Coronavirus LIVE BLOG: September 13 to October 12
Photo courtesy of the CDC.

Catch up on our current Coronavirus LIVE BLOG here.

11 a.m. Oct 12: Gardner Health Center and county increase testing at Mexican Heritage Plaza

COVID-19 Testing Coordinators at the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose say they aim to increase testing as they have exceeded their initial capacity.

Although a Santa Clara County health briefing on Oct. 12 had information that the site was not meeting its testing capacity of 300 people and could close, site coordinators said the information was outdated from a pre-recorded interview.

“We’re exceeding capacity and we want to push for more,” said Jessica Paz-Cedillos, the executive director for the school of arts and culture.

Paz-Cedillos said the county cleared the site to conduct 400 tests each week.

Maribel Montanez, the director of development at Gardner Health Services, said the organization plans to keep the site open until at least February 2021.

Gardner Health Services is currently footing the bill to provide staff to conduct testing and to rent the space at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Meanwhile the county provides testing kits and laboratory work for the site.

A county spokesperson confirmed there was a mistake in the briefing.

“The county of Santa Clara has no intentions of closing the testing center at Mexican Heritage Plaza,” the spokesperson said. “While we have seen an increase in testing, there’s still room for more.”

The site is open every Wednesday from 1-7 p.m.

Noon Oct. 7: Registrar explains how voting will work during pandemic

Voters have options on how to submit their ballots for the Nov. 3 general election in Santa Clara County, said County Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey.

Although Bushey said it’s safest to vote by mail, more than 100 in-person vote centers will open across the county from Oct. 31-Nov. 3. In addition, the registrar’s office in San Jose is already open for in-person voting and other services.

“People need replacement ballots, we provide language assistance at vote centers and I have heard ‘my dog ate my ballot,’ ” Bushey said.

Vote center staff will wear personal protective equipment and sanitize vote machines after each use to prevent COVID-19 transmission, Bushey said. Voters are required to wear masks in the centers, and free masks will be available for use at each location.

The mail-in ballots will also have free postage stamped on the envelope and voters can track their ballots through a state-run website and the county registrar’s website.

Voter registration ends on Oct. 19, but people can still submit their ballots under conditional voter registration, which means they would go to a vote center and mark their ballots and registration forms on the same day.

3 p.m. Oct. 5: County to allow indoor dining if it moves to lower-risk reopening tier

If Santa Clara County enters the lower-risk orange tier for reopening, restaurants can resume indoor dining at 25% capacity, county officials said.

Social distance and mask protocols will still be in effect, said County Counsel James Williams during a news conference on Oct. 5.

Williams said the county could enter the orange tier by Oct. 13, which means the revised order will take effect on Oct. 14.

Businesses will have to submit revised social-distancing protocols that reflect the revised order, Williams said.

1:30 p.m. Oct. 5: Estheticians allowed to open indoors

Santa Clara County is lifting restrictions on licensed estheticians and other skin care professionals who were previously prohibited from operating due to the coronavirus.

County public health officials on Sunday afternoon made the change that will now allow facial services to resume.

Previously, the county allowed hair and nails salons to reopen for both indoor and outdoor services, but left estheticians off the list. Officials said the close contact between an esthetician and client receiving a facial carried a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19.

The businesses still must follow strict safety guidelines, including requiring face coverings for staff and clients, limiting the number of people inside, maintaining a distance of six feet or more and stringent cleaning and sanitation requirements.

Read the full story here.

1 p.m. Oct. 2: Binational Health Week goes online

Binational Health Week is an international movement to improve the health and wellbeing of underserved Latinx communities in America, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it must go virtual.

“We’re planning health fairs that are virtual. We’re planning workshops that are also virtual and we’re also going to be focusing on COVID-19 services,” said Ricardo Romero-Morales, Santa Clara County’s Binational Health Week Coordinator.

Romero-Morales said the virtual series of events would happen throughout October and educate Latinx communities in Santa Clara County on how to access health care for COVID-19 and other illnesses.

“There’s a lot of fear in our community regarding how to access services,” Romero-Morales said. “Their immigration status might be one of those fears. We also have the language barriers that could be also another fear or even how to pay for medical services.”

Romero-Morales said the virtual fairs would walk people through medical processes.

“Especially now during COVID-19, if we get sick, how do we seek those services, how do we go to the (emergency room), what should I expect to see,” he said.

The county will work with the nonprofit Sourcewise to educate the medicare beneficiaries on accessing their benefits.

