The Bay Area's stay-at-home orders will stretch on until at least the end of May, though construction workers, gardeners and outdoor retailers that can accommodate physical distancing can get back to business as early as Monday, county officials announced Wednesday.
The new order in Santa Clara County, which Dr. Sara Cody, the county's health officer issued Wednesday, represents the Bay Area's first attempt to loosen the shelter-at-home directives that health officers across the region issued on March 16, when COVID-19 cases were rapidly climbing and officials were preparing for a larger surge. The order also lifts prohibitions on outdoor spaces such as skate parks, which do not involve shared equipment or physical contact.
Health officials at Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties, as well as the city of Berkeley, announced similar measures Wednesday. The jurisdictions had 7,253 confirmed cases and 266 deaths collectively as of Tuesday.
The new order also allows golf courses to reopen. However, golf courses must continue to remain closed under the statewide order, which supersedes the local ordinance. (Editor's note: The state revised its order on April 30 to allow individual golfers who walk the course and do not use a cart.)
But even as it lifts some restrictions, Santa Clara County's approach also reflects the cautious approach that counties throughout California, as well as state officials, have taken to reopening businesses. Restaurants with dine-in service, bars, hair salons and other businesses that are starting to reopen in other states will remain closed in the county — and the state — for weeks, possibly months.
The new order extends most of the current shelter-at-home prohibitions until May 31. They were set to expire this Sunday.
In making her announcement, Cody highlighted the county's progress in managing the pandemic. The county, she said, now accounts for fewer than 5% of the cases in California and just a fraction of the nation's case total, which is now more than 1 million. As of Tuesday, the county had 2,122 confirmed cases and 106 deaths related to COVID-19.
Cody said the goal is to move from the types of "broad-based mitigations" that had been in place since March 17 to a "more focused approach" targeting vulnerable populations.
"What we are hoping is because we have been extraordinarily successful in our region in suppressing cases, flattening the curve and decreasing the number of new cases that we have every day, we are hoping to successfully transition to a point where we can be more focused," Cody said at a news conference at the County Government Center in San Jose.
The order also allows nurseries, landscapers, gardeners and other businesses that primarily provide outdoor services to reopen (which does not include dining establishments with outdoor seating).
The March prohibition on gardening has been particularly contentious, with many Palo Alto residents and some city leaders questioning the county's decision to ban an outdoor activity that typically includes very little social interaction.
Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada said last week that the city has received more calls about gardening than about any other topic, with some complaining about gardening at a neighboring property and others complaining about the ban. Councilman Greg Tanaka aligned himself with the latter at the April 20 council meeting, where he described the gardening ban as "truly bizarre."
Cody said the county is basing its modifications to the heath orders on five indicators: whether the number of total COVID-19 cases in the community is flattening or decreasing; whether the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 is flat or decreasing; whether there is an adequate supply of personal protective equipment to protect all health care workers; whether the county is meeting its need for testing residents who are in vulnerable populations or in high-risk settings or occupations; and whether the county has the capacity to investigate all cases and trace all their contacts, isolating those who are infected or exposed.
"We have already made significant progress on many of these indicators and we need to make sure we don't slip backwards," Cody said. "Our goal is to gingerly chart a course to be the most health-protective."
The announcement by Cody mirrors in some ways the strategy that Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Tuesday for reopening business across the state. Newsom said he plans to transition "in weeks, not months" into a stage where some businesses can reopen.
Dr. Sonya Angell, the state's public health officer, said in a Tuesday presentation that this stage, known as Stage 2, will focus on "low-risk sectors" such as retailers that can provide curbside pickup, offices where telework is not possible and manufacturers that had not been deemed "essential" under the existing order.
Angell also said the second stage can include opening more parks and trails, many of which have been closed to the public over the past six weeks because of concern over physical distancing.
Newsom and Angell also indicated that it will be months before the state enters Stage 3 and businesses that require close proximity between staff and customers can reopen.
"Those are things like getting your haircut, getting your nails done, doing anything that has (a) very close, inherent relationship with other people, where proximity is very close. We need a thoughtful process to ensure that people don't put themselves at great risk in doing those activities," Angell said.
What's allowed — and what's not
A modified shelter-at-home order kicks in on May 4 in six Bay Area counties including Santa Clara and San Mateo. It eases restrictions on outdoor businesses, outdoor activities, construction and real estate transactions. Here's a quick summary of what is and is not allowed.
• Gardeners and landscapers: Under the March 16 stay-at-home order, gardeners and landscapers were allowed to perform only essential work needed to maintain the safety of a property. Now, they are permitted to resume all work.
• Construction: Before, only construction of public infrastructure and of residential developments that included affordable housing was permitted. Now, all construction has been added to the list of "essential business" and thus is permitted.
• Real estate: Under the March 16 order, real estate business was not allowed, although the rule that was eased under the county's March 31 updated order, which allowed virtual tours of properties. Now, real estate has been added to the county's list of "essential business." Agents can show a property in person, with proper social distancing and a limit of two clients at a time, even if people still reside in the home.
• Outdoor spaces: Golf courses are allowed under the new county order to reopen. On April 30, the state updated its shelter order to state that individual golfers can play so long as they walk the course and do not use a cart. Dog parks remain closed under both state and county orders because they "encourage gathering." Tennis courts are not explicitly mentioned in the county order, but sports in which equipment is shared are prohibited, except when played by members of the same household.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.