County officials defend slower reopening than other counties

Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County health officer, speaks at a news conference on Jan. 31. AP photo.

BY ELAINE GOODMAN
Daily Post Correspondent

Santa Clara County officials hope to announce further loosening of COVID-19 related shelter-in-place restrictions by the end of this month, but they weren’t making any promises during a telephone town hall meeting Sunday.

Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer, said it is her “great hope” that restrictions can be eased before the end of the county’s current shelter-in-place order, which is effective through May 31.

“At the first moment that we think it’s safe to take another step without jeopardizing the progress that we’ve made, we will do so,” Cody said. “But we really need to have it based on our data and be able to assure communities in our county that it really is safe.”

Residents wonder why neighboring counties are allowing more activities while Santa Clara County maintains stricter limits.

San Mateo County, for example, issued an order on Friday that will allow retail businesses to open for curbside or drive-through pickup starting today. Services that don’t require close customer contact also may resume, such as pet grooming, dog walking, car washes, appliance repair, plumbing, and residential and janitorial cleaning.

San Mateo County said its new order is “in alignment” with early Phase 2 of the reopening plan laid out by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“People are, as you know, losing their jobs, losing their health benefits, other benefits,” said a woman from Mountain View who called in to yesterday’s town hall meeting. “So why is it that we’re still in Phase 1, when the governor has declared that we can enter Phase 2?”

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who hosted the town hall meeting, said many other residents have the same question. Simitian said health officers in each county are basing their judgements on local data.

“We are making our decisions based on our local indicators,” Cody said.
Another caller wanted to know why Santa Clara County is prohibiting parades or drive-bys organized to celebrate graduations.

“You’ve got a situation where … teachers and administrators are maintaining social distance within and outside cars, where we’re all wearing masks, and all events are taking place outside. Those are consistent with the state and the national health guidelines,” said the caller from Mountain View.

Not essential travel

Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said the issue is that the events don’t fall under the county’s definition of essential travel. But Williams said the county is re-examining the events, which seem to be low-risk.

“It is something that we’re definitely looking at closely,” he said. “It is something we’ve heard from a lot of people about.”

San Mateo County issued an order on May 11 that allows for “certain highly regulated vehicle-based gatherings.”

Thousands of complaints

While some people are concerned that Santa Clara County hasn’t done more to loosen its shelter-in-place restrictions, others are worried that the rules aren’t being followed. Williams said the district attorney’s office has received thousands of complaints and questions about enforcement.

He said it’s easier for authorities to deal with non-compliance by businesses, which is addressed through education and follow-up with penalties as needed.

In contrast to businesses, Williams said, individuals’ behavior is more of a cultural issue. People need to convey to their family and friends the importance of social distancing, face coverings and good hygiene, he said.

“That’s a cultural issue, and that’s not going to be answered by law enforcement, that’s not going to be answered by the DA’s office,” Williams said. “That’s going to be answered by how each of us individually behave when we are out and about.”

Confusion

Simitian noted that the shelter-in-place orders might apply differently to people depending on their jobs. And different sets of rules are likely confusing to residents, he said.

“Folks who hear one thing at the federal level, another thing at the state level and then a different thing here at the county level are understandably challenged sometimes to try and determine just what is applicable to them,” Simitian said.

As of Sunday, Santa Clara County had reported 2,453 cases of COVID-19, 135 deaths and 75 patients hospitalized due to the respiratory illness. The county’s population is 1.9 million.

In San Mateo County, there were 1,602 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, 66 deaths and 44 currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients. San Mateo County’s population is 727,000.

3 Comments

  1. Hey, PA Daily Post, thank you for publishing the population totals of SM and SC counties with the covid totals. Perspective, even in tragedy, is important.

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