“The main goal is to help them understand their medicare benefits,” said Steven Rubalcaba, who works in Sourcewise’s Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program. “Medicare beneficiaries are typically 65 years or older.”

Rubalcaba said people can enroll for Medicare from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 and Sourcewise will be hosting virtual training shops to people about enrolling for Medicare.

Below is a list of events happening during the next few days of Binational Health Week.

10/3/2020
09:00 AM – 01:00 PM
10/3/2020
09:30 AM – 12:00 PM
10/3/2020
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
10/6/2020
09:30 AM – 10:00 AM

Santa ​Clara ​County ​Board ​of ​Supervisors ​Chambers

2 p.m Sept. 30: Santa Clara County says private hospitals have to do more testing for move to a lower-risk tier

Santa Clara County remains in the substantial-risk red tier two weeks after moving from the highest risk purple tier.

This means the county has not lowered its COVID-19 case rates enough to open more business that would be permitted to operate in the orange tier, despite having a testing positivity rate that would qualify for the orange tier.

“When two metrics fall into two different tiers, it’s going to be the more stricter tier,” said county spokesperson Betty Duong during an online livestream.

The county must lower its case rate to 1-3.9 positive cases per 100,000 people and its testing positivity rate to 2-4.9% to be in the orange tier.

But the county’s case rate is still at 5.9 per 100,000 people, despite its testing rate being at 2.2%.

County officials said hospitals need to increase testing in order to calculate a more accurate case rate.

“The county is doing its part, we are testing more than our fair share,” Deputy County Executive David Campos said during the livestream. “If these private health hospitals actually tested at the level we wanted them to test, we probably would be in the orange today.”

11 p.m. Sept. 28: Education officials advise students and staff to do personal screenings for fever

K-12 schools reopening for in-person classes are not required to do temperature checks on students and staff returning to campus, according to the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

“We originally started with temperature checks early on when we were learning about COVID,” said David Putney, the alternative education director with the county education office. “The Public Health Department has clarified that the use of temperature checks in not as effective at the school setting.”

Putney said faculty members and families of students should conduct personal screenings for fever before going to school and remain home if they have a fever over 100 degrees.

Each school will hand out a “screening sheet” to students and staff before they go to campus, he said.

“It’s more effective and it also helps empower everyone to be part of the solution with COVID-19,” Putney said.

He added the schools will have guidelines in place for people to wear masks and wash their hands on campus.

7 p.m. Sept. 27: COVID-19 case rates drop in Santa Clara County Latinx community

Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said that case rates have started to drop in Santa Clara County’s Latinx community after being disproportionately high for months. The announcement came during a virtual meeting with La Raza Roundtable de California on Sept. 25.

“The rates among the Latinx community were really soaring in July. They were across the county, but particularly steep in the Latinx community, and to some extent in the African-American community,” Cody said. “We are now seeing the rates decline, not just across the county, but most steeply among the Latinx community.”

State data showed the case rates for the county’s Latinx community reached about 30 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents daily in July. In early September, case rates dropped to 10 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.

Throughout the pandemic, Latinx people have accounted for about 57% of cases and 34 percent of the deaths in Santa Clara County, according to county data, while only making up about 26% of its population.

Cody said crowded and multi-generation housing contributed to the high rates of COVID-19 transmission among Latinx people during the summer.

In addition, many essential workers faced difficulties obtaining adequate COVID-19 protection because of “structural reasons,” Cody said.

Although case rates were disproportionately high in East San Jose and parts of Gilroy, Cody said that case rates for Latinx people were higher than others no matter where they lived.

1 p.m. Sept. 23: New partnerships to help communities hardest hit by COVID-19

Santa Clara County has partnered with numerous community organizations to educate small businesses on how to follow health protocols and prevent COVID-19 transmission.

The community organizations include Working Partnerships USA, the Sí Se Puede Collective, the Community Health Partnership and African American Community Service Agency.

Community organizers say the partnerships will ensure multi-lingual outreach to the people hit hardest by the pandemic – a majority of whom are Black or Latinx.

“During our promotora training, one of the community leaders shared a story of how a friend of hers tested positive for COVID, but without symptoms,” said Cynthia Colmenares, a community health warrior with the Si Se Puede Collective. “She thought that she could go back to work, she was given information, but she wasn’t sure until she heard from this community leader, that she knew and trusted, that she needed to stay at home.”

People learning about public health guidelines must have confidence and trust in the organizers educating them, Colmenares said.

