County health officials are concerned with the rise of “pandemic fatigue,” where residents, tired of staying indoors and wearing face coverings in public, follow that human instinct and gather with others.
However, health officials say there is a correlation between people letting their guard down and the record-setting numbers of Covid-19 cases.
On Nov. 24, Santa Clara County recorded its highest individual new case count for a single day with 512 cases reported and saw its highest number of Covid-19 hospitalizations of 197 patients.
County officials, themselves weary of hammering home the same message, once again held a press conference on Nov. 25, urging the public to celebrate the upcoming holidays only with members of their household and to not travel.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had to come out several times because the situation is not getting better here in Santa Clara County,” said County Counsel James Williams. “It’s actually getting a lot worse.”
Even more concerning to officials is the strain the surge in cases is putting on local hospitals. Available Intensive Care Unit beds in the county, including Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and private healthcare providers, now number just 68.
Officials estimate that if new cases continue at this rate, hospitals will reach their capacity in less than three weeks, leaving them unable to care for not just Covid-19 patients, but for others experiencing any type of medical emergency.
“The ability for our hospitals to care for the most critical patients is a critical concern when dealing with Covid-19,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Covid-19 testing officer for the county. “The more we protect ourselves and our families from Covid-19, the less likely we will be filling up hospital beds.”
The message is the same as it has been over the past nine months: wear a mask, stay physically distant from others and don’t gather in large groups.
“We need to take responsibility for each other and take care of each other,” Fenstersheib said. “It’s just not that hard to put on a mask and leave it on.”
Enforcement teams to be out in force during holiday weekend
The county will ramp up its Covid-19 safety enforcement efforts this weekend as hordes of holiday shoppers are expected to descend on malls and other stores.
At the press conference, officials announced that the Covid-19 Business Compliance Unit will be out in force during the Black Friday shopping weekend to make sure businesses are following proper social distancing measures and other safety protocols.
In addition, from Thursday through Sunday, fines issued will not have a grace period. Until Thursday, the county has been allowing businesses who corrected their compliance issues to have the fine waived.
Retail businesses must also comply with the state’s 10pm-5am stay-at-home order. Grocery stores and take-out dining options are exempt from the state’s order.
County officials urge businesses and customers to follow safety protocols, such as wearing a face covering, maintaining social distance and limiting capacity.
Under the “purple tier” of the state’s Covid-19 reopening guidance, grocery stores must limit capacity to 50 percent and clothing and retail stores (including malls) have a 25 percent capacity limit.
Michael Balliet, director of Community and Business Engagement for the county, said businesses previously had a 72-hour grace period to correct violations and avoid paying a fine. That grace period will be suspended Thursday through at least Sunday, he said.
Fines can begin at $250 and can go into the thousands for offending businesses, and there can be fines for multiple violations.
“We’re doing that in the hopes that businesses will really be on point in ensuring compliance in their facility,” Balliet said. “They have a legal obligation and ethical obligation to protect their workers and the public.”
Offending businesses will not be asked to pay the fine on the spot, Balliet said, but will instead go through a process later. Investigators with the compliance unit will be clearly identified with yellow vests, he noted.
The Gilroy Premium Outlets are expected to be a focus during the Black Friday shopping period, which typically draw thousands to its stores during this time. The outlets, which will be closed on Thanksgiving, will be open from 6am to 9pm on Nov. 27.
Anyone wishing to report suspected violations can do so at sccCOVIDconcerns.org.
South County continues to be a hotspot
The Latinx community continues to be the most affected by the pandemic.
As of Nov. 25, the Latinx population makes up 58.4 percent of the total 31,603 cases since March, as well as 35 percent of the 467 deaths, according to county data.
County Public Information Officer Ricardo Romero said the highest case rates are coming from Gilroy and East San Jose. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Hispanic and Latino communities make up 58 percent of Gilroy’s population.
As of Nov. 24, Gilroy reported 2,263 total cases since March, an increase of 236 cases over the past week, according to county data.
“We know the Latinx community does not have the privilege to isolate or work from home,” Romero said. “Many of them are front line workers: they work at a grocery store, are Uber drivers, are the people who do janitorial services.”
Santa Clara County provides various support services for those who test positive for Covid-19 or have been exposed to someone who has.
It offers motel rooms for 14 days for those who cannot isolate at home, or do not have a home. It also provides rental and utility bill assistance to eligible households.
For information, visit tinyurl.com/y2bnvp2q.
“Our community is tired of the pandemic,” Romero said. “We like to be close to people, we like to gather, we like to celebrate. But now is not the time to gather with people not in our household.”