Coronavirus: Santa Clara County lifts some stay-home restrictions
Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County's Health Officer, announces an amended shelter in place order for the Bay Area April 29. Photo by Katie Lauer

Santa Clara County officials on Wednesday released details of a revised and extended shelter in place order that lifts restrictions on some industries in the region, effective May 4 through the end of the month.

At a high level, the newly-revised order generally reaffirms many of the restrictions that have governed how residents live and work in the county since mid-March as officials work to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and prepare for a potential surge in hospitalizations from the illness. But for the handful of industries that will see some “limited easing,” including construction, childcare, outdoor industries, real estate, the change will likely feel drastic.

Outdoor activities at golf courses, athletic fields and skate parks are also allowed to reopen, as long as companies and residents practice social distancing, according to the order.

“To be successful, we must ensure that we have a robust infrastructure in place to transition to containment and our case numbers must remain low to make it feasible,” Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said Wednesday. “We must proceed slowly, as we are continuing to learn more about the epidemiology and clinical severity of COVID(-19).”

The news comes a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom released his own roadmap to reopening the economy, and he said Wednesday that “broadly what (Bay Area health officials) put out today was very consistent with the state guidelines.”

Construction gets back on track

One of the biggest changes coming next week will be to construction jobs that have been shuttered for most of April.

The region’s restrictive health order shut down all construction sites except for those with at least 10 percent affordable housing, certain public works projects and any jobs related to increasing or maintaining shelter and hospital capacity. Now, any construction work that would be allowed to continue under the state’s less-restrictive stay at home order will be allowed to resume in the Bay Area starting May 4.

California’s order allows housing, commercial and mixed-use developments to move forward. Santa Clara County has issued guidance for both small and large job sites to ensure the virus does not spread from worker to worker on those sites.

Wednesday’s updated orders are a relief for the 100 local unions and 25,000 unionized workers represented by the South Bay Labor Council, according to CEO Ben Field.

“Getting them back to work is obviously a huge relief to them and their families,” he said. “The massive sudden unemployment in the South Bay was immediately and extraordinarily hard.”

Residential plumber and UA Local Union 393 member Cecelia Cervantes is one of those construction workers feeling the relief. As a single mother, Cervantes said she’s happy to get back to work to support her family.

“I was worried it would not be safe to go back to work during the pandemic, but I am very happy about the new county requirements,” Cervantes said. “It’s important to keep all the construction workers and all workers safe, and that employees do what they can to minimize the risk.”

Residential plumber, UA Local Union 393 member and single mother Cecelia Cervantes said she is happy to get back to work to support her family. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Getting construction sites up and running again won’t be as easy as flipping a switch, but Field said the move will help improve of the local economy, especially as the thousands of businesses that supplement the construction industry – such as raw material suppliers and dump sites – ramp back up.

That economic impact is one of the reasons San Jose and county elected officials showed support for the change this week.

“I am particularly excited about the opportunity to slowly open back up our economy and I’m particularly excited that we’re starting with construction because at least in construction, we know there are many many guidelines that make sure that those job sites are safe,” Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez said Wednesday. “I think they will have an opportunity to lead the way.”

Supervisor Dave Cortese earlier this month convened an ad-hoc committee of leaders from the regional municipalities that have issued shelter in place orders since March to consider whether construction work could resume across the region. He’s since been a proponent of getting construction workers back to job sites.

“Before coronavirus entered our community, we were, and still are, facing a housing crisis,” Cortese said in a statement Wednesday. “We cannot pull back from our commitment to build housing when workers can do it safely, maintain physical distance and wear face coverings.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Wednesday also voiced support for the county’s decision to peel back some of the restrictions.

“I am particularly grateful to the many contractors and union leaders who have worked collaboratively to create safety standards many weeks ago, and for their commitments to abide by them,” Liccardo said.  “We will work with them and many others to ensure that we can enable thousands of our families to get food back on their tables — safely.”

Childcare, outdoor businesses and real estate

In addition, childcare, summer camps and other recreational activities for kids can resume starting Monday, but only if certain safety protocols are implemented and the children’s guardians are considered essential workers, county officials said.

“The order allows childcare facilities, educational recreational programs and summer camps where there are stable groups of no more than 12 children,” County Counsel James Williams said. “Those groups can’t have any crossover or any mixing so that there is a kind of fixed set of social interactions.”

Outdoor businesses, like nurseries, landscaping and agriculture, will be allowed to open back up with new social distancing protocols.

Real estate transactions that were previously on hold can also resume, but with new restrictions to prevent the unintended spread of the virus during showings and on-site visits.

Under the previous order, only vacant properties could be shown, according to Sandy Jamison, board president of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors. She said the county’s move Wednesday is a step in the right direction as occupied homes can now be shown, just without current residents present.

“Before the shelter in place, it was common for realtors to show occupied homes while sellers were not there,” Jamison said. “This is very common and normal in the industry, so this kind of gets us back to some level of normalcy.”

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter. Contact Katie Lauer at katie@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter. Contact Eduardo Cuevas at eduardomcuevas@gmail.com or follow @eduardomcuevas on Twitter.

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