the test center as well as introducing a mobile unit, which is visiting San Jose’s La Placita Tropicana Shopping Center today to test workers. The mobile unit will visit additional neighborhoods by next week, Romero-Morales said. The most up-to-date information on the availability of testing, including through the mobile unit, can be accessed at sccfreetest.org.

People over age 60, those with chronic health conditions and all others who regularly work with the public should pursue testing, Moles advised. The more people who get tested, she added, the better health officials can trace how the virus moves through the county.

Fliers are advertising expanded testing in the San Jose area, specifying that it is free, noninvasive, confidential and nondiscriminatory toward undocumented residents. No doctor’s note or insurance is required. Anyone with questions who does not have easy access to the internet can call 211 for more information.

As of today, there are 2,492 recorded cases of COVID-19 in the county, 138 deaths and 79 people hospitalized. The cases are now evenly split between genders, and those ages 31-60 account for most of the cases.

Case information is now available by ZIP code and city. Mountain View has a reported 55 cases, Los Altos has 23 cases and Los Altos Hills has fewer than 11. A total of 54,179 people have been tested in the county, with the results of 346 tests pending. Positive test results stand at 4.6%, the lowest number recorded since the dashboards went live in early April.

– Melissa Hartman


WEDNESDAY, MAY 20: TIPS FOR SHELTERED LEARNING 

Santa Clara County education leaders at today’s Facebook Live briefing gave tips to parents adapting to the demands of distance learning.

County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan and San Jose Unified School District intervention specialist Alison Stroot joined county public communication specialist Lynn Madden to discuss the impact of the lockdown on students and their families.

Dewan acknowledged that the shelter-in-place orders limit local schools’ ability to offer traditional summer learning opportunities. Even before the pandemic, parents and teachers worried about the “summer slide,” the decline in reading ability and other academic skills that can occur over summer vacation. Dewan said school districts will work to combat learning loss through online summer tutoring, and parents can help by encouraging activities such as reading, writing books reports and composing letters to relatives.

Stroot and Madden bonded over their efforts to give their children in middle school and high school the structure at home that they once had in the classroom and through extracurriculars. Studying at home presents a fresh set of distractions and no opportunity for teachers to remove them, said Stroot, who recommended that parents work one-on-one with their kids to establish a schedule that meets their needs.

Implementing breaks is key, Stroot advised, whether or not screen time is involved. However, she added, technology enables kids to keep up with their friends and maintain a semblance of normalcy, so banning it when not being used for school may not be the ideal strategy. In fact, students may be encouraged by meeting online with groups or clubs.

Students of any age who were set to graduate in front of friends and family may need additional support. Although in-person ceremonies are canceled, Dewan urged friends and families of graduates to get creative with virtual celebrations, organize a car parade, make special signs to post on graduates’ lawn or brainstorm other ideas to safely honor their achievements.

As parents seek to maximize online learning to ensure students’ success, teachers are saddled with their own “invisible load,” according to Stroot. As a teacher, she said she realizes that many colleagues are grieving the loss of face-to-face instruction and adjusting their lesson plans based on feedback from students. Communicating virtually is more difficult, especially as teachers strive to meet their students’ needs on both the educational and emotional fronts.

Above all, Dewan said, students, parents and teachers must remind themselves they are living through a stressful time and should be forgiving of themselves and one another.

The county’s Office of Education offers an Inclusion Support WarmLine for parents at (408) 453-6651. A free webinar for parents and educators is scheduled 1 p.m. Thursday. To participate, visit bit.ly/sccoeparents.

– Melissa Hartman


MONDAY, MAY 18: GOING TO THE ER  

Hospitals and clinics across Santa Clara County have the capacity and safety measures in place to treat both coronavirus and noncoronavirus patients, so no one should delay or avoid visiting the doctor, said Dr. Sanjay Kurani and Dr. Brian Saavedra at today’s county Facebook Live briefing.

Kurani, who serves at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, and Saavedra, affiliated with St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, oversaw the process of preparing their facilities to treat COVID-19 patients. As the county and state began to implement shelter-in-place orders to slow the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact on the health-care system, hospitals canceled nonemergency surgeries and appointments to make room for those with critical conditions. Revising protocols afforded hospitals the time to prepare for a possible surge, and the campaign to flatten the curve succeeded, according to the physicians.

Kurani said the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has decreased “significantly” throughout the county, with 2,435 confirmed cases and 135 deaths reported to date. The hospitals are now at the point where regular procedures and general care can resume.

Saavedra said modifications implemented in emergency rooms and urgent care centers across the region include maintaining 6 feet of space between patients, requiring all people inside hospitals and clinics to wear face masks, distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to those who do not yet have it and separating patients with COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms into an isolated area.

