The new order also lifts prohibitions on use of shared outdoor spaces, such as skate parks, which do not involve shared equipment or physical contact.
Health officials in San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Francisco counties as well as the city of Berkeley, announced similar measures Wednesday. San Mateo County's updated order adds one more restriction than the other counties do: Residents and visitors are prohibited from traveling more than 10 miles from their homes for outdoor recreation. People who live more than 10 miles from the county are prohibited from traveling there for outdoor recreation but may travel to the county for other essential reasons.
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.
But even as some restrictions are lifted, the Bay Area's approach also reflects the caution that counties throughout California, as well as state leaders, 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 stay-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 in early February was among the first in the country to have COVID patients, she said, but now its cases account for fewer than 5% of California's and just a fraction of the nation's case total, which is now more than 1 million. As of Thursday, the county had 2,163 confirmed cases and 111 deaths related to COVID-19.
Cody said the goal is to move from the types of "broad-based" restrictions that have been in place since March 17 to a "more focused approach" to protect 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 new order 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 local 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."
Last week, the Atherton City Council asked San Mateo County officials to allow town residents necessary landscaping and gardening activity. This followed concerns from residents about their inability to perform the landscaping work personally; vegetation that would "quickly get out of control" given the large nature of most of the properties in town; and personal health issues related to either the activity or the impact of vegetation that isn't maintained.
Mayor Rick DeGolia called the county's decision to allow gardening to be a "very important move."
But "going forward, I think that it is critical that the county greatly expand the availability of testing and put into practice a comprehensive tracing strategy; otherwise, we just don't know who has the virus and who doesn't," he noted in an email on Wednesday .
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; there is an adequate supply of personal protective equipment to protect all health care workers; the county is meeting its need for testing residents who are in vulnerable populations or in high-risk settings or occupations; and the county has the capacity to investigate all cases and trace all of 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 backward," 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 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, in which businesses that require 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.
Almanac Staff Writers Kate Bradshaw and Angela Swartz contributed to this report. Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at [email protected]
This story contains 1067 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a member, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Membership starts at $12 per month and may be cancelled at any time.