Governor to Santa Clara County: Not so fast on Covid-19

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By Barry Holtzclaw

Santa Clara County is one of 19 California counties on a Covid-19 “watch list.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement July 1 to apply a three-week “dimmer switch” closing bars and state park parking lots, dine-in restaurant service, fitness centers and movie theaters in Santa Clara County and 18 other jurisdictions may have turned the lights out on a pending plan to reopen businesses and public spaces on a limited basis.

County health officials are expected to announce a new order on July 2.

Two days after county Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody had told local leaders she would be announcing a reopening plan this week to largely abandon a “sector-by-sector” approach to controlling the spread of the coronavirus, the governor identified counties where some restrictions will be restored in advance of the July 4 holiday weekend.

First announced June 26 and repeated at a meeting with city and county elected officials three days later, Cody said she intended to announce a plan to put “proper guardrails in place…that will mark the end of our sector-by-sector strategy” creating “a framework that people will be able to live with for a long time.”

On July 1, the county Public Health Department issued a terse response to the governor’s action: “We are evaluating the governor’s statements with regards to how they apply to the County of Santa Clara.”

In California and across the U.S., the virus continued to disregard politicians and experts by charting its own course. The new increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in California ended a downward trend across the state and jolted local and state officials.

California and Santa Clara County, which had prided themselves on having done all the right things since March, this week suddenly found themselves included in the same list as Texas, Florida and other states where eased restrictions were being rolled back as the Covid-19 pandemic continued its relentless pace. Newsom’s July 1 announcement specifically targeted Santa Clara, Contra Costa and 17 other counties.

“We are seeing parts of the state with increases in the total number of positive cases, but also in the positivity rate [the percentage of Covid-19 tests that are positive] to a degree that generates some concern.” said Newsom in a livestreamed noon telecast.

He reported 110 Covid-19 deaths in the state in the preceding 24 hours, a 40 percent increase in positivity rates, and 5,898 new cases on June 30, pushing the state total towards 234,000, second-highest in the U.S.

He said hospitalizations across the state for Covid-19 rose 51 percent in two weeks, and Intensive Care Unit admissions rose almost as much in the same period.

“Please do not take your guard down,” warned the governor. As for the coming holiday weekend, he said, “Californians should not gather with people you do not live with.”

He announced that he will be creating “multi-agency strike teams“ that will target “non-compliant workplaces” in Santa Clara and 18 other counties.

He promised tough enforcement of his new rules. “Why have rules, why have laws if you are not willing to enforce them?” Newsom asked.

Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Solano were the Bay Area counties on the list.

The governor appealed to Californians to exercise personal responsibility and stay at home this weekend, refraining from family and neighborhood parties, and wearing masks and maintain social distancing if outdoors.

He stopped short of closing state beaches and parks, but said parking lots at these beaches and parks would be closed, and that many park services would be closed.

The governor said he will rely on state law enforcement—the California Highway Patrol, state park officers, Alcohol Beverage Control and Cal OSHA inspectors, and the offices of Business Oversight and Consumer Affairs to check on parks and scofflaw businesses “for at least three weeks.”

On Monday, Cody told a joint meeting of the San Jose City Council and the county Board of Supervisors that despite the recent surge in cases, “We also know that our community has done better at controlling this virus than almost any other large community in the entire United States.”

“It’s also become increasingly clear that we’re in this fight for the long haul, and we need to adapt to the presence of this virus and the risks that it’s created,” Cody said. “Under our current shelter-in-place order, the majority of businesses, large and small, are open.”

She said she hoped the county’s next phase would “take into account the fact that some of the businesses and activities that remain closed in our county are open elsewhere and that our residents and businesses are anxious for these activities to resume here as well.”

With the governor’s announcement, that anxiety could continue to linger for several weeks, until the surge of cases eases.

“We know that the root cause of this pandemic in the U.S. is a collective national failure to invest in public health preparedness,” the health officer observed. “So we are now in a place where we are just managing this as best as we can, county by county.”
“We’re managing this pandemic at a local level, but we know it’s not a local epidemic,” she said. “It reflects international travel, federal and state policies, as well as travel, policy and behavior in surrounding communities — and this has been and will continue to be our challenge going forward.”

These industries are open statewide:

  • Hair salons and barbershops
  • Casinos
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Hotels (for tourism and individual travel)
  • Campgrounds and outdoor recreation
  • Personal care services, like nail salons, body waxing and tattoo parlors

Newsom closed all bars again on June 28.

For the following industries in Santa Clara and 18 other counties, indoor business is closed, although they may operate outside or by pick-up:

  • Dine-in restaurants
  • Wineries and tasting rooms
  • Movie theaters
  • Family entertainment centers (for example: bowling alleys, miniature golf, batting cages and arcades)
  • Zoos and museums
  • Cardrooms

All parking lots at state parks and state beaches in Southern California and the Bay Area will be closed, Newsom said. In counties that close local beaches, the state also will close state beaches. Other state parks remain open, with “measures in place to reduce visitation and limit overcrowding.”

The 19 counties on the governor’s “watch list” include nearly three-fourths of California’s population. Besides the Bay Area counties, they include Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento, Stanislaus, Fresno, Glenn, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Merced, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Solano, Tulare and Ventura counties.

Newsom also issued an executive order extending authorization for local governments to halt evictions for renters impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, through Sept. 30.

The order also addresses other issues in response to the pandemic. It:

  • extends provisions in earlier orders which allow adults to obtain marriage licenses via videoconferencing rather than in-person during the pandemic
  • waives eligibility re-determinations for Californians who participate in Medi-Cal, to ensure they maintain their health coverage
  • suspends face-to-face visits for eligibility for foster care
  • permits In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program caseworkers to continue caring for older adults and individuals with disabilities through video-conferencing assessments
  • extends waivers temporarily broadening the capability of counties to enroll persons into the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program, allowing for self-attestation of pregnancy and conditions of eligibility, and waiving in-person identification requirement
  • extends provisions allowing for mail-in renewals of driver’s licenses and identification cards, to limit in-person transactions at the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • extends timeframes related to the payment of real estate license application and renewal fees and continuing education requirements for licensees

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