“There’s no doubt about it, we are ready and have been for quite some time to take care of emergencies – COVID (related) or not,” Saavedra said, adding that the pandemic doesn’t mean diseases or conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, appendicitis, strokes, heart attacks and more will disappear. “We can safely take care of all of those (patients).”

Many medical facilities are still limiting the type and number of people permitted to visit patients. Anyone who enters the facilities – whether visiting, working or delivering products – undergoes temperature and symptoms checks. The county’s hospital network has plenty of PPE in stock, the doctors reported.

Kurani pointed out that people who neglect their health and refuse care can turn a small medical problem into a major one. There is no good reason to delay appointments, consultations or procedures anymore, Saavedra added. Those who are still uncomfortable with visiting a hospital at this time can contact their primary care provider and discuss a telehealth visit or phone consultation, Kurani suggested.

For the latest information on COVID-19 in Santa Clara County, visit sccgov.org/coronavirus.

The County of Santa Clara Public Health Department is scheduled to host a press conference on its Facebook page at 1:30 p.m. today. For coverage of the event, visit losaltosonline.com later today.

– Melissa Hartman


friday, may 15: covid-19 testing update 

COVID-19 Testing Update | 2020-05-15

LIVE with the County of Santa Clara: COVID-19 Testing Updates Deputy Health Officer Dr. Marty Fenstershieb joins us to share the latest updates on testing accessibility and availability. --- Join us Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on Facebook Live at 10AM PT for the latest information on COVID-19. Full transcripts will be made available after the live stream and will be linked here. *Our panel participants take off their face coverings to allow ASL translators to better follow the conversation. The public is encouraged to keep on their face coverings when conducting essential activity outside of the home. Visit our website for COVID-19 testing information and locations: https://direc.to/dF2R

Posted by County of Santa Clara Public Health Department on Friday, May 15, 2020

Santa Clara County officials in today’s Facebook Live briefing called on essential workers who regularly interact with the public to get tested monthly for COVID-19 from here on out – whether they have symptoms or not.

After a period of limited capacity, testing for the virus is now free, easy and widely available, according to Betty Duong, county deputy public information officer.

Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, who joined Duong for the briefing, returned to service as the COVID-19 testing officer at the Emergency Operations Center, admitting to “failing” at his retirement from the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department. His unit is overseeing the transition from limited testing of symptomatic people who were cleared by doctors to testing all who work at grocery stores, restaurants and other essential businesses.

“We are focusing mostly on those (asymptomatic) people right now,” Fenstersheib said. “We want to find people who may not be showing evidence of the disease but (who) could be infected and still be shedding the virus. Doing that means putting others at risk.”

Testing has expanded with the establishment of more testing sites, Duong said. Anyone working on the front lines, whether they have insurance or not, is eligible for free testing. Fenstersheib added that those in contact with someone who has exhibited symptoms should get tested, and inform testing center staff about the contact.

Another piece of good news: Nasal swabbing to check for the coronavirus no longer requires insertion through the back of the nose and into the throat. The invasive method, administered by doctors and other health-care workers, made people uncomfortable, Fenstersheib said. Now, testing is quick and painless, with staff at the testing sites handing people the swab so they can self-insert it no more than half an inch up each nostril, twirl it around each nostril four times, slowly remove it and place it in a container.

Access to testing will continue to improve, Fenstersheib said, and at some point may include antibody testing. For now, county facilities do not have the ability to administer the blood test that searches for evidence of past infection.

For information on test criteria and nearby testing sites and hours, call 211, text “coronavirus” to 211211 or visit sccgov.org/cv19testing.

– Melissa Hartman


wednesday, may 13: covid-19 resources 

As the coronavirus spread throughout Santa Clara County in the early months of 2020, county public information officers developed resources aimed at answering residents’ questions and providing statistics and updates.

At today’s Facebook Live briefing, county representatives reminded the public of online COVID-19 data dashboards tracking daily case numbers, hospital equipment capacity, lab testing results and turnaround times, long-term care facility case details and more. As of the briefing, there were 2,831 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the county and 132 deaths, reported deputy public information officer Betty Duong.

According to Duong’s colleague Larry Little, beyond county and private lab COVID-19 testing, two new sites in East San Jose and Gilroy opened last week as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pledge to roll out 80 new testing facilities in communities in need statewide.

An FAQ team has answered 5,200 questions from residents about the shelter-in-place orders, Little said. Those with questions can consult the FAQ page at sccgov.org/coronavirus or call 211. Residents can submit questions through the FAQ interface or navigate topics via the search bar.

