Book shops, clothing stores and other businesses in Santa Clara County that allow storefront pickup can start reopening Friday, provided they can limit their employee count and demonstrate their compliance with social-distancing rules, county leaders announced Monday.
With the amended order, Santa Clara County joined the wave of Bay Area counties beginning the transition into the second phase of reopening of the economy, consistent with recent guidance from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
San Mateo County announced last Friday that it is allowing retailers such as book stores, florists, clothing stores and toy stores to operate with curbside pickup, effective today (May 18). Retailers in San Francisco, Marin, Alameda and Contra Costa counties also resumed operations today, subject to curbside mandates and social-distancing restrictions.
In Santa Clara County, any retailers that can provide curbside service will have to limit their employee count to one employee per 300 square feet of space, under the new order. In addition, they will have to fill out a new five-page protocol sheet, detailing what they have done to prevent coronavirus transmission. They will 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 Monday 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 Monday order represents the county's first easing of shelter-in-place 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 cases, suggesting that it is safe to further relax the shelter-in-place restrictions that had 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 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 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 4,000 tests per day, Cody noted that its testing shortfall has significantly decreased. While in early April, the county was usually doing fewer than 600 tests per day, 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 begin reopening businesses, county leaders pushed back against the notion that they were pressured to relax the shelter-in-place 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 cases 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.
"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."
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.