Churches, retailers and restaurants that offer outdoor dining will be allowed to start welcoming back customers on June 5 under a revised stay-at-home order that Santa Clara County issued Monday afternoon.
The updated order, which will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, is the latest step in the county's incremental approach to reopening the economy. It eases restrictions for all manufacturing, small service businesses and child care programs. This means "low contact" in-home services like house cleaning and shops like shoe repair, will be allowed to reopen on Friday, subject to social-distancing guidelines. Also, churches will be able to have outdoor gatherings for up to 25 people.
The Monday order also eases restrictions for outdoor activities that do not involve physical contact, including swimming, tennis and golf. It also permits stores that have been restricted to curbside service since May 22, to provide in-store retail. It also allows dog grooming businesses to reopen.
The decision to loosen some of the restrictions that have been in effect since March 17 is based on the county's recent success in reducing the number of new cases, increased testing and other key metrics that officials are using to guide their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The county announcement notes that hospitalization rates remain low and steady across the county; and that outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities have been successfully contained. In addition, case investigation and contact tracing is "steadily increasing and is staying ahead of demand," the announcement states.
Dr. Sara Cody, the county's health officer, said in a statement that COVID-19 has had an impact on "every aspect of our lives," and has been particularly devastating to low-income communities and communities of color. This, she said, has been "compounded by the structural inequities that exist in our society that are unjust, persistent and damaging."
"The global pandemic is ongoing, and we must continue to protect the health and well-being of our entire community, especially those most vulnerable to serious illness and death from COVID-19," Cody said. "Public Health is about ensuring health in every sense of the word: from diseases like COVID-19, and from social and economic impacts on health, too. For all those reasons, we have chosen to be measured in how and when we reopen."
The order will allow cities like Palo Alto to advance their plans to close streets to traffic and make them available for outdoor dining, subject to guidelines from the county. The specific guidance for restaurants is brief, related mostly to serving diners from the same households and social distancing.
Outdoor dining gives people access to food "at a relatively low risk of transmission," an appendix in the updated order states.
"Because food service will be limited to outdoor areas, the overall volume of increased activity will be modest," it reads. "In addition, interactions and activities that occur outdoors carry a lower risk of transmission than most indoor interactions and activities. Risks associated with these operations can be substantially mitigated with conditions to ensure adequate social distancing and limit intermixing between households."
Restaurants must limit outdoor tables to six people each, all of whom must be from the same household. All tables must be placed 6 feet apart to allow for social distancing.
The county also will allow alcohol to be served with meals but not separately; bar areas must stay closed.
The county's latest order largely followed the guidance of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who in recent weeks has been gradually opening up sectors of the state economy. Bay Area counties, which have largely marched in lockstep since the March stay-at-home orders, have taken slightly different approaches to reopening. San Francisco and San Mateo counties had each eased restrictions for curbside retail before Santa Clara County.
On Monday, health officials from all six counties issued a joint statement saying that they will each make decisions on what to reopen and how quickly to do so "based on the data related to the specific conditions in our communities, as well as our joint assessment of broader regional trends."
"As we open additional sectors, we are relying on businesses to consistently follow social distancing protocols and public health guidance to protect their employees and customers," the statement reads. "Bay Area residents should still stay home as much as possible, wear face coverings, frequently wash hands, stay home when feeling ill, get tested if exposed, and follow the other precautions that have helped our region make such outstanding progress to slow the spread of COVID-19."
Even as the order was issued, hundreds of residents in various Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, Menlo Park and Palo Alto, assembled to protest police brutality and demand justice in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis on May 25.
In light of the protests, Santa Clara County public health officials issued a statement Monday asking residents who are engaging in peaceful protests to use face coverings and to maintain social distancing to the extent possible.
Those who have been in close contact with others at large gatherings are also encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 within three to five days of exposure and to watch for any symptoms of the virus. Testing facilities can be found at sccfreetest.org.
Staff Writer Elena Kadvany contributed to this report.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.