Santa Clara County officials on Monday revised its risk reduction order that could allow indoor dining and indoor gatherings, such as worship services, to resume as soon as Oct. 14 with state approval.
The county could move into the "orange tier," also known as Tier 3, under the state's color-coded reopening system, which allows restaurants to host customers for indoor meals and places of worship to welcome congregants, but with limitations, county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody announced at a press conference on Monday afternoon.
The Revised Risk Reduction Order would align the county with the "orange tier," allowing all businesses to operate as long as they conform under the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The order allows for greater consistency and uniformity with the state's framework, but the county will add some caveats, she said.
While allowing indoor dining and gatherings, the county would keep in place "red tier" (or Tier 2) requirements that restrict indoor dining and gatherings to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 200 people would be allowed under the revised order. The rules for gatherings, including in theaters, can be found in the health officer's revised mandatory directive for gatherings. New rules for indoor and outdoor dining will be forthcoming in a mandatory directive.
Under the revised order, all businesses must continue to require workers to do their jobs from home whenever possible. Employees can only go into the workplace for tasks they can’t complete remotely.
All businesses must complete and submit a social distancing protocol for each of their facilities. Previous social distancing protocols must be updated within 14 days of the revised order going into effect using a new template the county will soon make available.
Businesses must also report confirmed COVID-19 cases to the Public Health Department within four hours and ensure their workers alert them if they test positive.
Santa Clara County is currently in the state's red tier (Tier 2). If current trends continue to show a downward count of COVID-19 cases, the state could assign the county to the less restrictive orange tier as early as Oct. 13. The county order would go into effect the next day, County Counsel James Williams said.
After the county health officer issued the original March stay-at-home order, the county averaged 45 new cases a day between April and June 15. When some of the restrictions were lifted to allow retail businesses to reopen, positive COVID-19 cases skyrocketed to a high of 269 per day by July 17, a six-fold spike in one month, Cody noted.
After stepping back on reopening the local economy, the seven-day average fell to 102 cases as of Monday, a good trajectory, but one Cody still wants to see move lower. "It took two-and-a-half months to bring it down," she noted. "We can get into trouble very fast, but it takes a long time to get out of (it)," she said.
Cody said it's imperative that everyone continues to practice precautions to keep the number of infections down.
"The fact that you are able to do something doesn't mean that you should. The public's commitment, both businesses and our residents, to wearing face coverings, and maintaining social distancing and testing is what will help us move forward to the next tier in the state's COVID-19 blueprint," she said.
Without that commitment, if infections rise again, the county could be pushed backward into more restrictions, Cody noted.
"This is why we urge all residents to be cautious, stay home when possible, minimize interaction with anyone outside their household, maintain social distance, wear a face covering, and move activities outdoors when possible," Cody said in a statement.
People older than age 50 and those with serious underlying medical conditions are at greater risk for serious illness from COVID-19. Indoor dining and indoor gatherings are particularly high-risk activities, according to the county.
Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, encouraged people to continue to adhere to the health officer's guidelines for safety.
"If as we move slowly forward we slip back into a previous tier, it will affect everybody," she said at the press conference announcing the revised order.
She was asked about recent comments made by President Donald Trump that played down the threat of the virus in spite of his own positive diagnosis and treatment for what have been described by multiple news outlets as serious symptoms.
She noted that not every American will receive the same treatment and care as the president.
"It is incredibly irresponsible to tell people that a disease that is deadly is nothing to care about. It is disappointing that he's used his bully pulpit to put lives at risk," she said.
"If as we move slowly forward we should slip back into a previous tier, that is going to be disruptive for everybody," she said.
Supervisor Dave Cortese noted during the press conference that even a few deaths should be a cause for serious concern.
From Sept. 25 through last Friday, 20 people died in the county of COVID-19, he said.
"If 20 people died in a year from anything in a prior year, all of you would be asking us: 'What happened?'" he said.