Coronavirus LIVE BLOG: July 30 to August 12
Photo courtesy of the CDC.

Catch up on our current Coronavirus LIVE BLOG here.

2 p.m. Aug 12: Governor announces slew of business relief plans

Despite the promise of financial relief for small businesses from the Paycheck Protection Program, many people still found their hands empty after applying for the money.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he’s moving forward a plan to grant $75 million in micro-loans to businesses owned by minorities and women.

“These are people that can’t get those PPP loans, that couldn’t get the SBA loans, that are falling basically through the cracks,” Newsom said. “(They) don’t have commercial banking relationships, credit banking relationships, and as a last resort, need support.”

This plan was part of a series of state relief efforts for businesses in California. Under the new plan, small businesses can defer up to $50,000 sales taxes to pay rent and employees, Newsom said.

In addition, opening a business in California will cost a little bit less during the pandemic.

Newsom said the state will slash its $800 minimum franchise tax for businesses and startups launching in California.

However, despite all the relief programs, the governor said the first step to reopening businesses should be stopping the spread of the coronavirus. The governor also announced that the state is procuring millions of masks with a Santa Clara manufacturer of N95 masks.

He did not name the company, but said the state’s purchase of masks will create new jobs and opportunities for the community.

9:30 a.m. Aug. 12: Sheriff’s department amps up testing for staff and inmates

Health officers will test 20% of staff per week working in Santa Clara County jails, sheriff’s officials said on Tuesday.

Lt. Michelle Asban, the head of the Sheriff’s COVID-19 Investigations Unit (CIU), said that staff will conduct in-house contact tracing and expand testing to asymptomatic inmates.

“Our number one priority is the safety of staff and their families, the jail population and the community we serve,” Asban said.

CIU will use newly developed software to collect data and remind staff when they need to get tested, Asban said, and the unit’s investigators have reviewed more than 200 cases.

Sheriff’s staff will test newly incarcerated people on their twelfth day in custody.

As of Tuesday, Sheriff’s officials said 2,077 people are in custody at Santa Clara County jails, a decrease from the more than 3,000 people in custody during March.

Capt. Thomas Duran said staff has created more housing units to socially distance inmates, but did not specify how many were built or obtained.

4 p.m. Aug. 11: County partners with nonprofits to improve contact tracing 

To improve contact tracing in Santa Clara County communities most affected by COVID-19, Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said the county is partnering with three nonprofits SOMOS Mayfair, Roots Community Health Center and Community Health Partnerships.

Cody said the three organizations would connect infected people to the county’s contact tracers and help them access appropriate health care, housing and financial assistance.

The collaboration with the community organizers would be an effort to dispel any misinformation or fears about testing, Cody said. She explained that many residents have hesitated to get tested because they lack insurance or do not know where pop-up testing sites are.

The county has completed 41% of its total COVID-19 tests in East San Jose, which has had nearly 10% of its tests return positive in the past three weeks, according to county data.

“A grassroots strategy is underway with our community health workers to address the mistrust, miscommunication and fear connected to contact tracing,” Cody said.

Cody added that the public health department is hiring contract tracers with cultural knowledge and connection to communities of color and is working to improve data collection of COVID-19 cases among people of color. The Sí Se Puede Collective will also be leading community engagement efforts in East San Jose, Cody said.

“There’s no one better than us, who are part of the community to break these fears and mistrust,” said Olivia Ortiz, the founder of Mujeres Empresarias Tomando Acción, a part of the Sí Se Puede Collective campaign. “We also intend to push the politics out of this work and let us save lives in the most impacted neighborhoods in San Jose.”

2 p.m. Aug. 11: County looks to help domestic violence survivors

County officials Tuesday reported an increased need to assist domestic violence survivors.

Although police reported an initial decline in domestic violence calls, Carla Collins, the manager of the Santa Clara County Office of Gender Violence Prevention, said some first responders have noted calls are “far more brutal and severe than what they typically see.”

“We are forced to deal with what is quite literally a pandemic within a pandemic,” she said.

Recently, calls for help have returned to levels closer to what they were before the pandemic, Collins said.

To address human trafficking, sexual assault and domestic violence, Collins said county is ensuring everyone who needs emergency shelter has access and has tools to connect survivors with advocates via text.

“Sheltering in place is really hard,” Collins said. “It’s hard for families in the best situations, but for some it’s outright dangerous.”

