More workplaces could reopen with new rules, says county

Gyms, hair salons, small gatherings could resume later this month

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By Barry Holtzclaw

More businesses and workplaces could re-open in Santa Clara County as early as July 13, as long as new strict social distancing rules and other COVID-19 public health protocols are met, Santa Clara County officials announced today.

The county today asked the state for permission to institute new standards, even though one day earlier Gov. Gavin Newsom had singled out Santa Clara and 18 other counties for new restrictions because of COVID-19 increases.

“I’m extremely grateful to him for doing this,” county Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said of the governor’s announcement, adding that none of the state’s newly prohibited activities, such as bars and dine-in restaurants, had been allowed in Santa Clara County.

She said the county was included in Newsom’s “watch list” because COVID-19 hospitalizations had more than doubled in the last week of June, to 85 on June 29. That number was 78 as of today, according to the county’s real-time COVID-19 dashboard.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in the county also surged late last month, to 4,750 as of today, including a record one-day total of 183 cases on June 23. As of today, 159 deaths in Santa Clara County have been attributed to the virus.

Despite the increases, Cody said the new order, if approved by the state, would be easier for individuals and businesses to follow, and more effective.

“By allowing people to engage in activities with strong protocols in place we can ensure that they do it safely,” she said. “This is the end of a phased reopening and the beginning of a new stage that we anticipate will be stable for some time.”

Cody and other county officials, including three supervisors, spoke at a live and live-streamed press conference this afternoon. She announced a set of  “nearly universal requirements that would apply to most businesses and workplaces.”

County Counsel James Williams said the new county order to contain the spread of COVID-19 is based on four principles:

  • Outdoors is safer than indoors
  • More physical distance is safer than less distance
  • Smaller groups are safer than larger groups
  • Limited contacts of short duration are safer

Williams said high-risk businesses such as indoor dining and indoor swimming that require that masks be removed will continue to be disallowed in the county.

The new order would allow other activities to resume, including hair and nail services, gyms, and small gatherings, but “only with strict social distancing protocols in place, consistent use of face coverings, and significant capacity limits,” county public health staff said. 

Williams outlined the proposed new protocols that would apply to all businesses and nonprofits, which would go into effect July 13 or as soon as they are approved by the state:

  • Ensure that masks are worn at all times, by employees and customers
  • Provide at least 250 square feet of space for each employee, roughly a 15×16-foot area
  • Provide at least 150 square feet of space for each customer, roughly a 12-foot diameter circle
  • Report all positive COVID-19 cases at worksites to the Public Health Department
  • Follow industry-specific directives expected to be issued next week
  • Maximize “telework” options

Williams said employers could face criminal charges if they provide false information.

He added that all county residents must follow state guidelines if they are more strict than county rules, and that all existing shelter-in-place rules remain in effect until the new rules are approved by the state.

“We will not let our guard down here in Santa Clara County,” pledged Cody. “Strict social social distancing protocols will be required.”

“The only way that we can get out of this is to stay laser-focused on containing COVID-19,” she said. “I believe we can do this if we stick together.”

Cindy Chavez, president of the county Board of Supervisors, encouraged local businesses to be “ruthlessly disciplined.”

“We’ve got to lower these numbers even as we are opening things up,” she said. “As a community, we’ve got to push these numbers down.”

Board Vice President Mike Wasserman praised the new plan, because it would “allow additional business and activities to resume while setting standards.”

“I’m hopeful that the governor will recognize the hard work we are doing” and approve the county’s proposed order.

“We are going to a peer pressure system,” added Supervisor Dave Cortese. “Peer pressure has to be the one thing that holds this all together.”

Chavez said she was especially concerned about the behavior of county residents on this Fourth of July weekend. “If we’re not careful, 14 days from now we’re going to see more people in our hospitals.”