Professional sporting events will not be allowed to have audiences and theme parks will not resume operation anytime soon in Santa Clara County, despite the state's decision that allows them to reopen, county leaders said on Tuesday afternoon.
County leaders said they would not relax their restrictions on theme parks and sports venues for some time, citing the trajectory of rising COVID-19 cases throughout the nation and warnings by federal and state officials that this fall and winter could see a dramatic rise in infection rates.
"We want to make it clear that superspreader events will not be allowed within the county of Santa Clara," county Executive Jeff Smith said during a press conference in San Jose on Tuesday afternoon.
The California Department of Public Health released new guidance and made updates to the Blueprint for a Safer Economy related to COVID-19 on Tuesday at noon. Professional sporting events at outdoor stadiums and racetracks may resume outdoor operations if their county is in the "orange" tier (also known as Tier 3, indicating a moderate risk level) with capacity limited to 20% and in the "yellow" tier (also known as Tier 4, indicating a minimal risk for COVID-19) with capacity limited to 25%. Ticket sales must be limited to customers traveling within a 120-mile radius. The guidance applies only to professional sports. It doesn't apply to youth or adult recreational, amateur, semi-pro or collegiate sporting competitions, according to the state guidance.
"The changes in the state's guidelines regarding professional sports in our opinion is really quite dangerous," Smith said. "You just do the math. Twenty percent of the number of capacity at Levi's Stadium means just under 14,000 people could attend a football game there, and if you look around the county and around the region within 150 miles of this county there are areas and communities that have positivity rates of COVID that are in the 8% range. Ours in this county happens to be around 1%."
He estimated that somewhere between 250 and 1,000 people out of the 14,000 who would attend a football game at Levi's Stadium would be infected.
"There is no question — this is dangerous. This is the worst thing to be doing at a time when California is beginning to see some light. This amounts to another step backwards," he said.
The state has also allowed theme parks with an overall capacity of less than 15,000 to resume limited operations if their county is in the "orange" tier of the state's blueprint for reopening with capacity limited to 25% or 500 people, whichever is fewer. The smaller parks may only open outdoor attractions, and ticket sales must be limited to visitors residing in the same county as the park. All theme parks may resume operations if their county is in the "yellow" tier at 25% capacity, according to the state guidance.
The venues must have advanced ticketing systems and preassigned seating to help maintain physical distance. Tailgating parties and other activities that encourage mixing of different households in parking lots and other areas must be discouraged, and guests should be advised against yelling, singing and booing, which would spread the virus into the air. Face coverings are to be mandatory.
The state guidance allows local health officers to institute more stringent rules tailored to local conditions.
County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody tried to convince the state that reopening the venues where thousands would gather "is a really unwise idea," Smith said. She was unsuccessful, however.
"It's not a matter of reasonable scientific decision-making instead of political decision-making," he said.
"We must all continue to prioritize reducing the spread of COVID-19, creating conditions that will allow our businesses, schools and other community organizations to operate safely. As we see COVID-19 rates rising in states across the U.S., and as we enter the winter months when risk will increase, we cannot take chances with the health and wellbeing of our community and forfeit the many sacrifices that have been made to slow the spread of COVID-19," the county said in a statement.
Speaking for himself and not for the county, Smith said that the state's new guidance "not only boggles the mind, it is unconscionable."
There is a model to have games without a live audience and it makes no sense to put a large number of people in a stadium, which, "acts like a petri dish," he said.
The county has spoken to operators of California's Great America, Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park, Levi's Stadium and SAP Center in San Jose regarding its decision, Smith said. He did not know how they reacted, but he said they seemed to know about the state guidelines changes before the county health officer was notified.
The state's updated guidance issued Tuesday also allows personal care services such as esthetic, skin care, electrology, body art professionals, tattoo parlors, piercing shops and massage therapy to operate indoors with modifications, which the state Department of Public Health said can reduce spread of the virus. The update applies to all counties including those with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases that are in the state's "purple" tier (also known as Tier 1, indicating widespread of the virus).
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.