Santa Clara County health leaders delivered a sobering message on Monday morning: COVID-19 cases in the county are starting to surge.
The sharper rise in cases in the last week comes after a slower drift upward in October, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said during a press conference in San Jose. The trajectory is starting to look like other areas of the state and country, which have seen steep hikes, she said.
To keep the deadly coronavirus from spiraling out of control, the public and businesses must do everything that they can to follow safety protocols, including wearing masks, washing their hands and socially distancing themselves to try to slow the spread of the virus, she said.
"The sharp uptick in cases is a very worrisome sign in terms of what it will mean for our hospitals," Cody said, noting that the county is also seeing a rise in hospitalizations and could see a sharper spike as the number of cases continues to climb.
As of Nov. 9, the county has had a cumulative total of 26,747 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 264 of which were new, according to its online COVID-19 data. There have been 433 deaths since the pandemic began, including three that were announced Monday. There are currently 103 hospitalizations, 19 of which are new, according to the county's dashboard. People ages 18 to 34 are showing the most cases and county officials are monitoring cases between 25 to 29 year olds, Cody said.
Health leaders don't have a clear explanation of what's causing the surge, such as specific superspreader events. The rise does come nine days after Halloween. It's possible many people are developing "pandemic fatigue" and might be less careful about following local health protocols, she said.
The county's last sharp spike was in July. Restrictions and publicity helped bring the case numbers down. By the beginning of October, new positive cases had dropped to double digits per day; that number has now risen to triple digits, she said.
A rise in hospitalization rates usually lags behind the number of positive cases, but the county is starting to see those numbers increase. The number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations had been about 80 per day. Over the weekend, more than 100 people were hospitalized, she said.
Cody said it will take everyone's effort to help bring the numbers down.
"What each of us (does) every day really matters to keep us from trending ourselves into the red and possibly purple tier," she said, noting that greater restrictions under the state's colored tiers could be instituted again if cases continue to rise.
County Counsel James Williams said the public should also expect to see an orange check mark at businesses that have filed and submitted revised protocols they will follow for reopening their businesses safely under the state's orange tier rules.
"We do need it to be a community expectation and norm that people only go to places where they see that orange check mark," he said.
Michael Balliet, head of the county's Emergency Operations Center business engagement branch, said staff have been actively engaging with businesses to help them be in compliance. His office has received 1,850 complaints or concerns about businesses and has assessed more than $600,000 in fines so far to habitually noncompliant businesses. The majority of businesses have corrected any issues. The county has delivered 79 notices of violations and dozens of notices of fine impositions, he said.
Anyone who has a concern or complaint about a business or gathering — or regarding access to testing for the virus — can file a report at scccovidconcerns.org. The public can also see which businesses have submitted protocol plans by visiting sdp.sccgov.org.
Ten Bay Area health officers issued a joint statement Monday on how to reduce risk from the coronavirus during the holidays. They strongly discourage people from nonessential travel. If they do, they're advised to quarantine at home for 14 days after they return.
"Travel outside the Bay Area will increase your chance of getting infected and spreading the virus to others after your return. For those who are traveling, there are tips to help avoid catching COVID-19 or spreading it to fellow travelers," the officers said.
The recommendations include no in-person gatherings with people outside of their household to reduce the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19. If people decide to have one, they should be "small, short, stable, and outdoors," according to the statement.
"When people who live in different houses or apartments are together at the same time in the same space, risk of COVID-19 spreading goes up, even when the people are relatives or friends. Please celebrate safely this year and protect yourself and your family by including masks, keeping a distance, and staying outdoors," Cody said in the statement.
The officials recommend decorating their home or yard, sharing a virtual meal with family or friends, hosting online parties or contests, preparing traditional meals to deliver to family and neighbors, having drive-by visits, attending drive-in venues to see holiday movies or attending holiday-themed, outdoor holiday installations.
Santa Clara County's mandatory directive for gatherings, revised on Nov. 4, can be found here.
Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, said she understands that people are tired of following rules and that they miss their families and friends, but she urged the public, particularly during the upcoming holidays, to continue to be vigilant and restrict their movements. She urged everyone to get a flu shot so that hospital beds needed for COVID-19 patients won't be taken up by people who are sick with influenza.
"A household is not everybody I know. A household is the people you live with," she said. "We're only going to get through this one way. … We're asking everyone in our community to dig in a little deeper and dig in a little longer."
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.