County eases some stay-home restrictions

Shelter-in-place directive extended through May

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Local residents will be asked to continue to stay home for at least another month, as Santa Clara County officials this week announced an extension of an existing shelter-in-place order to combat the spread of COVID-19.

And while health officials think the current stay-home order, which started March 17, has been effective in reducing the number of new cases in the Bay Area, they also cautioned that the novel coronavirus pandemic is still only in its early stages.

The extended order, which goes into effect on May 4, will largely keep the current restrictions in place through May, according to health officials. The county joined six other Bay Area jurisdictions in announcing the new order, which will include limited easing of some restrictions for a “small number of lower-risk activities,” officials stated.

Under the revised order, construction projects will be allowed to resume provided they follow safety protocols outlined in the order. Outdoor businesses, such as nurseries, can reopen but must adhere to social distancing protocols. The county noted, however, that restaurants that have outdoor seating must remain closed.

The current order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic began March 17 and was set to expire on May 3, although the state’s order has no end date.

“Thanks to the collective effort and sacrifice of the seven million residents across our jurisdictions, we have made substantial progress in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, ensuring our local hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, and saving lives,” health officials stated. “At this stage of the pandemic, however, it is critical that our collective efforts continue so that we do not lose the progress we have achieved together. Hospitalizations have leveled, but more work is needed to safely re-open our communities. Prematurely lifting restrictions could easily lead to a large surge in cases.”

The health officers also released a set of broad indicators that will be used to track progress in preparedness and response to COVID-19, in alignment with the framework being used by the State of California. Health officials will continue to see if the total number of cases is flat or decreasing, whether there is an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for health care workers, and other indicators.

“We don’t have a date when we can all go back to our normal lives,” said Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody. “We are going to need to have protections in place for a very, very long time.”

The stay-home extended order was announced jointly April 29 by Santa Clara County, Alameda County, City of Berkeley, Contra Costa County, Marin County, San Mateo County and San Francisco County.

Their collective statement repeats a number of inherent difficulties in keeping the spread of the novel coronavirus down: The virus spreads easily, testing capacity is limited and expanding slowly and vaccine development is just beginning. “We expect to be responding to COVID-19 in our communities for a long time. As effective as our efforts have been, the potential of exponential spread could have grave impacts to health and wellness of our residents as well as the economy,” reads the statement from the six jurisdictions.

As of April 28, there have been 2,122 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County, with 106 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the county public health department. A total of 182 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized.

In South County, there have been 39 confirmed cases in Gilroy and 34 in Morgan Hill.

More than 26,000 Santa Clara County residents have been tested for COVID-19, with an overall test positivity rate of 7.97 percent, according to the county’s data.

During the stay-home order, residents are not permitted to leave their homes except to conduct “essential” activities or partake in outdoor exercise. The health officials’ order defines “essential” business in detail, including grocery or food shopping.

The health orders also require “social distancing” protocols at all businesses and facilities that remain open. These protocols must make accommodations to allow customers or visitors to stay at least six feet away from each other, and advise people experiencing virus symptoms to stay out of the building.

Bay Area health officials have also strongly recommended that residents wear cloth masks or face coverings when out in public.

The shelter-at-home orders have taken a toll on local businesses and public finances. Restaurants throughout the South Bay have been forced to close permanently, with the rest trying to survive with only takeout and delivery service. Cities like Morgan Hill and Gilroy, which rely heavily on sales tax revenues, are scrambling to figure out how to fund basic public services.

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