Santa Clara County joined California in lifting a stay-at-home order Monday, allowing businesses to reopen under previous purple-tier restrictions.
Effective immediately, outdoor dining and personal care services can get back to business, and professional, collegiate, adult and youth sports can also resume.
“Santa Clara County continues to experience very high rates of COVID-19 transmission,” said County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. “Our collective actions to date have saved lives and helped protect our health care system from collapse. I encourage all residents to remain vigilant, wear a mask anytime you leave your home, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from anyone outside your household and get vaccinated when it is your turn.”
State officials said they are starting to see the COVID-19 surge in California slow, despite many hospitals having scarce space for patients.
Intensive care units in Santa Clara County are barely remaining below their capacity.
As of Jan. 23, 307 ICU beds were occupied with 160 of them with COVID-19 patients. The maximum ICU capacity is 317 beds, according to the county’s data. Local hospitals are caring for 545 COVID-19 patients, which includes ICU patients.
The Bay Area region only has 8.2% of its ICU beds available, according to state data. When asked by San José Spotlight why the county is reopening while hospitals still face a shortage in capacity, County Counsel James Williams said those questions should be directed to the state.
“There are many counties in Southern California that continue to have seriously affected hospitals and so that’s something we’re very concerned about,” he added. “But they have done projections based on their models as described at today’s state press conference where they believe all regions are headed out of that danger zone.”
State officials said they are seeing signs of hope.
“Californians heard the urgent message to stay home as much as possible and accepted that challenge to slow the surge and save lives,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, California’s public health officer. “Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains. COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it’s important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner.”
The state’s stay-at-home order had limited restaurants to takeout and delivery — shuttering outdoor and indoor dining. It allowed retail to continue doing business at 25% capacity, but closed barbershops, nail salons, personal care services, movie theaters, museums, bars and wineries. All counties whose ICU capacity dropped below 15% were placed under the state order.
Now the county will return to the purple tier, where it was before it went under the state’s stay at home order on Dec. 4. The purple tier, which imposes the most restrictions, still allows many businesses to operate outdoors.
Here is a breakdown of what’s open under the purple tier.
- Retail: Open at 20% capacity indoors. This includes grocery stores, drug stores and pharmacies.
- Gyms and fitness centers: Open for outdoors only. Hot tubs and saunas must remain closed.
- Restaurants: Open for outdoor dining only. Indoors open for take-out service.
- Shopping centers: Open but common areas such as food courts closed.
- Hotels and lodging: Closed for non-essential purposes.
- Museums, zoos and aquariums: Open for outdoors only.
- Personal services: Open indoors at 20% capacity. Includes nail salons, hair salons, barbers, skin care, tattoos, waxing and piercing.
- Gatherings: Up to 200 people allowed outdoors. Includes political events, weddings, funerals, worship services, casinos, movie showings.
- Health care facilities: Open for indoor appointments.
- Wineries: Open for outdoor service only. Indoors open for take-out or retail service.
- Bars, breweries, distilleries: Closed unless alcohol is served with a meal.
- Sports: Youth and adult sports are allowed outdoors in cohorts for non-contact activities.
Additionally, under the changes announced Monday, the curfew for nonessential businesses to close at 5 p.m. is no longer in effect.
After being closed for nearly two months, some South Bay businesses were gearing up to reopen hours after the announcement.
Kim Nguyen, manager of Elite Nails in San Jose, said her business has been down 80%. Even when the business reopened, she said people were afraid to come back.
“Being closed hurt us a lot,” Nguyen said. “When we came back we only had two or three customers a day. Business was really slow.”
She said she’s hopeful her business, which has been a community staple for 16 or 17 years, survives. Her employees check temperatures, sanitize equipment and wear masks.
Daisy Castillo, the owner of beauty salon Auric Glow, said the pandemic left salons with a lot of uncertainty and frustration.
“Today is an important day. A very emotional day,” Castillo said.
She told employees a few weeks ago that if the stay at home order extended past February, she’d be forced to close.
The hardest part has been trying to renegotiate with the landlord. “It’s been tough,” Castillo said. “Having rent not being forgiven but only deferred…at the end of the day, it’s money that never came in and I still have to pay.”
The county is still enforcing some restrictions not included in the state’s health order.
Williams said the county’s requirement for people traveling outside Santa Clara County to quarantine for at least 10 days when they get home remains in effect.
“This may be even more critical now given the lifting of the regional stay-at-home order, given the variants that we’re seeing around the world and in Southern California and the need to try to slow the spread while we continue to ramp up and push out vaccinating as many of our vulnerable population as possible,” Williams said.
Schools must wait until their counties are in the less restrictive red tier for five consecutive days to open, but can continue having in-person classes if they already reopened with a waiver.
Despite the surge of COVID-19 patients in Santa Clara County ICUs, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said most people in the state heeded advice to stay home and avoid gatherings for the holidays.
“California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we’ve been hoping for,” Ghaly said. “Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and front-line medical workers were stretched to their limits, but Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health care system to the degree we had feared.”
Sen. Dave Cortese, who represents most of San Jose, expressed support for the changes and said the revised order would relieve businesses struggling with closures.
“Thanks to the collective effort and sacrifice made by community members across California, we have made progress in slowing the spread of this virus, ensuring our hospital system is not overwhelmed, and protecting the lives of each and every one of us,” Cortese said.
But other South Bay representatives appeared to be in the dark about the changes in the state’s restrictions.
In a tweet, Assemblymember Evan Low, who represents Cupertino, Campbell and parts of San Jose, implied people were asking him about the state’s plan to lift the stay at home order before he was even notified of it.
People: Is it true? CA is lifting the shelter-in-place?
Me: Huh? I haven’t heard.
People: It’s all over Twitter.
People: Aren’t you a state official? Shouldn’t you be in the know?
Me: *sigh* 🤦♂️Where to begin… pic.twitter.com/hn1LhIeR6g
— Evan Low (@Evan_Low) January 25, 2021
The county has tallied 98,057 cumulative COVID-19 cases and 1,234 deaths as of Jan. 24.
Reporter Lorraine Gabbert contributed to this article.