Coronavirus: Bay Area’s stay-home order will be extended through May
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.

Bay Area residents will continue to shelter in place through May, the top health officials across the region announced Monday, about one week before the current order to stay-home was set to expire.

The official order will come “later this week,” according to a joint statement by the seven Bay Area health officers who have banded together since mid-March to issue a far-reaching order that shuttered nonessential businesses and kept residents home. The jurisdictions set to extend the order include the counties of Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and the city of Berkeley.

Though the shelter in place order will be revised, it will “largely keep the current restrictions in place,” the statement said.

In San Jose, several councilmembers said they were supportive of the extension, but with looser restrictions on small businesses. They want certain industries, such as construction workers and landscapers, to be allowed to go back to work while following social distancing and safety protocols. Construction union leaders are lobbying for crews to return to work.

“While I support and understand the need to extend the shelter-in-place order, I am very concerned about the financial impact on our small businesses,” Councilmember Pam Foley said. “Our residents want to get back to work. Any extension should go hand-in-hand with loosening restrictions on certain industries to allow their employees to work in safe and manageable conditions. The construction sector is just one industry example that is prepared to get back to work safely.”

The shelter in place order, which affects about 7 million residents in the region, has slowed the spread of the contagious respiratory virus and saved lives, according to the health officers. San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis said he’d be supportive of loosening the restrictions on certain industries.

“As long as it’s done with an eye on putting people back to work that can be done safely — then I’m supportive — but it cannot be a ‘one size fits all,’” Khamis added.

The Bay Area health officers didn’t specify what changes they are considering for the revised order, but said there would be  some “limited easing” of low-risk activities. Even so, officials stressed that the region could lose its gains in “bending the curve” or slowing the spread of the virus, if the order is lifted too early.

“At this stage of the pandemic, however, it is critical that our collective efforts continue so that we do not lose the progress we have achieved together,” the health officials said in the statement. “Hospitalizations have leveled, but more work is needed to safely re-open our communities. Prematurely lifting restrictions could easily lead to a large surge in cases.”

County government leaders – anxious to see the extended order for themselves – concurred that efforts to start opening up workplaces would need to meticulously prioritize safety, especially as clusters of new infections are still appearing in vulnerable populations, like nursing homes.

“As we slowly open up the economy, we’re going to have to be looking – industry by industry – for the best practices to make sure that we can move forward in a way that doesn’t have those numbers (of COVID-19 cases) jump back up again,” Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez said in an interview Monday.

She, too, called out construction as an industry that may be ripe to get back to work.

“I think the opportunity with construction is that it’s a heavily-regulated industry, and people are trained in workplace safety,” she said. “I would be looking not just at construction, but other activities where the core characteristic of that industry is focused on safety, and you can expand that with low or little risk.”

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez speaks about the extended shelter in place order Monday. Video by Katie Lauer

Supervisor Dave Cortese added that insights could be taken from construction sites that have continued working during the mandate, like public works and low-income housing projects. Cortese also sees the county’s next steps moving from defining “essential” and “nonessential” work that can continue during the order, and instead looking at which industries can be done safely.

“We need to help give (public health officials) enough information so they can have their lawyers write rules that really discriminate appropriately between safe jobs and unsafe jobs, not just essential and nonessential work,” he said.

Residents can expect health officials to release this week a set of “broad indicators” that agencies will use to track how prepared the region is for a potential surge in coronavirus cases. Those indicators will help health experts determine when and how restrictions can loosen, according to the statement.

“This global pandemic of COVID-19 is still in its early stages,” the health officers said in the statement Monday. “The virus spreads easily, testing capacity is limited and expanding slowly, and vaccine development is just beginning. We expect to be responding to COVID-19 in our communities for a long time.”

Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter. Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter. Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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