Acknowledging during the social-media-based briefing that not everyone in the county is on social media, the representatives said the county will send newsletters in English, Spanish or Vietnamese to those who prefer to get their updates via email.

The expansive sccgov.org/coronavirus website is constantly revised based on residents’ feedback, Duong said. The county’s Public Health Department is using all communication channels to reach the maximum number of people.

For more information on the coronavirus, its spread throughout the region and advice from county health experts on how to stay safe and avoid contracting it, visit scc.org/coronavirus.

– Melissa Hartman


Monday, May 11: Focusing on mental health

 

As the shelter-in-place order drags on, officials with the County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services department spoke today about the impact the pandemic is having on mental health and provided suggestions on ways to cope.

“During this pandemic, it’s common and it’s OK to be feeling a whole range of feelings – from anxiety and fear to hopelessness and even frustration and anger,” said Mego Lien, a program manager with the county, during today’s Facebook Live briefing.

Everyone is facing their own set of circumstances and having a unique response, said Rachel Talamantez, a senior manager with the county, who is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and holds a doctorate in counseling psychology.

“For some, this has been catastrophic – maybe you’ve been sick yourself, maybe a loved one has died,” Talamantez said. “That’s very significant and that’s very impactful.”

For other people, the changes have involved adjusting routines and adapting to a new way of life, she added.

To prevent the current circumstances from having a longer-term impact, Talamantez said it’s important for people to ensure they have adequate coping strategies and support systems in place.

Just as one might build an emergency plan, Talamantez encouraged people to create a well-being and stress reduction plan. The idea is to prepare for how to manage various stressors. The plan should consider ways to remain calm – such as taking a walk outside, reading a book, taking a bath or listening to music – and ways to remain connected.

“We need to be physically distant, but we can be socially connected, we can be emotionally connected,” Talamantez said.

Beyond family and friends, she also encouraged those in need to reach out to community resources that focus on issues including food, shelter, financial support, physical health, mental health and substance use. To get connected with resources, call 211.

The county’s mental health services line can be reached at (800) 704-0900. The substance use services line is at (800) 488-9919. The county also operates a 24/7, free and confidential suicide and crisis hotline at (855) 278-4204. Text support is also available by texting RENEW to 741741.

– Zoe Morgan


FRIDAY, MAY 8: A MOTHER'S DAY MESSAGE

Santa Clara County health workers and officials suggested the ideal Mother’s Day gift: Stay home and express your love virtually.

County public information officers Larry Little and Marianna Moles paid tribute to mothers during today’s Facebook Live briefing.

Because of the shelter-in-place order effective through May 31, they advised residents not to visit those who are locked down in another household. Despite the tempting warm weather forecasts over the next few days, Moles said people should protect the women who have protected them over the course of their lives.

A montage of messages from local mothers, including Santa Clara County supervisors Cindy Chavez and Susan Ellenberg, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, Emergency Operations Center employees and others, played during the briefing, highlighting in a range of languages how they plan to celebrate Mother’s Day from afar. Ellenberg encouraged residents to get creative with their technology, perhaps sharing a meal via Zoom, playing online trivia games or telling family stories together.

Even Little’s mother made an appearance at the briefing, a starring role he joked afterward would probably make her feel famous.

Moles offered examples of ways county employees are attempting to make Mother’s Day special – turning family photographs into a puzzle and designing and assembling their own cards for the multiple maternal caretakers in their lives.

The public information officers left viewers with a sobering thought: Although the county is making headway in containing the coronavirus, we are not yet out of the woods. New cases are being reported daily, and the county does not want to lose the progress made, Moles said.

As of the briefing, there were 2,281 confirmed cases in Santa Clara County and 127 deaths. A total of 113 victims remain hospitalized, down from 140 at the beginning of the week. The number of Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills cases remains static: 47, 22 and fewer than 10, respectively. The county’s testing database shows that 36,691 people have been tested for COVID-19, 6.2% with a positive result. The average turnaround time for test results is down to approximately a day and a half.

– Melissa Hartman


WEDNESDAY, MAY 6: A tribute to nurses

On this National Nurses Day, Santa Clara County public health representatives during their Facebook Live briefing highlighted the critical role nurses play in the county’s response to COVID-19.

While many people understand the tasks clinical nurses perform in hospital settings, not many are aware of public health nurses’ duties, according to senior health planner Evelyn Ho and the county’s public information officers.

Melissa Schilling, a nurse in the county’s case-monitoring unit, defined a “public health nurse” as one who focuses not on one patient, but on an entire population, promoting good health, preventing the circulation of disease and enhancing the quality of life for all.

