San Mateo County announced on May 15 that it would allow retailers to operate with curbside pickup, effective May 18. Retail operations in San Francisco, Marin, Alameda and Contra Costa counties also resumed operations on May 18, subject to curbside mandates and social-distancing restrictions.
In Santa Clara County, any retailers providing curbside service must also limit their employee count to one employee per 300 square feet of space under the new order. In addition, they must fill out a new five-page protocol sheet, detailing what they have done to prevent coronavirus transmission. They also have to post a sheet for visitors that lists their safety measures and a county-issued "COVID-19 Prepared" certificate.
"We want people to know what the business has done to be compliant with these protocols so that folks feel safe and are safe in entering those facilities and conducting business, and employees feel safe around working there," County Counsel James Williams said during a May 18 press conference announcing the changes.
The order also allows car parades, as well as the reopening of outdoor museums, outdoor historical sites and publicly accessible gardens, Williams said.
The updated order represents the county's first easing of shelter-at-home restrictions since May 4, when construction work was permitted to resume and gardeners were allowed to go back to work. In the two weeks since then, the county has not seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, suggesting that it is safe to further relax the restrictions that have been in effect since March 17.
Dr. Sara Cody, the county's health officer, said the decision was driven by data. The number of new cases in the county per day is stable and has been decreasing, she said, "significantly reducing the doubling time for new cases." She noted that Santa Clara County started with more cases than any county in the state but today accounts for just 3% of all California cases.
Cody said the number of patients requiring hospitalization for COVID-19 has been consistently trending down and that the hospitals have the beds and the staffing they need to "take care of any patient in any need."
And while the county remains far from its goal of conducting 4,000 coronavirus tests per day, Cody noted that its testing shortfall has significantly decreased. In early April, the county was usually performing fewer than 600 tests per day, but on one recent day, the number of tests was up around 1,600. The positivity rate of tests has dropped from 9% in early April to 1% to 1.5% these days, which Cody said is a "very significant improvement."
"With this progress, we can now take another step forward in gradually reopening," Cody said.
Even though Santa Clara is one of the last counties in the Bay Area to allow businesses to reopen, county leaders pushed back against the notion that they were pressured to relax their health order because other parts of the state are moving faster. When asked about that, Williams and Cody pointed to the fact that the county's last modification to the health order came two weeks ago. Because the incubation period for COVID-19 is about 14 days, the county waited this long to see the effects of the May 4 order.
The fact that new cases per day have continued to decline and that hospital capacity remains robust prompted the decision to further relax restrictions, Cody said. An increase in testing and contact tracing capacity also contributed to the decision, she said, though she did not provide details about tracing. (See article, "Has the county met the state's metrics for reopening?")
"The big picture is, of course we want to move as quickly as we can as there are significant health harms with the social and economic disruption, but we have to be able to look at our data to understand whether we have the headroom to take that next step," Cody said. "I think here in Santa Clara County we have the headroom. Not a lot, but we probably have more headroom here than many, many, many other places."
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