County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said case and testing positivity rates have gone down in the hardest hit areas of East San Jose and Gilroy, and the county’s partnership would help local leaders understand how they needed to improve testing and outreach.

1 p.m. Sept. 22: Testing sites expand outside of San Jose

Santa Clara County and local hospitals have expanded testing outside of San Jose.

El Camino Health will be offering free testing to people who live, work or go to school in the healthcare providers’ district, which includes most of Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Sunnyvale and small sections of Cupertino, Santa Clara and Palo Alto.

Testing is appointment only.

  • El Camino Health’s Mountain View Hospital, 2500 Grant Road, Mountain View (Sept. 22 – Sept. 25  from 7:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.)
  • Murphy Park, 260 N. Sunnyvale Avenue, Sunnyvale (Sept. 22 from 8:30 a.m. – 4:20 p.m.)
  • Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts’ Rehearsal Studio, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View (Sept. 23 from 8:30 a.m. – 4:20 p.m.)
  • The Assistance League of Los Altos, 169 State Street, Los Altos(Sept. 24 from 8:30 a.m. – 4:20 p.m)

In addition, the city of Santa Clara will offer free testing at Central Park Library. Testing is appointment only, but no insurance is required. People can schedule appointments using this website.

  • Central Park Library, 2635 Homestead Road, Santa Clara. (Sept. 23 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

County Supervisor Joe Simitian said the county would offer free testing at seven cities in his district, including Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Saratoga and Sunnyvale on specific days in October.

No health insurance or doctor’s note are required, but people must schedule appointments using the county’s website.

  • Cupertino Senior Center – 21251 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino (Oct. 7 and Oct. 21)
  • Los Altos Youth Center – 1 N. San Antonio Rd, Los Altos (Oct. 15)
  • Los Altos Hills Town Hall – 26379 W. Fremont Blvd., Los Altos Hills (Oct. 2)
  • Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts – 500 Castro Street, Mountain View (Oct. 6 and Oct. 20)
  • Palo Alto Art Center Auditorium – 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto (Sept. 25, Oct. 9, and Oct. 23)
  • Saratoga Friendship Hall – 19841 Prospect Road, Saratoga (Sept. 29 and Oct. 29)
  • Murphy Park – 260 N. Sunnyvale Avenue, Sunnyvale (Sept. 28, Oct. 16, and Oct. 26)

1:30 p.m. Sept. 21: County plans to expand quarantine shelter program

For people who are unsheltered or can not isolate at home, Santa Clara County leaders plan to expand their quarantine shelter program to more cities in the South Bay said County Supervisor Cindy Chavez at a news conference, Sept. 21.

The program opens up motel rooms to quarantine infected people who can not isolate, up to $5,000 of rental and financial support and at-home support for people who can isolate, but need assistance such as grocery delivery, according to county documents.

The program has allotted $13,249,877 to pay for the motels, at-home support and rental assistance, the documents say.

“Every city, no matter how wealthy, does have a population that is in the margins, or even unhoused completely,” said Saratoga Mayor Howard Miller at the news conference. “And it’s important even in a city like Saratoga to make sure that those people do the right thing.”

Saratoga, San Jose, Morgan Hill, Milpitas, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Gilroy are all participating in the program already, Chavez said.

So far, the county has placed 384 people exposed or infected with COVID-19 in the motels and has referred 552 families to receive rental assistance.

The services will be available until Dec. 31 if approved by the county board of supervisors on Sept. 22.

Chavez said contact tracers have identified many of the people who need the county’s support, but added that those who haven’t been reached out to can call the county at 408-808-7770 to access quarantine services.

2 p.m. Sept. 18: Here’s how Santa Clara County schools can reopen

If Santa Clara County remains in the red tier for the rest of this week, schools can hold in-person classes on Sept. 23.

But the final decision to reopen campuses is up to each district, according to the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

“That’s a vital nuance,” said David Putney, the office’s Alternative Education Director. “It’s all local control, local education agencies here in the county will be making their decisions based on their own school community, in the public school environment, in the private and also in the charter school environment.”

San Jose Unified School District has already announced classes will be online through Dec. 31.

For the districts that reopen, each school would have to form a reopening plan that would be reviewed by the county and state, according to Putney.

If districts decide to bring students back together, Putney said schools should break up classes into socially-distanced cohorts, in which the same group of students stay together throughout the school day.

The cohorts are like a social bubble, Putney said, and added that it would be an important tool in contact tracing if a student within one is infected.

