The Gilroy City Council is returning to virtual meetings, fueled by concern from city management over the rising number of Covid-19 infections in the county.
The council had returned to in-person meetings in September after more than a year of hosting them over videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom and Webex.
The council on Jan. 10 voted 5-2 to return to virtual meetings, with Councilmembers Dion Bracco and Carol Marques dissenting.
Assembly Bill 361, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, allows local agencies to continue to use teleconferencing for meetings provided they have determined that holding meetings in-person would present health risks for attendees, among other things.
City Administrator Jimmy Forbis recommended holding city meetings virtually through March 31, while reevaluating it every 30 days.
He said the city is currently short-staffed due to its employees being affected by Covid-19 and its more-contagious variant Omicron. The city has also been advised by public health officials to eliminate in-person gatherings in order to reduce the spread of the virus, he noted.
“We have a lot of people out now, and I really want to try to do everything I can to stop that number,” Forbis said. “For now, let’s take a step back, let’s catch our breath, let’s hunker down and get ready for whatever’s next.”
Marques said the Omicron variant does not appear to be as deadly as previous variants of the virus, with many people who catch it displaying minor symptoms.
“It seems like the people that are really sick are the unvaccinated,” she said. “I feel like the rest of us who got vaccinated and got the booster, we’re still being punished. We’re being forced to go home and stay home.”
Santa Clara County Public Health data shows that the seven-day average of new cases stands at 4,231, the highest it has been since the onset of the pandemic nearly two years ago and double the previous record in January 2021.
However, preliminary data shows deaths in the county are occurring at a far less frequent rate, with five reported from Dec. 21-29, compared to 181 during the same period in 2020. Hospitalizations, at 443, are a little more than half of the number during the peak in January 2021.
Samples of wastewater in South County show some encouraging signs, as the quantity of SARS-CoV-2 genes, the virus that causes Covid-19, has taken a dive since reaching a peak on Jan. 6, and are on par with levels taken on Dec. 30.
The samples are taken from the South County Regional Wastewater Authority, which serves a population of 110,338. The SCRWA facility collects and processes waste from both Gilroy’s and Morgan Hill’s municipal sewer systems.
Researchers have determined that as virus levels rise or fall in the region’s wastewater, so too do the number of reported cases. Wastewater information is available sooner than clinical testing, making such research critical in predicting spikes of Covid-19 infections, according to the county.