2:30 p.m. Aug. 10: Newsom mum on Angell’s resignation

During his briefing Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom remained mum on the sudden resignation of California’s top public health official.

Over the weekend, Dr. Sonia Angell resigned without providing a reason. The decision came days after the state reported fixing a widespread error that caused a severe delay in reporting COVID-19 test results.

Angell, who served as the state public health officer at the California Department of Public Health, often joined Newsom at his daily briefings about the coronavirus. Newsom did not go into details on Angell’s resignation during Monday’s briefing, but thanked her for her service in a statement.

“I want to thank Dr. Angell for her service to the state and her work to help steer our public health system during this global pandemic, while never losing sight of the importance of health equity,” Newsom said in a statement.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly also thanked Angell on Monday for her work to close disparities related to the pandemic.

“Her smarts around disparities and thinking about inequities is something that will support and mark the state in many important long, lasting ways,” Ghaly said.

Ghaly said Dr. Erica Pan will step in as acting state public health officer and Dr. Sandra Shewry will become the acting director of the California Department of Public Health.

 

Just before Angell resigned, the state was grappling with a major technical issue in the system that reports testing results. Last week, Ghaly said the glitch, which caused up to 300,000 records to be backlogged, had been fixed.

Ghaly and Newsom said the search for a new statewide IT system is underway, but it may take a long time to find one.

“Procurement of big statewide IT systems is no small task we don’t take it lightly we want to make sure we start out right to end up right,” Ghaly said. “All of that is underway, all in an urgent and thoughtful way.”

California is the first U.S. state to hit more than 500,000 coronavirus cases and more than 10,000 deaths. As of Monday, Santa Clara County reported 12,694 cases and 205 deaths.

An OptumServe employee removes a cotton swab after testing a resident for COVID-19 at James Lick High School. Photo by Luke Johnson.

1 p.m. Aug. 10: Santa Clara County opens two new pop-up testing sites

Santa Clara County health officials are opening two additional pop-up testing sites for COVID-19 in San Jose and Gilroy this week.

No appointments are necessary to be tested.

“While many people love the convenience of a drop-in testing site, others might prefer to schedule an appointment in advance to avoid waiting in line,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, COVID-19 Testing Officer for the County of Santa Clara. “We offer various testing options to give people a variety of avenues by which they can get tested for COVID-19 in Santa Clara County

Valley Medical Center will run both of the sites. County health officials advised residents to arrive early at the pop-up test sites, which use a wristband system in which people are assigned a testing time later in the day. The time slots often fill up within hours.

There are more than 50 COVID-19 testing sites are open in Santa Clara County.

The new testing sites will be open this week until Friday at the following locations:

San Jose — Overfelt High School, Gymnasium: 1835 Cunningham Ave. in San Jose
Tuesday to Friday: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Gilroy — South County Annex (formerly Del Buono Elementary): 9300 Wren Avenue in Gilroy
Tuesday to Friday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

1:30 p.m. Aug. 7: Immigrants in San Jose essential to pandemic response, more vulnerable too, report says

A new report released Friday suggests San Jose’s immigrant population is essential to pandemic response efforts while also being especially vulnerable due to gaps in federal relief, language barriers and increased risk of infection from COVID-19.

San Jose was one of 12 cities selected to have a report conducted by the New American Economy (NAE), a New York-based nonprofit focused on research and advocacy around immigration reform. The analysis was based largely on 2018 census estimates of the San Jose metropolitan area, which encompasses Santa Clara and San Benito counties. By contrast, Santa Clara has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents by county in California.

“This pandemic has highlighted the urgency to center equity in decision-making today so that our immigrant and refugee communities are resilient tomorrow,” said Zulma Maciel, director of San Jose’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, in a statement. “By investing in and empowering our most vulnerable community members we are seeking to improve outcomes for everyone in San Jose.”

Immigrants are about 38.5 percent of the area’s population, translating to nearly 762,800 residents. However, immigrants make up 68 percent of the region’s agricultural workers, nearly 63 percent of all food processing workers, nearly 50 percent of all restaurant and food services, and 43.5 percent of health care workers, the study said. All of these industries have been deemed essential to continue work amid the pandemic.

This consequently puts immigrants at greater risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. In addition, immigrants were more likely to be renters and lack health coverage, researchers found, leaving them more vulnerable to eviction and inaccessible medical care.