“If a student does test positive then the school would be informed immediately, hopefully by the parent and the public health department,” he said. “The student or staff member would be informed to quarantine and follow the directive of isolation. Students that would be identified in close contact within that environment would be informed and expected to quarantine.”

Noon Sept. 17: Santa Clara County launches free flu shot program at fairgrounds

People can get free flu shots along with COVID-19 test at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m with no appointment needed.

The county launched the free program in order to reduce hospitalizations for people with the flu.

“We’re going to be in flu season while we’re still fighting COVID-19, and we want to work together to make sure people stay healthy and out of the hospital,” said County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

County CEO Jeff Smith said people are still vulnerable to the flu, and people should still seek immunity against it.

“Everybody who’s six months or older should get a flu vaccine, particularly people who are over 65 or have other illnesses or co-morbidities,” Smith said. “Particularly kids who are under five, and women who are pregnant or planning to be pregnant over the time of the flu season.”

Flu shots are free to the public regardless of immigration status and people can walk up or even ride in on their bicycles to get the vaccine, Chavez said.

The flu shot will not act as a vaccine against COVID-19, Smith said, and will not infect people with the disease either.

8:30 p.m. Sept. 16: San Jose Unified School District schools will remain closed, despite state permission to reopen

San Jose Unified School District officials said Wednesday night schools will remain closed through Dec. 31, even if the county qualifies to reopen schools under state guidelines.

If Santa Clara County remains in the state’s red tier reopening phase for another week, it would be able to reopen K-12 schools.

However, education officials seem to be taking heed of county health officials’ warnings that risk is still substantial.

“We believe our schools should be a reflection of our community,” said San Jose Unified Superintendent Nancy Albarrán. “While we believe in-person instruction is the best option for our students, we cannot ignore the data on viral transmission in Santa Clara County and potentially compromise the health and safety of our students, families and staff by bringing students back at this time.”

Officials said classes would be risky indoor gatherings because the coronavirus spread and COVID-19 case counts are still too high in San Jose.

Students and parents will not hear any official announcements for the 2021 school year until December, but district medical staff said the county has stepped in the right direction by requiring private hospitals to increase testing.

“Schools must be able to rely on adequate and rapid testing in order to safely reopen,” said Katie Rodriguez, the district’s manager of health and family support programs in a news release Wednesday. “Today’s enhanced testing order is a positive step towards being ready to safely reopen our schools.”

1:30 p.m. Sept. 16: New order requires private hospitals in Santa Clara County to increase testing

Santa Clara County health officials can fine private hospitals up to $5,000 for not complying with a new order to increase COVID-19 testing access for their patients.

Under the new order issued Wednesday, private health care providers must provide testing for all patients who report COVID-19 symptoms, asymptomatic patients who have been exposed to coronavirus, patients referred to their provider by the county and essential workers.

Many residents have said they face barriers to scheduling COVID-19 tests with their private health care providers, according to county officials.

“We have seen and heard about concerning practices by health care providers that discourage COVID-19 testing or make it hard to access,” County Counsel James Williams said. “That must end. The testing order is mandatory.”

The county will enforce the order by receiving individual complaints on its website from people who say they have been denied testing, Williams said, and compliance officers will conduct an investigation before ordering the health care provider to take corrective action or be fined.

County officials said the public health department has been forced to bear the brunt of testing in the South Bay.

From the week of Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, Santa Clara County testing officers conducted 13,072 tests, while private health care provider Kaiser Permanente conducted 4,261 tests, according to Deputy County Executive David Campos.

County officials said the order will go in effect on Sept. 25 and will last indefinitely.

3 p.m. Sept. 15: State health officials urge people to avoid partying, handing out candy on Halloween

Hordes of kids gathering together, touching doorbells and taking other people’s candy could be a public health nightmare for state and local leaders this Halloween during the COVID-19 pandemic.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said families should be ready for an irregular spooky season.

“We’re really urging people to be prepared for a different type of Halloween,” Ghaly said. “The type of mixing that comes in our traditional trick-or-treating festivities is really not advised under COVID.”

But he suggested that parents should keep the Halloween spirit alive by allowing their kids to plan costumes and looking for alternatives to trick-or-treating.

State health officials are working on guidelines for people to celebrate Halloween, Ghaly said, and said some counties have already put out their own set of rules.

Santa Clara County has not announced any plans or guidelines for preventing COVID-19 spread on Halloween.

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