Effective immediately, a wide range of San Mateo County businesses and activities, from barbershops to gyms, are allowed to reopen, according to a June 17 announcement from the county.
Group gatherings are now limited to no more than 50 people with social distancing and face coverings, and people from multiple households are allowed to interact in "social bubbles" of 12 or fewer people.
The following types of business and services can now reopen, so long as they follow health and safety plans: dine-in restaurants, hair salons and barber shops, casinos, family entertainment centers, wineries, bars, zoos, museums, gyms, fitness centers, hotels (for tourism and individual travel), card rooms, racetracks, campgrounds and outdoor recreation areas.
In addition, personal service businesses like nail salons, body waxing and tattoo parlors may create safety plans and resume operations starting June 19.
Face coverings are still required inside or in line to enter businesses like grocery stores, laundromats, hospitals, clinics, testing locations, dentists, veterinary care sites and public transit or ride share services. They are recommended but not required for outdoor recreation when one can maintain 6 feet of space from others, but people should have them on hand in case they do have to go near others.
The new county order also permits people to interact with other households as part of a cohort termed a "social bubble." These groups of 12 or fewer people from different households or living units agree to socialize only with members of that group. The cohort should be maintained for three weeks at a minimum, and individuals should be part of only one bubble at a time. People who are part of the same bubble are advised, but not required, to practice social distancing and wear face coverings. Violations of the order are punishable by fine, imprisonment or both, according to the revised health order.
The county is now caught up to many other communities across the state that are further along in the reopening process. Last week, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the state affirming that it can satisfy certain criteria laid out in the state's plan for reopening, called its "Resilience Roadmap," and asking for permission to reopen businesses. The state granted the request.
"People want to get back to work. That said, it’s up to all of us to continue to wear face coverings and to maintain social distancing so we can continue to reopen both the economy and our social lives in a safe manner," Warren Slocum, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors whose district includes East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks, said in a press statement.
He added that many residents of those communities have had to choose between their physical and economic health during the pandemic.
"This is great news for so many of the thousands of small businesses that are truly the backbone of our local economy, especially in East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks," he said in a written statement.
The county's request to the state argued that the county is making good progress toward the state's benchmark goals even though it is not meeting all of them.
One of the benchmarks is to have no more than 5% of COVID-19 cases admitted to hospitals, or about 20 per day. The county has exceeded that rate on three of the last 44 days. Hospital surge capacity remains strong, county officials said in their application for permission to reopen, which compares county results in combating the coronavirus to state benchmarks.
Another benchmark is for hospitals and skilled nursing facilities to have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to last 14 days. The county is working to build up its reserves.
The health department works with a coordinator in Redwood City using software to collect requests from health care facilities, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, skilled nursing facilities and others that need medical and health supplies. The coordinator works with the county to keep a list of vendors and make sure they have the supplies needed to fulfill requests. The county's 17 skilled nursing facilities are polled daily to confirm they have enough PPE, according to the application.
One of the state requirements is to have no more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents over a two week period or for the rate of COVID-positive tests to be less than 8% in a one week period.
The county's current rate is 62 cases per 100,000 residents — more than twice the state benchmark. However, it passes the other part of the requirement, for testing. Only about 3.2% of tests in the county were COVID-positive June 3 through 9.
The county is also expanding its staffing for contact tracing. It has already increased the number of full-time people working on contact tracing from eight to 30, and plans to increase that to 75 by July by recruiting from among other county departments. The health department plans to be ready to expand the number of contact tracers to investigate up to 230 cases per day with 115 full-time employees by recruiting.
For much of the time the public health orders have been in effect, COVID-19 testing was not offered unless someone showed symptoms. With the loosening of those restrictions to people who are mild or moderately ill, presymptomatic or asymptomatic, the county has been able to exceed the state's benchmark for the number of daily tests offered by 26%, or about 1,151. During the week of May 31 to June 6, the county averaged 1,456 tests per day.
The county reports it's planning to target high-risk communities by testing all symptomatic and asymptomatic adults and their caregivers in skilled nursing facilities and congregate care settings every two weeks. The county has also been expanding testing services in East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks, Daly City and Half Moon Bay.
As of June 10, about 20% of the positive cases of COVID-19 and 63% of the COVID-19 related deaths in the county have been associated with congregate care facilities.
The county is planning to develop a draft of a COVID-19 containment plan by July 3.