Santa Clara County Previews New COVID-19 Reopening Plan

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and Public Health Department held a joint meeting Monday with the San Jose City Council to preview the county's new reopening plan that will be released later this week.

Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody discussed the transition from a sector-to-sector reopening plan to a risk-aversion plan.

"In this new phase we hope to create a framework that people will be able to live within for a long time to offer clarities on how to stay as safe as possible while doing the things we all need to do, and to create more certainty about the path ahead," Cody said.

The new plan will include across-the-board guidelines for all open businesses, with some more restrictive guidelines for higher-risk activities that will be applicable for the long-term. This also means that some businesses will be deemed too high-risk to open up for the time being.

“To use an overused phrase, we are entering a new normal that involves significant changes to the ways we do many things," Cody said. 

The first reopening on May 4 allowed construction and outdoor recreation activity. Then on May 22, curbside retail pickup was instituted. Cody said public health officials expected that cases would increase, but not at the levels the county is currently experiencing.

Since May 25, 160 worksites in Santa Clara County have reported at least one COVID-19 case, 53% of which were in construction, 15% in food service and 9% in retail stores, according to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

Construction sites accounted for 90% of the county's outbreaks. An outbreak is defined as three or more cases linked to exposure within the workplace.

Overall, Santa Clara County has 4,265 positive COVID-19 cases and 156 deaths. The day with the county's highest number of positive cases since the pandemic started was last Tuesday at 138 cases.

Some elected officials at the meeting suggested the increase in cases could've been linked to the large protests that followed the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, but Cody said there was not enough data to determine the protests were a major cause for the spread.

While the county has been seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, it has also seen a significant increase in testing. 

Dr. Marty Fenstersheib from the county's public health department has been in charge of testing. He said the county has been able to meet its goal of an average of 4,000 daily tests over the last two weeks. 

“We need to go back into a containment mode, and in order to do that it's very, very important that we continue and increase our capacity to test people, especially those at highest risk, and then investigate those cases and trace those contacts," Fenstersheib said.  

Since June 16, there have been 28,861 tests done, with 38% being completed by the county. Of the total tests, 2% were positive. However, testing data suggests that the virus disproportionately impacts Eastside San Jose, where 4% of tests are positive and South County, where 3% of tests are positive, according to Fenstersheib.

"The most important thing we are doing now is testing to know exactly where our cases are and who is being impacted so that instead of having wide-sweeping shelter-in-place orders that lock everybody down, we are able to in general release people as much back to their normal lives as possible while focusing on specific interventions on people who are cases or are contacts to cases," Assistant Health Officer Dr. Sarah Rudman said.

"In order to do that it is a massive venture that we have built over the last several months," Rudman said.

That venture is increasing staff for case investigation and contact tracing (CICT). Those who test positive are required to stay in isolation for two weeks. CICT staff will support the person in isolation by creating a plan to assist them with food, hospital visits or anything else they may require. 

The county currently has 741 CICT staffers, exceeding the state's goal of 289 CICT staffers for Santa Clara County. Of that staff, 16% identify as Asian, 15% as Hispanic/Latino and 3% as Black.

All San Jose city councilmembers shared their opinions regarding ways to improve the joint response with the county.

Councilmember Maya Esparza suggested updates to the testing websites to make it more user-friendly and Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco suggested changing testing hours from in the middle of a weekday to times that allow full-time workers to come get tested.

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