Santa Clara County health officials announced Monday they will amend the shelter-in-place order to allow in-store retail, outdoor dining, childcare for all families as well as religious, cultural and civic activities previously prohibited to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
With the revised order effective Friday, Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said progress with testing, new cases and hospitalizations permitted the eased restrictions. While the Bay Area has moved slower in easing orders than other parts of California and the U.S., the new changes supersede at least two previous shelter-in-place revisions to Cody’s original March 16 order.
“The global pandemic is ongoing, and we must continue to protect the health and wellbeing of our entire community, especially those most vulnerable to serious illness and death from COVID-19,” Cody said in a statement. “Public Health is about ensuring health in every sense of the word: from diseases like COVID-19, and from social and economic impacts on health too. For all those reasons, we have chosen to be measured in how and when we reopen.”
Reopened businesses must comply with physical distancing of at least 6 feet, face coverings and limiting the number of people indoors. The new businesses allowed to reopen Friday were chosen based on the number of people at the business and the type of contact people have with each other, a county documents said.
Under the new order, in-store retail can reopen, building off the county allowing curbside pickup for purchases. Retail at the business will require no more than one employee per 300 square feet and up to one customer for 200 square feet of space open to the public. The previous order reopened associated manufacturing and logistics for retail businesses, but Friday’s order permits all manufacturing and logistics.
Beginning Friday, restaurants can seat outdoor tables of no more than six people from the same household or living group. Those from separate households must sit at separate tables. Alcohol can only be sold with meals but bars, theaters, nightclubs and entertainment events must stay closed.
Amid the pandemic and lockdowns, downtown San Jose’s Sushi Confidential has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars while having to pay rent, owner Randy Musterer said. He added recent protests over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police — while necessary — have turned destructive and caused his restaurant to close for takeout, but the new public health order is welcoming.
“This could be a savior for a lot of restaurants, like myself, that have been struggling to try to do takeout,” Musterer told San José Spotlight. “A lot of restaurants aren’t even able to do that. A lot of restaurant owners are at the last of their funds or even far in the negative, so this gives them hope to be able to generate some income.”
In San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood, Hicklebee’s children’s bookstore launched a GoFundMe campaign to keep the business open during the pandemic, but co-owner Valerie Lewis said she plans to modify the space under the new orders by closing the children’s play corner and increasing spacing.
“We’ll do whatever’s necessary to keep people as safe as possible,” Lewis told San José Spotlight. “What we’re by golly going to do is reopen and get those books out there.”
Hicklebee’s is also considering putting up tents behind the store to separate kids by age and have everyone use hand sanitizer upon entering and leaving, Lewis added. Another idea is a menu of books for purchase.
Business leaders applauded the efforts to reopen the local economy after more than two months of closures.
“The latest county public health order is a step in the right direction to allow for the safe and strategic reopening of the economy,” Madison Nguyen, executive vice president of the Silicon Valley Organization, told San José Spotlight. She said a recent plan from local lawmakers, called San Jose Al Fresco, that allows restaurants, retailers, cafes, gyms and other small businesses to operate outside is a “game changer.”
“This action will allow more restaurants to leverage outdoor spaces for dine-in options and still comply with the physical distancing requirements in the county order,” Nguyen added.
While the previous health order allowed childcare for essential workers, the new one opens childcare facilities and summer camps to everyone, but limits groups to 12 children. These groups also have to be the same cohort and can’t mix with one another, and providers must remain solely with their dedicated group.
However, don’t expect students to return for summer school, said Chris Funk, superintendent of East Side Union High School District. He told San José Spotlight the 12-student max requirement makes the new policy “useless” for his schools.
The new order also allows outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people for religious services and cultural ceremonies. This comes after the Trump administration threatened states for not allowing in-person religious services, and the Supreme Court issued a split decision denying an injunction against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-home order that limits places of worship from physically congregating. The governor has since eased restrictions to allow in-person services with county permission.
Outdoor drive-in theaters and ceremonies will once again resume Friday though outdoor, in person event can’t have food or other concessions for shared consumption. Singing or shouting isn’t allowed, as officials said it can increase the risk of transmission with droplets from people’s mouths.
In addition, pet grooming businesses can reopen, a change from the previous order that required pet owners to get a veterinarian note to have grooming services. Dog parks, meanwhile, require physical distancing and face coverings at all times.
Amid rising temperatures, Friday’s changes will also ease restrictions on outdoor activities such as swimming pools, camping and recreation that doesn’t involve physical contact.
Still, Santa Clara County isn’t moving as quickly to reopen as other counties. Under Newsom’s four-stage reopening plan, local governments must attest to meeting certain public health criteria to move deeper into the next stage which reopens dine-in eating, barbershops and hair salons. Santa Clara County isn’t there yet. The county did not immediately respond to a request for comment about moving into the next stage.
Supervisor Dave Cortese said Monday he’s confident the current safety measures will keep people safe.
“It’s only a victory if we keep up our vigilance to stop coronavirus from spreading,” Cortese said in a statement. “That will be even more difficult in the days and weeks ahead.”
Sushi Confidential and other San Pedro Square businesses are considering opening June 11. However, Musterer said he’d have to minimize labor to recoup losses, so he won’t have servers. Instead, customers will place their order and sit in the outdoor patio.
“It’s been a perfect storm because what made San Jose so vibrant has now made it so challenging,” Musterer continued. “I don’t expect people to come running, but people are also fed up staying at home. There will be some celebrations.”
Janice Bitters and Lorraine Gabbert contributed to this story.
Contact Eduardo Cuevas at email@example.com or follow @eduardomcuevas on Twitter.