While the NAE study touted immigrants as job creators in San Jose, they disparately suffer from the economic recession caused by the pandemic. In industries forced to shutter, two-thirds of hospitality businesses are owned by immigrants, as are 58 percent of businesses in general services, which includes personal services such as laundry, barbershops and repair shops.

Overall, San Jose immigrants paid $12.9 billion in federal taxes and $5.3 billion in state and local taxes, leaving them with about $35.7 billion in spending power, researchers said.

Meanwhile, the study found culturally sensitive and language accessible emergency materials are in demand. In 2018, nearly 164,900 immigrants living in San José had limited English proficiency. The top five languages spoken at home other than English were Spanish (43.4 percent), Vietnamese (22.6 percent), Chinese (17.6 percent), Tagalog (3.0 percent), and Hindi and related (3.0 percent).

“The immigrant population is essential to keeping San Jose running, yet especially vulnerable to gaps in our social safety nets,” said Mo Kantner, NAE’s director of state and local initiatives, in a statement.

9:55 a.m. Aug. 7: California surpasses 10,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins figures

The state of California surpassed 10,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

With 10,024 deaths, California has the third highest number of people lost to the novel coronavirus, behind only New York’s 32,756 deaths and New Jersey’s 15,849 deaths.

Since June, cases and deaths have ticked upward in California, making it the state with the most cases in the U.S., surpassing New York. In deaths, the 14-day average based on California public health data from Wednesday accounts for nearly 23 percent of all COVID-19 deaths since a 57-year-old woman in Santa Clara County died Feb. 6 from complications related to the disease. The local death is believed to be the United States’ first known death.

The last two weeks alone have seen California’s top five highest recorded death counts. Last Friday, there were 219 deaths, the most to date, while Tuesday had the second highest count at 202 lives lost.

Los Angeles — the state’s most populous county — accounts for nearly half of all deaths and most new deaths in the state, followed by other Southern California counties. In the U.S., per Johns Hopkins figures, Los Angeles ranks fourth in the most deaths by county, behind Queens and Kings counties, in New York City, and Cook County, encompassing the Chicago area.

Along with the most cases globally, the U.S. has the most deaths, at 160,255 lives lost, more than the combined totals of Brazil and Mexico, the next highest countries, Johns Hopkins numbers showed.

The California Department of Public Health’s daily counts, which may be slightly different, are set to be released at 11 a.m.

8:30 a.m. Aug. 7: Despite promising U.S. jobs report, no relief deal made

July jobs numbers released Friday appear promising as the unemployment rate declined from the previous month, but losses still measure beyond levels reached during the Great Recession more than a decade ago, all while Congress is stuck on the latest coronavirus relief deal.

The U.S. economy added 1.8 million nonfarm jobs while the unemployment rate fell to 10.2 percent from 11.1 percent the month prior, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, they are still higher than the Great Recession’s 10 percent reached in late 2009, and there are still 12.9 million jobs lost since February. The bureau reported notable gains in leisure and hospitality, government, retail trade, professional and business services and health care.

It has been a week since the weekly $600 in federal unemployment insurance expired with inaction, and the U.S. Congress has yet to reach a deal on the latest coronavirus relief. The federal benefits are added on top of what states distribute to those without work.

Even as coronavirus relief talks continued without a solution reached, President Trump’s administration was quick to tout the economic numbers as a turnaround after historic unemployment levels caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After an unprecedented hit to the economy because of the pandemic, the Great American Comeback is underway,” tweeted Alyssa Farah, the White House director of strategic communications.

Republicans in control of the Senate, as well as the White House, remain at odds with the Democratic-majority House over federal measures intended to help Americans faced with record jobs losses and ongoing expenses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A key issue has been the $600 in weekly benefits for unemployed Americans, which Congress passed as part of a $2.2 trillion bill Trump signed into law on March 27. In the latest plan, GOP leaders seek to lower the benefits to $400 weekly while Democrats aim to lengthen the current level.

But House Democrats already passed a sweeping $3 trillion package in May that has since been held up in the Senate, where Republican legislators have been unable to reach consensus on their more modest $1 trillion bill.

In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer cautioned the jobs report shows investments passed by Congress are losing steam.

“We remain committed to continue negotiating and reaching a fair agreement with the Administration, but we will not go along with the meager legislative proposals that fail to address the gravity of the health and economic situation our country faces,” the statement said.