For example, Schilling said, public health nurses identify high-risk populations like the homeless and assess their needs, teach them to manage any conditions and link them to available resources and services. Schilling was among the first public health nurses called to work with the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department in the early days of the pandemic, as was fellow public health nurse Alison Sikola.

Sikola said her team handled a lot of case management tasks as the coronavirus entered the county, and as the virus spread, the public health department assigned additional public health nurses to meet the expanding demand. Sikola said she learned quickly to roll with the daily-evolving problems the pandemic poses. Schilling added that they faced an unprecedented challenge when they realized the growing count of COVID-19 patients included those with no recent history of travel.

After a monitoring phase in which Schilling and her fellow nurses called those with a travel history and urged them to stay home from work and isolate for 14 days, they transitioned to a mitigation phase.

The county’s public health nurses are split into four units: provider intake, special investigations for those in congregate settings, specimen collection and case intake and tracing. Each unit is designed to give COVID-19 patients and the facilities caring for them advice on how to proceed and offer them resources to prevent the spread of infection.

While the nurses know their work is important, Sikola noted how specific incidents and long-term wear take a toll. Talking with nurses who are in direct contact with those affected by virus-related deaths or layoffs humanizes the issue, she said, emphasizing that no one takes the work lightly.

Schilling recalled how she had to inform a family that several members had tested positive for the coronavirus, their conditions ranging from asymptomatic to significant enough to require intubation. She spent extra time on the phone with the family member who was asymptomatic, who had not talked to her dying relative since the day they were all tested.

“I told her, ‘I’ve been thinking about you since yesterday,’” Schilling said. “I really wanted her to know she’s not just a number. We really do care.”

As of this afternoon, Santa Clara County reported 2,268 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 126 deaths. The local breakdown: Mountain View accounts for 47 confirmed cases, Los Altos has 22 and Los Altos Hills fewer than 10. 

– Melissa Hartman


MONDAY, MAY 4: Crucial equipment donations

 Santa Clara County hospital representatives during today’s Facebook Live briefing shared how financial and protective equipment donations have enabled hospitals to provide improved treatment and prepare for the wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19.

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center COO Michael Elliott; Gloria Dela Merced, registered nurse and hospital administrator at St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy; and Dr. Phuong Nguyen, chief medical officer at Valley Med discussed how community support has gotten front-line health-care workers through what is likely to be one of the toughest times in their careers.Approximately a month ago, the VMC Foundation put out the call for personal protective equipment (PPE) for its three county hospitals. Elliott described the response as “overwhelming”: people donated 2.5 million items of PPE and $6 million so that hospitals could purchase vital medical tools such as ventilators and coronavirus testing equipment.

 On top of the relief health-care workers experience from having the supplies necessary to protect themselves and their families, the donations have brought them joy and made them feel appreciated, Merced said. She highlighted a local bakery that delivered cookies iced like health-care workers with masks on and a high school student who made masks with a 3D printer to donate to hospitals.

“They feel so loved,” Merced said of essential workers receiving the masks. “Being made by a local resident as young as him, (the masks) are making a lot of difference in the daily lives of our health-care workers.”

For those wondering why hospital systems have been soliciting PPE donations rather than purchasing N95 masks and respirators, Nguyen said the uncertainty of the pandemic, affecting more than 180 countries, made it “tremendously challenging” to procure enough PPE for entire hospital staffs anywhere. The U.S. is no exception she added.

Merced and Nguyen asked county residents to keep sheltering in place, as the lockdown has afforded hospital systems time to increase capacity, secure critical supplies and prepare surge planning. As of today, the county health system is slowly reintroducing elective procedures and surgeries, Nguyen said, a return to routine made possible by the regionwide orders.

“We cannot afford to lose the ground we have gained,” Nguyen said. “We need more time to build additional capacity and for the Public Health Department to acquire a robust system to transition from mitigation back to containment (and for) researchers and scientists to work out treatments and vaccines. Please do shelter to keep yourself, your family and the community safe. I believe we will succeed.”

As of the briefing, Santa Clara County reported 2,231 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 115 deaths and 140 people hospitalized. Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View numbers remain unchanged over the past several days: 22 cases, fewer than 10 and 45, respectively.

Elliott reminded viewers that Tuesday (May 5) is Giving Tuesday Now. The annual online fundraiser typically occurs around Thanksgiving but has been moved forward this year to address the unprecedented need of local nonprofit organizations. For more information, visit now.givingtuesday.org.

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

– Melissa Hartman


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 April 1-15: The early days of 'shelter-in-place' and COVID-19 updates for April 16 - May 1: extending the shut-down

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