Business owners, city leaders and faith-based organizations implored the county health department Sept. 14 to give them a “fighting chance” to survive the pandemic by allowing indoor operations to resume safely.
The Silicon Valley Chamber Coalition joined dozens of Bay Area faith organizations and small business owners in hosting the virtual press conference, which was attended by representatives from the Gilroy and Morgan Hill chambers of commerce and other local officials.
On Sept. 8, state officials moved Santa Clara County into the less-restrictive “Red Tier” as part of California’s Covid-19 reopening plan. Personal care services can now operate indoors with restrictions, and museums, zoos, aquariums and gyms can reopen with limited capacity. Capacity for shopping malls has been increased to 50 percent.
However, while other counties that moved into the Red Tier can open movie theaters and indoor dining, Santa Clara cannot under its local Risk Reduction Order. The stricter of the state or local order takes priority.
Gilroy Chamber President and CEO Mark Turner, who is the co-chair of the Silicon Valley Chamber Coalition, said the county has achieved its early goals of flattening the curve of new cases and preventing the health system from becoming overwhelmed.
“Now let’s not flatten our business community by continually applying such restrictive standards that there’s no hope of moving forward,” he said.
Turner said the inconsistencies between the county and state guidance are a “recipe for disaster,” and urged the county to allow business leaders a say in the reopening decisions while providing clear guidelines on what targets need to be hit to allow establishments to safely reopen.
“Being closed is not a strategy,” he said. “Remaining closed is not a good business plan. You don’t tell entrepreneurs to stand down.”
Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco said Covid-19 will be present for the long haul, with no guarantee that things will return to normal in the near future.
“We need to learn how to live safely and mitigate the risk, rather than shutting down the economy indefinitely,” he said.
A handful of business owners in San Jose and surrounding cities spoke of the struggles they’ve faced over the six-month closure.
Jacqueline Tran, owner of the Polished Salon in San Jose, said the nail salon industry has already had the sanitation protocols in place, such as face masks and frequent hand-washing, long before they were required in other businesses. She said many workers in nail and hair salons are the sole income-earners of their families.
“This isn’t a question of whether or not they have disposable income to spend, this is a matter of their ability to feed their families or be able to afford their rent to keep a roof over their heads,” she said.
According to the Silicon Valley Chamber Coalition, nearly 30 percent of small businesses in the Silicon Valley have either permanently closed or been on the verge of doing so since the pandemic began.
In a statement, county health officials said indoor dining is a risky activity given the current level of Covid-19 infections in the county, as it requires patrons to remove their face masks.
“Even though the county’s move into the Red Risk Tier is an improvement, under this tier, the presence of Covid-19 in the county is still ‘substantial,’” the statement read. “We want restaurants to be able to open for indoor dining as soon as it is safe for the public.”
The health officials cited a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control, which stated that indoor dining is one of the riskiest activities for Covid-19. The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that adults with Covid-19 are twice as likely to have dined out in the 14 days before becoming sick than those who tested negative.
“We urge the public to support our restaurants by using restaurant takeout, delivery options and outdoor dining,” county officials stated. “Pursuant to the Risk Reduction Health Order, we urge our residents to continue to avoid indoor activities whenever possible to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.”
Free testing available
County health officials say increased testing is the key to reopening safely.
Santa Clara County was originally placed in the most restrictive Purple Tier along with most other counties when the state switched from the monitoring list system to its current color-coded tier framework on Aug. 28. The move to the Red Tier was based on daily case rates and test positivity.
The state framework gives counties credit toward their case rate if they test more people than the state average. Using this calculation, the high number of tests performed in the local area gave Santa Clara County a significant credit, allowing it to move to the Red Tier.
“Testing is our ticket to fewer restrictions,” said Dr. Jennifer Tong, Associate Chief Medical Officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. “Fast test results improve the contact tracing work, which keeps our county as safe as possible from Covid-19. People tested at the county’s testing site typically receive their results within one-two days after the appointment.”
The county is continuing to offer free Covid-19 diagnostic testing Sept. 15-18 in Gilroy.
The walk-up testing site provides Covid-19 viral detection tests free of charge without an appointment, symptoms, insurance or a doctor’s note, and regardless of immigration status.
The testing site is located at South County Annex (formerly Antonio Del Buono Elementary), 9300 Wren Ave. It operates from 11am-5pm.
Those seeking a test are encouraged to arrive early. The sites use a wristband system in which people are assigned a testing time later in the day, and all slots are often claimed within hours of availability.
There are currently more than 50 Covid-19 test locations in Santa Clara County, including those at community centers and schools, hospitals and clinics, and mobile testing centers.
For information, visit sccfreetest.org.