3:15 p.m. Aug. 6: San Jose basketball, volleyball courts begin reopening

San Jose basketball and volleyball courts have begun reopening under the city’s phased approach to reopen the public venues. Over the course of several weeks, park staff will reinstall hoops and nets, a city news release said.

Those who use newly opened recreational amenities must follow posted signage and the county health order requirements. These rules include no competitive play, everyone older than 2 years old must wear a face covering, physical distancing of at least 6 feet from any person outside your household, and staying home if sick. Group, team or contact sports are all prohibited.

As of Monday, playgrounds, certain restrooms, barbecue and picnic areas, climbing walls, drinking fountains, outdoor gym equipment, pools and rock parks are still closed.

Visitors who do not follow city park rules or enter restricted areas could face fines up to $500.

6:00 p.m. Aug. 5: Silicon Valley business group launches campaign to reopen businesses

Santa Clara County’s largest chamber of commerce is calling on its supporters to petition state and local officials to reopen the economy.

In a Wednesday email to members, Silicon Valley Organization President and CEO Matt Mahood said his group is “urging lawmakers and government officials now more than ever to safely re-open the economy,” especially as businesses have remained closed since March and the weekly $600 in federal unemployment assistance expired Friday.

SVO represents more than 1,200 businesses — ranging from tech companies to restaurants — and 300,000 employees throughout the region. Mahood’s campaign calls for allowing indoor operations at South Bay businesses shuttered due to COVID-19.

“In addition to the effects that COVID-19 has had on the physical health of our state, we must consider the economic health of our state as well,” Mahood wrote. “Many businesses have endured months of being closed down, and small business owners especially may never recover due to these shutdowns. Small businesses are the heart of our community and are what make our communities a great place to live and play.”

In July, a new county public health order allowed hair and nail salons, barbershops, shopping malls, places of worship and fitness centers to reopen. But they were forced to close again just hours later after the county was added to a state watchlist for its high rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations. Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 13 ordered restaurants, wineries, tasting rooms, movie theaters, card rooms, family entertainment centers, zoos and museums to shutter indoors immediately across the state.

As a result of the county’s forced closures, SVO’s director of government and community relations, Eddie Truong, said the state action was “a colossal failure of government.”

Now, the local chamber of commerce seeks supporters to start a digital letter campaign to persuade Newsom to act. SVO is also urging the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody to push the governor’s administration, considering local officials pushed back against the first time the county was briefly added to the state watchlist on July 4 before being removed days later. At the time, local officials questioned the state’s metrics: The county’s hospitalizations were far lower than other similarly sized counties, though local patient numbers increased beyond state percentage levels.

Supervisors Mike Wasserman and Susan Ellenberg have been vocal in their push to reopen businesses. But it’s unclear how these measures would push lawmakers since the state mandates closures for counties on the state watchlist due to increasing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations or hospital capacity.

Since July 12, Santa Clara has been on the monitoring list for hospitalizations and increased transmissions.

“As your advocate, champion & voice for business we feel it’s our duty to protect the economic health of the business community, and urge lawmakers/government officials to re-open more Santa Clara County businesses,” an SVO tweet said.

11:52 a.m. Aug. 5: With state reporting malfunction, Cody says Santa Clara County can’t interpret spread

With the state of California’s COVID-19 database underreporting cases possibly since mid July, Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody on Wednesday said it is difficult to understand the outbreak’s spread locally, though officials are seeing flattening levels of hospitalized patients.

The California Department of Public Health has announced it discovered underreporting of cases due to technology issues with the state’s disease registry system, affecting local health departments including in Santa Clara. There is currently no solution or timeline to resolve the problem, according to Cody.

“We don’t know if our cases are rising, plateauing or decreasing,” Cody told reporters in a briefing. “We are very anxious for this issue to get resolved. We expect that all of these numbers are going to go up. To what extent, we don’t know.”

Prior to the underreporting, from June to mid July, the county’s top health official said cases began increasing exponentially among people younger than 35 years old, as well as Latinos, both of which are reflected across the state of California. Since mid-July, it appeared cases in the county may have decreased in Santa Clara County. This is untrue, however, because the state reporting system malfunctioned, Cody explained.

But a somewhat more definite figure, the county’s COVID-19 hospitalizations — currently at 169 patients across all hospitals as of Tuesday — has plateaued in the last week compared to increases beginning in early July. Still, Cody cautioned against jumping to conclusions on this hospital data.

