After days of confusion, California has approved Santa Clara County’s variance application, which allows for outdoor dining to continue and the county’s new health order to take effect next week, the county announced Tuesday.
The health order announced last week will allow for more activities and businesses, such as hair and nail salons, and limited gatherings, to reopen or resume Monday, July 13.
The Santa Clara County Public Health Department worked closely with the state over the weekend after the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control gave notices to cease outdoor dining to restaurants in Morgan Hill, Gilroy and San Jose.
The notices left many city and county officials confused because they thought outdoor dining was allowed. The county Public Health Department submitted the variance application Monday night.
"The state's rapid response will save thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses at risk of permanently closing during this unprecedented health and economic crisis," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a news release. "This variance will allow more families to support themselves while businesses comply with strict safety guidelines -- saving livelihoods and lives."
The new health order switches from a phase-reopening plan to a risk-reduction plan that is intended to stay enacted for the following months.
"Getting a variance granted does not mean the virus is getting better ... as a matter of fact it's doing much worse," Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith said. "The reason we are applying for a variance has to do with the fact that we realize the success of dealing with this virus on the long term really depends on individual responsibility, not based on sectors of business that are opened."
The new order allows businesses to reopen if they can adhere to strict and consistent guidelines. The first guideline requires businesses to fill out the new version of the social distancing protocol through the county's online web portal before July 13.
The plan also sets capacity limits require that there is no more than one worker for every 250 gross square feet of the facility and one customer for every 150 square feet of space open to the public.
The new order also requires employers to report COVID-19 positive cases at work sites to the Public Health Department, allowing the county to do case investigation and contact tracing quicker. Employers are also encouraged to maximize telework when they can.
"What we are seeing now is that our cases are rising more dramatically than they have even last week," county Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. "So, this new order does not mean 'we're open, let's get back to our lives.' What this new order means is we need to do our lives differently, to conduct ourselves differently."
Cody pointed out that over the weekend, Santa Clara County saw about 450 cases in two days. The county currently has more case numbers in July than it did in April. The difference now, Cody said, is that the county has a lot more infrastructure to support a surge in cases.
Moving forward, the guiding principles for the new health order are as follows: outdoors is safer than indoors, more physical distance is safer than less physical distance, fewer and briefer contacts are safer than longer contacts, and face coverings should be worn consistently.
The county's Public Health Department will soon release mandatory health directives for specific activities and business sectors including personal services like hair and nail salons, athletic and religious gatherings, gyms and fitness centers, public transit, construction, hotels/motels, food facilities, agriculture and children's activities.
Coronavirus cases in the county continued to rise Tuesday. The county reported 70 new cases, bringing the county’s total to 5,478 — the second highest case total among the Bay Area’s nine counties.
“These trends are quite concerning, and make it clear that all members of the community must strictly follow all social distancing requirements and protocols and consistently utilize face coverings,” the county said in a statement.
Until the new health order is enacted on July 13, the regulations from the current health order issued on June 5 will remain in place.