California approves Santa Clara County for further reopening, but who takes responsibility?
Santa Clara County Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody detailed the latest shelter in place revisions at the county chambers Tuesday. Photo by Katie Lauer.

After an initial denial over the Independence Day weekend, state officials approved Santa Clara County’s request to reopen more businesses under a new health order set to take effect next Monday.

As of Tuesday morning, the county’s 35-page application to verify it met certain criteria was added onto the California Department of Public Health’s list of counties with approval. The decision means outdoor dining in Santa Clara County can continue, and personal care services, such as hair and nail salons and gyms can reopen next Monday. The order also allows larger gatherings.

By attesting to state criteria related to case rates, testing, contact tracing and hospital capacity, among other requirements, Santa Clara County can move further into the state’s phased reopening plan.

In an impromptu news conference Tuesday, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said state approval allows the county to have flexibility by reducing risk for businesses that can open. But COVID-19 cases are still increasing, Cody warned, citing a two-day span of 450 new cases over the Independence Day weekend — the highest reporting period to date.

“What this order means is we need to do our lives differently,” Cody told reporters. “We have to conduct ourselves differently. We know that we can’t be one hundred percent in our homes, sheltered all the time. But when we go out to engage in business or to engage in activity, we must do it differently.”

On Saturday, the state had initially rejected Santa Clara County’s application, despite the county days later being removed from a watchlist for a high rate of hospitalizations. Local officials said they were in communication with the state to understand how to overturn the rejection.

County Deputy Executive David Campos told San José Spotlight the county was denied for increases in hospitalizations, which remained relatively low overall.

Santa Clara, Alameda and Imperial counties were previously the only regions that had not received approval for further reopening.

Armed California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents warned Ladera Hill in Morgan Hill to shut down on Friday, July 3. (Courtesy of PRxDigital)

The county’s denial came as armed state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents told restaurants in South County they couldn’t operate outdoors on Friday, which has been allowed under the county’s current June 5 order, according to Morgan Hill police.

State officials said Santa Clara County did not have approval to reopen restaurants and were violating California’s stay-home order. But Campos disputed that Monday, saying outdoor dining could continue.

The Ladera Grill was one of the Morgan Hill businesses targeted by state agents, though it remained open. As they prepared for outdoor dining Tuesday, manager Katrina Parsen said ABC’s action hurt business.

“It makes us happy that we don’t have to shut down because we weren’t doing anything wrong,” she told San José Spotlight. “We were (doing) what we were allowed to by Santa Clara County.”

Under the new health order announced last Thursday, the county is set to begin its path to reopening more businesses and activities, including gatherings of 20 people indoors and 60 outside. In the coming days, the county plans to post sector-specific directives related to the new order. Businesses must also follow physical distancing protocols.

“It’s definitely moving in the right direction,” said Matt Mahood, chief executive of the Silicon Valley Organization, the area’s largest chamber of commerce. “It’s unfortunate that, over the weekend, there was confusion and lack of clarity between the state and county, but I think we feel much better about the direction the county is moving with the state’s support and we need to keep moving in that direction of getting more small businesses open.”

Much of the onus to enforce the new order falls on businesses and residents. While hoping people are peer-pressured to do the right thing, Supervisor Dave Cortese last Thursday described enforcing the rules somewhat of an “honor” system.

Meanwhile, activities that require the removal of a mask, like dine-in eating or indoor swimming pools, will remain closed.

Luckily, San Jose barber Braulio Gonzalez saved money before the stay-at-home order shuttered his business. He turned to helping his dad’s landscaping company instead.

Gonzalez has followed state guidance on reopening personal care businesses, such as not accepting walk-in clients, but he feels shaky about disposable capes.

“We’ll see what happens. But the plan is to make myself available to clients,” Gonzalez said.

Amid the closure, Gonzalez got a course certificate on barber disinfectants and protocols, with a certificate he plans to post on social media. Barbers often serve a much larger purpose than cutting hair — they help people talk through their problems, build community and check on others’ well-being, Gonzalez adds.

“In times that we’re so disconnected and we’re so isolated, the connection between a client and barber, it’s not real unless we have a contact and ability to work with them,” he said. “Yeah, it’s about the economy, it’s about making money. But it’s also about serving people.”

Kathy diTullio, who owns her own gym business out of her two-car garage, has kept her gym open amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy of Kathy diTullio)

Meanwhile, Kathy diTullio has kept her Gilroy in-home gym business, KD Fitness, open inside her two-car garage.

She’s been cautious by only training one person at a time. Some clients prefer virtual workouts, she added, but it’s based on how clients feel.

“My biggest concern is how they plan to control just the flow,” diTullio said, citing physical distancing requirements and face masks, which can be cumbersome while working out. “I think it’s going to be really tedious in gyms to really regulate all that. Something’s gotta give.”

As the county begins further reopening next Monday, County Executive Jeff Smith said residents must protect themselves by physically distancing, wearing face coverings and isolating if they show symptoms. Officials noted the largest source of transmission comes from larger gatherings, such as Memorial Day weekend, often with family.

“That’s the problem that we’re trying to resolve with personal responsibility,” Smith said. “Obviously closing a restaurant doesn’t stop somebody from having a large gathering at their home, and the virus is passed through those large gatherings.

“No one should get the idea that we’re moving in a positive direction with the disease,” he added. “We’re going in a negative direction.”

Contact Eduardo Cuevas at [email protected] or follow @eduardomcuevas on Twitter.

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