“While we can’t interpret what our last few weeks of data mean as far as the cases, the last week or two of hospitalization data is somewhat reassuring that things are leveling off, but it’s not enough to really know,” Cody said.

10:55 a.m. Aug. 5: ‘Tsunami’ of behavioral health cases expected, Santa Clara County nonprofit CEO says

The chief executive of Santa Clara County’s largest nonprofit for mental health services said providers are expecting a “tsunami” of behavioral health cases as people continue to undergo stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a county Public Health Department briefing Wednesday, David Mineta, CEO and president of Momentum for Health, said access call centers and private insurers are seeing increased requests for behavioral health services, meaning for mental health and substance abuse.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand right now, and issues,” he said. “We believe in the field that there is a tidal wave, sort of a tsunami, on the way. And we’re beginning to see the leading indicators, I think data-wise, of that tsunami.”

Mineta explained increases in cases are unprecedented. People who previously did not have a diagnosed disorder or condition are requesting help, he added, on top of others who had preexisting conditions that the pandemic has made even more difficult considering added stress, anxiety and depression.

“All told breadth and depth” of behavioral health issues are “just so much wider, so much deeper,” Mineta said.

To help, Mineta recommended wellness practices as possible, including professional help from local agencies or private health insurers, as well as personal habits of adequate sleep, healthy food and exercise outdoors. Meanwhile, people should try not to isolate, which may be difficult with stay-home orders intended to reduce the spread of the virus, but rather try to seek help from others they trust. “Don’t try to manage this on your own,” Mineta added.

Here are two 24-hour county lines in multiple languages to seek assistance:

  • Mental Health Call Center: 1-800-704-0900
  • Substance Use Services: 1-800-488-9919

5:45 p.m. Aug. 4: Santa Clara County, statewide public health departments experience ‘significant underreporting of testing results’

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department announced Tuesday it was currently “experiencing significant underreporting of testing results” due to issues with the state of California’s COVID-19 database — a problem that extends to other public health departments across the state  making it difficult to understand the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The State has informed us that counties have received incomplete information regarding test results, which affects our ability to identify new cases of COVID-19, to accurately report the testing positivity rate in our community, and to identify the number of persons tested for the last few weeks,” read a county statement on the COVID-19 dashboard on Tuesday. “Without timely reports of all new lab results, it is impossible for State and local health officials to identify the extent to which COVID-19 is circulating in the community. It also hinders our ability to conduct effective contact tracing and case investigations to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Local officials do not know the extent of the reporting problem. Meanwhile, the statement said, the Public Health Department will report testing data received and clarify which data is affected by the issue, which is expected to include the test positivity rate as well as daily and cumulative case counts as more complete test results are reported to the county. According to the county, state health officials have confirmed the data received are valid, but incomplete.

12:50 p.m. Aug. 4: California health officials release guidance for in-person elementary school waivers

California elementary schools located in  counties on the state watchlist for increasing cases, hospitalizations or insufficient hospital capacity now have guidance to reopen for in-person classes this fall.

With campuses closed statewide since March, the California Department of Public Health only allows K-12 schools to reopen if the county in which they are located are off the monitoring list for two weeks. But on Monday, CDPH issued new guidance for transitional kindergarten through sixth-grade schools to have in-person classes with approval from local health officers through a waiver process.

“COVID-19 continues to spread in California, and to help slow transmission we must focus on basic public health guidelines to protect our families, our communities, and our students from the virus,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, state public health officer and CDPH director, in a statement. “Today’s guidance ensures that critical public health measures are in place to reduce risk in a number of educational and youth settings.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children don’t appear to be at higher risk of COVID-19, though research on their ability to spread the novel coronavirus is mixed. The American Academy of Pediatrics and Trump administration have pushed for schools to reopen this fall, but teachers unions have pushed back against in-person classes, with the American Federation of Teachers even saying last Tuesday it would permit strikes from local groups if schools reopen without sufficient safety measures.

Under California’s plan to reopen elementary schools, education leaders must evidence consultation with labor, parents and community organizations, and make the reopening plan public, the guidance says. Applicants — which can include district superintendents, private school principals or charter school executives — must submit the waiver and supporting documents at least 14 days prior to the desired reopening date.

The elementary reopening plans take from the state’s school and school-based guidance, CDPH says, which entails site-specific safety plans on cleaning, disinfection, stable cohorts of students, considerations for movements within schools, physical distancing and health screenings and testing. In addition, the state calls for triggers to switch to distance learning if cases or exposures arise, as well as staff training and family education.

