Santa Clara County upgrades to yellow tier | May 21, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 21, 2021

Santa Clara County upgrades to yellow tier

COVID-19 cases are dropping dramatically

by Sue Dremann

Santa Clara County moved to the state's yellow tier on Wednesday, the least-restrictive level for reopening during the pandemic. The county also rescinded its October Risk Reduction Order, which put additional limits on businesses to protect employees.

"We have a clear path out of this pandemic," county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said during a press conference in San Jose on Tuesday. "For the first time, I feel optimistic. For a while, it seemed uncertain to me whether the vaccines or the variants would win. And now it looks like 'Team Vaccine' will come out on top," she said.

The county's graduation to the yellow tier comes after a long-fought battle to get as many people vaccinated as possible. As of Tuesday, 75% of residents ages 16 and older have received at least one shot; 60% are fully vaccinated, she said.

The county's average daily COVID-19 case rate on May 15 was two per 100,000 persons, a drop from eight per 100,000 one month ago.

The yellow tier in the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy allows expanded indoor capacity at restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, businesses and many other operations. Bars that don't serve food can reopen indoors with a maximum capacity of 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

The yellow tier guidelines also allow expanding outdoor gatherings to 100 people or fewer; indoor gatherings, which are strongly discouraged, are permitted with modifications and at a maximum of 50% capacity; and private events can host up to 200 people outdoors. If all guests have a negative COVID-19 test result or show proof of vaccination, the capacity rises to 400 people.

Indoors gatherings of up to 200 people are allowed if all guests test negative or are fully vaccinated. Sports and live performances may have as much as 67% of capacity. Only California residents are allowed at these events and at amusement parks.

In addition, the new county health order eliminates the need for businesses to maximize the number of staff who are teleworking. Businesses and schools must continue to report positive COVID-19 cases to the county Public Health Department and quarantine workers who have the virus.

Within 14 days, employers must determine which staff are fully vaccinated and which are not. Employees who are fully vaccinated don't need to quarantine if they have close contact with COVID-19, Cody said.

She said the changes are based on new scientific evidence that found fully vaccinated people don't transmit the coronavirus. The approved COVID-19 vaccines also "offer extraordinary protection against illness and transmission," she said.

"We support the state's decision to align its policies with the CDC's (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations on June 15, giving more people time to get vaccinated and giving businesses more time to prepare for that change. If you are eligible and haven't already been vaccinated, now is the time."

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration is crafting new rules for businesses to follow based on whether an employee is vaccinated or not vaccinated. For example, a proposed rule would be that if all staff members are fully vaccinated, they wouldn't need to wear face coverings and physical distancing would be relaxed, county Counsel James Williams said.

Businesses would determine whether to require vaccinations of their employees, but the county's order doesn't mandate it, he added.

"Today is a huge milestone on our county's path out of this pandemic," Cody said. "Because so many members of our community are now fully vaccinated, COVID-19 case rates are at some of the lowest levels we've seen since the start of the pandemic. We are now confident that vaccination not only prevents people from getting sick, it also prevents people from spreading COVID-19."

With the recent approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds, the county has made it available to that age group at all of its vaccination sites and is also working with pediatricians to ensure they can offer the vaccinations.

A complete list of what's allowed under the yellow tier can be found at

Email Staff Writer Sue Dremann at [email protected]


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2021 at 2:30 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Yipee. We made it. Well done everyone. We are reaching the end of the tunnel and there is light.

Posted by TimR
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2021 at 4:36 pm

TimR is a registered user.

SCC has the highest vaccination rate in the country? That's interesting. All I know is, it feels great to be vaccinated and out and about without a mask! A big weight has been lifted.

Posted by Aletheia
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 19, 2021 at 10:38 am

Aletheia is a registered user.

Why are masks required at all? Why require proof of vaccination (or anything)? Everyone who wanted to be vaccinated is vaccinated. Why do I care if someone unvaccinated is not wearing a mask? Silliness.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2021 at 11:32 am

Bystander is a registered user.

The collection of employees vaccination status is not something we expected with this news. San Mateo is already in the yellow tier, and their businesses do not require this, per county guidelines. San Francisco is already in the yellow and as far as I know do not require this from county guidelines.

Why is SCC different? Why are we so "special" here and have to be different?

As far as the legality is concerned, I am not knowledgeable enough to comment. But, as for the extra requirement to do this for business owners, it is very onerous and could be problematic particularly in small businesses which are struggling to keep open, keep employees, and keep following the draconian rules which seem to be mounting all the time.

Posted by V. Singh MD
a resident of Los Altos
on May 19, 2021 at 11:36 am

V. Singh MD is a registered user.

The coronavirus pandemic is far from over.

A false sense of security will open the floodgates for new infections and deaths from variant coronavirus strains.

The grim reaper has not folded his cards.

Posted by No heat
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 19, 2021 at 11:55 am

No heat is a registered user.

When the flu came to my office back in the fall of 2019, it spread from one row of desks to another through our open-office plan until almost everybody caught it. COVID-19 is even more contagious.
Asking employers to find out what fraction of employees are vaccinated is going to make it possible to figure out which ones are safe to reopen and which aren't. That's actionable information, and I appreciate that local officials are acting before people get sick.

Posted by PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2021 at 1:11 pm

PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

Aletheia clearly doesn't get it. It is people like Aletheia that will make sure that the pandemic stays around longer than it needs to or would if all citizens were responsible. I won't bother answering the question posed in the post; they probably don't conform to facebook or wherever Aletheia gets "information."

Posted by EmmaP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2021 at 4:21 pm

EmmaP is a registered user.

I'm not sure how they are calculating for "highest rate in the country". If by county, I think Marin even within California has a higher rate.

However by metro area the San Jose Metro area has the second highest rate (partial or fully vaccinated) after the Villages (which is considerably smaller) at least according to Covid ActNow Web Link (and scroll down for metro info). Note numbers from different sources vary depending on whether the percentage is calculated over the entire population (useful for knowing whether herd immunity is near) or over the eligible population (useful for knowing whether people who can are getting vaccinated). Covid ActNow calculates over the entire population; Santa Clara dashboard over eligible people.

Posted by No heat
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 19, 2021 at 5:04 pm

No heat is a registered user.


Marin County is at 71% of those aged 12 and up vaccinated per Web Link

Santa Clara County is at 72.1% of those aged 12 and up vaccinated
Web Link

We are slightly ahead, though we've still got to get a lot more of those age 12+ vaccinated. After-school appointments are readily available at Levi Stadium right now at Web Link

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2021 at 1:06 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

The big discussion now seems to be about checking vaccination status for workers. Is this just more red tape for employers in order to get their workers back in their offices? When it comes to the large SCC high tech employers such as Google and Apple requiring this information for every worker, every janitor, every bus driver, every canteen worker, etc. it will take a lot of HR hours. With smaller offices, somebody is going to have an extra line in their job description as they keep these records and request the information for every contractor, worker, volunteer, etc. and then repeat it every two weeks.

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