Meanwhile, local health officers also have to consider hospital capacity, testing availability and resources for contact tracing, all while coordinating with CDPH before issuing a decision on an elementary school, per the guidance. Officials may conditionally grant a waiver with limits on the number of schools allowed to reopen or allowed for phased reopening to monitor effects.

Still, there are limitations for elementary schools in monitored counties whose case rates are double state thresholds, or greater than 200 cases per 100,000 people.

Although Santa Clara County has been on the state watchlist since July 12, local education officials have indicated plans to allow reopening of elementary schools based on the waiver process.

“Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of students and school staff in our community,” said Mary Ann Dewan, superintendent of county schools, in a July 17 statement. “There are elements of distance learning that are extremely challenging, and we will work through these challenges together. We are committed to supporting districts and schools to provide students with multifaceted educational experiences that help them progress academically and keep them engaged while keeping them safe.”

In addition to Monday’s elementary school guidance, CDPH also issued guidance for permitting youth sports programs only when physical distancing and stable cohorts of participants can be maintained.

1:15 p.m. Aug. 3: With Central Valley cases increasing, California uses ‘Imperial model’

With the Central Valley’s COVID-19 case rates increasing, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is implementing an “Imperial model” taken from public health efforts in the Imperial County, once a California hotspot for the novel coronavirus.

Imperial had a positivity rate of all tests conducted rise above 30 percent, prompting the state of California to intervene beginning in early June and even reinstituting a full stay-at-home order to reduce the spread of the virus. In his briefing Monday, Newsom said those efforts worked. Sunday’s positivity rate for the county dropped to 11.2 percent, still higher than the state average but much lower than before.

The “Imperial model,” Newsom explained, will now be used to assist efforts in the Central Valley, where positivity rates aren’t as high as Imperial’s worst days but hospital capacities are being strained by the influx of COVID-19-positive patients. Newsom outlined this model will have greater state analysis of local data, identify specific response gaps, greater outreach to local organizations and use more government and community resources. However, it’s unclear if this means Central Valley counties must once again implement full stay-home restrictions.

In particular, Central Valley workers defined as essential to continue working amid the pandemic are contracting COVID-19, which includes Latinos who are often farmworkers in the agricultural region.

“Disproportionately, this disease is impacting our diverse communities — disproportionately impacting the Latino community, disproportionately impacting the community in the Central Valley,” Newsom said. “That’s why our targeted interventions disproportionately are focusing on essential workforce, on farmworkers, on critical workforce — in hospitality and retail sector and the like — that (are) being impacted by this disease.”

Newsom last week unveiled a plan to distribute $52 million to assist eight Central Valley counties in COVID-19 response on testing, contact tracing and isolation. On Monday, he announced $6.5 million from philanthropic groups to the valley to ensure essential supplies and help residents pay for rent and utilities.

“If you asked me today what (is) our biggest area of concern in a state as large as ours,” Newsom told reporters, “it is indeed the Central Valley.”

12:45 p.m. Aug. 3: As first child dies from COVID-19, California averages 121 daily deaths over 14-day period

California saw its first child die from COVID-19, of a Fresno teenager, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday, which came as the state averaged its highest daily death count over the last two weeks.

“This is a sobering reminder of how deadly this disease is and how it can impact everybody,” Newsom said in his briefing.

In a Friday news release, Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera confirmed its pediatric patient died from complications related to the novel coronavirus. Neither the teen’s exact age nor date of death were immediately available. The California Department of Public Health confirmed the teen was the first child death from COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Newsom said the state has averaged 121 deaths per day in a 14-day period. Figures declined to just 32 deaths on Sunday, but Newsom said this may not fully describe the virus’s severity, as case increases seen since June likely entail the “lagging indicator” of deaths.

“We’re likely to see those numbers remain stubbornly high over the course of the next number of days,” he said.

4:30 p.m. Aug. 1: Santa Clara County exceeds 10,000 cases

The new month brought a grim milestone for Santa Clara County: The county surpassed 10,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

On Saturday, the county reported 410 new cases, bringing the total to 10,321 total cases. There were no new deaths reported. The death count stands at 191 people countywide. According to the county data, 182 people are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 with 27 new hospitalizations.

County health leaders tweeted the news along with a renewed warning on Saturday.

“We will not rest until COVID-19 is under control, but we cannot do this alone,” the tweet read. “Be part of the solution. You can slow the spread by always wearing a face covering, limiting visits to one other household and limiting trips to stores and always keeping a distance when you do.”

The U.S. now has more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any country in the world.

“We only account for 4% of the world’s population, yet we have more than 25% of the world’s COVID-19 cases and nearly 25% of the world’s COVID-19 deaths,” officials said. “This is unacceptable.”

12:00 p.m. Aug. 1: New testing sites announced

Santa Clara County health leaders on Saturday announced new COVID-19 testing sites opening next week in San Jose and Gilroy.

No appointments are necessary to get a free COVID-19 test, which involves a quick nasal swab, at the two new pop-up locations. The pop-up COVID-19 testing sites — which are run by Valley Medical Center — have been incredibly popular, county officials said. Last month, more than 42,000 people were tested at the sites.

The pop-up sites move all over the county with emphasis on areas hit hardest by the deadly virus. The tests are free.

County health officials advised residents to arrive early at the pop-up test sites, which use a wristband system in which people are assigned a testing time later in the day. The time slots often fill up within hours.

For people with health insurance, they can receive a free COVID-19 test through hospitals and clinics which have been ordered by the county to provide tests to people who have COVID-19 symptoms, had contact with someone who tested positive or who work in environments where they come into contact with many people.

There are more than 50 COVID-19 testing sites in Santa Clara County.

“We encourage anyone who meets the criteria to get tested through their healthcare provider,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, COVID-19 testing officer for Santa Clara County. “It is a mandate for hospitals and their associated clinics to provide these opportunities for their patients, and that in turn lessens the burden at the county sites that provide the lion’s share of testing.”

The new testing sites will be open next week at the following locations:

San Jose — San Antonio Elementary School, Gymnasium: 1721 E. San Antonio St. in San Jose
Tuesday to Friday: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Gilroy — South County Annex (formerly Del Buono Elementary): 9300 Wren Avenue in Gilroy
Tuesday to Friday: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

12:53 p.m. July 31: South Bay Costco stores see clusters of cases

Four Costco stores across the South Bay collectively have more than 30 workers infected with COVID-19, according to preliminary findings from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

The county did not have updated numbers as of Friday, but a statement said officials believe the cases have been caused by community transmission and not likely through “internal transmission among employees.”

“It looks like most of these cases came through their regular day-to-day activities, getting infected outside as opposed to getting infected inside or infecting each other,” Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s lead testing officer, told reporters on Thursday, referring to clusters in Costco stores. “We’re not done with that investigation, so that’s not the last word on this, but that’s the way it looks at this point.”

Since last Friday, the Costco in Gilroy reported six employees testing positive for the novel coronavirus, according to a county news release on Thursday. On San Jose’s Senter Road, the location had eight cases from July 17-22. Between July 23-26, Sunnyvale’s Costco had 13 workers test positive. In Mountain View, the store had four positive cases in a two-week span beginning July 15.

It’s unclear how many additional employees or infected workers’ family members are being monitored for exposure as of Friday, which would require quarantine for 14 days. Fenstersheib said county staff have started testing at the San Jose Costco, with other locations to follow.

The county is working with Costco to investigate the outbreaks, though all four stores remain open. Preliminary results indicate the company is complying with physical distancing of at least 6 feet, among other protocols intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the county said. Still, the county plans to review Costco’s procedures and provide additional guidance, including changes to employee-only areas of stores, Fenstersheib said. County officials will identify close contacts and advise the company on appropriate disinfection measures, ensure proper testing, and prevent workplace transmission.

Costco’s corporate office did not immediately respond for comment Friday.

Fenstersheib said customers who frequented those stories should not worry about getting tested if they wore a face covering and physical distancing as required. Still, front-line workers in frequent contact with people should get tested regularly — in accordance with testing guidance by the county — since they are at greater risk of exposure for COVID-19.

11:30 a.m. July 31: Federal unemployment benefits run out Friday amid deadlock in Congress

With Congress at an impasse over a deal on federal COVID-19 pandemic relief, federal unemployment insurance of $600 in weekly payments for millions of Americans is scheduled to run out Friday.

The weekly benefits were part of the congressional $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid bill signed into law by President Trump on March 27, expanding unemployment benefits on top of state disbursements of cash assistance amid historic job losses. In June, the U.S. unemployment rate stood at 11.1 percent, while latest Bureau of Economic Analysis figures show the economy shrunk at a 32.9 percent annual rate, far worse than levels reached during the Great Recession. Across the U.S., per Department of Labor data, some 30 million people are claiming unemployment benefits.

However, unemployment aid, which adds to what states provide to residents, will run out Friday as House Democrats and Senate Republicans disagree on a new pandemic relief bill.

In May, the House of Representatives passed Democrats’ $3 trillion plan. Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Senate has been unable to move its $1 trillion proposal, including with opposition from some Republicans. Both plans are at odds over several key policy issues, with unemployment benefits being a central disagreement: Democrats seek to extend current benefits amounts, whereas many Republicans seek to lower aid to $200 weekly, arguing some workers are getting paid more to stay home rather than their normal jobs.

As the Senate adjourned until Monday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican of Kentucky, blamed Democrats on Twitter.

“Republicans tried several ways to extend unemployment benefits,” McConnell tweeted on Friday. “Democrats blocked them all. They’re refusing any more COVID relief for anyone unless they get a massive tax cut for rich people in blue states.”

In her morning press briefing Friday, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, said they will continue talks on a deal. Pelosi pushed back on Republicans’ considerations for unemployed Americans, which came as she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, rejected a White House plan to temporarily extend current unemployment insurance.

“We don’t have shared values. That’s just the way it is,” Pelosi told reporters. “So it’s not bickering. It’s standing our ground. We’re trying to find common ground.”

10:26 a.m. July 30: Newsom administration takes steps on unemployment insurance amid pandemic

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration on Wednesday announced a series of measures intended to improve delivery of unemployment insurance claims in California amid record job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The administration has formed an Employment Development Department strike team to improve benefits delivery systems, including updating technology systems and addressing the backlog of unpaid claims by streamlining communications with consumers, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

“There should be no barriers between Californians and the benefits they have earned,” Newsom said in a statement. “Unprecedented demand due to job loss during this pandemic paired with an antiquated system have created an unacceptable backlog of claims. Californians deserve better, and these reform efforts aim to move the Department in that direction.”

In an update on claims, EDD Secretary Sharon Hilliard said the department has processed 6 million unemployment insurance claims translating to $49.7 billion since March, when stay-home orders took effect, effectively shutting down many parts of the economy that led to record job losses. Still, EDD has a backlog from March to June of about 169,000 claims and July’s figures of some 70,000 applications. Approximately 889,000 other claims may be eligible with additional information.

EDD will prioritize oldest claims first, anticipating to eliminate the backlog by the end of September, Newsom’s office said. For residents eligible for benefits with more information, the department plans to send immediate and weekly reminders. In addition, EDD will work to create more user-friendly notifications and enhance the customer service experience, including streamlining call centers with automated voice response to connect callers with representatives specialized on specific claim issues. Administrators also outlined improving collaboration with state legislative offices to amplify EDD messaging regarding certification requirements, which claimants must process every two weeks.

California’s unemployment rate as of June stood at 14.9 percent, per EDD figures, a decline since May but still higher than rates during the height of the economic downturn during the Great Recession a decade ago. The slate of reforms comes as the $600 in weekly unemployment benefits from federal coronavirus relief are set to expire Friday without action in Congress, where Senate Republicans and House Democrats remain at odds over latest legislation.

“While we have faced unprecedented challenges this year, unemployment insurance should be a human-centered system that supports people during hard times,” said Labor Secretary Julie Su in a statement.

9:30 a.m. July 30: Outdated IT hurt pandemic response efforts, Silicon Valley congressman says

One Silicon Valley legislator said the federal government urgently needs to update its information technology systems — especially as it deals with the COVID-19 crisis.

“Two years ago, I introduced and passed the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act to modernize federal websites and digitize government processes,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Fremont, told San José Spotlight. “Yesterday’s hearing made it clear that we can’t afford to wait another day. Our outdated systems create cyber security risks and prevent people from receiving federal benefits, including stimulus checks. They need to be addressed immediately.”

Khanna was referring to a hearing hosted by the Subcommittee on Government Operations to discuss information technology.

During the hearing, Chairman Gerry Connolly said the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic had exposed critical weaknesses in its legacy IT systems. The congressman explained that hundreds of thousands of small businesses were unable to submit loan applications to the Small Business Administration, and for every 10 people who successfully filed for unemployment, another three to four were unable to submit their claims online.

Read the full San José Spotlight story here.

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