July 4th in Silicon Valley takes on different meaning with COVID-19 pandemic
People line up for hot meals, fresh groceries and free masks at the Di Lac Temple in San Jose. Photo By Nicholas Chan.

Patriotism has taken on a different meaning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ahead of Independence Day weekend, officials have made more forceful steps to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus as confirmed cases, hospitalizations and intensive care numbers have jumped in recent weeks in Santa Clara County.

The Association of Bay Area Health Officials issued a joint statement Thursday saying “staying home this year is a healthy choice.” Health officers warned residents to avoid gatherings with people not in their immediate households, comply with state and local face covering requirements, wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, and practice physical distancing of at least 6 feet as much as possible.

Fireworks shows and other celebrations are canceled across the South Bay due to coronavirus restrictions — aside from Gilroy’s plans for an abnormally high display Saturday.

“This 4th of July, the safest way to celebrate is with only the people you live with,” Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a statement Friday. “We are all in this together, and gathering in groups means COVID-19 spreads in the community. And the more it spreads, the more it endangers older adults and others at high risk of serious illness.”

Santa Clara County has continued to see increases in confirmed cases, bringing the total to 4,849 cases as of Friday, while one new death brought the total to 160 lives lost.

Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody revealed the new county order on July 2. Photo by Eduardo Cuevas.

Hospitalizations increased to 90 patients — a jump from just 38 people two weeks ago — and 33 people were in intensive care, which has doubled since June 18.

The increase in hospitalized patients landed Santa Clara on the state’s watchlist of 19 counties, all of which Gov. Gavin Newsom took action to shutter indoor operations for restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, family entertainment, zoos, museums and card rooms for at least three weeks. He closed bars in those areas altogether. However, Santa Clara’s current health order has kept these indoor businesses closed.

California has become one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic. The United States, meanwhile, recorded more than 53,000 new cases Thursday, the second highest daily count only to Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Confirmed cases continue to increase at higher rates in many parts of the U.S., while California’s hospitalizations have increased more than 50 percent and intensive care cases have jumped 46 percent in the last two weeks.

The Associated Press attributed California’s increases to rapid reopening of businesses, enacting a mandatory face covering too late on June 18 and inconsistent local and state requirements.

“This Fourth of July weekend is one of the most social weekends in our lives,” Newsom said in a briefing Thursday, urging Californians not to gather with people they don’t live with and to avoid crowds.

Enforcement has also heightened. Statewide, Newsom announced he would deploy multi-agency strike teams to ensure compliance with the business closures, while local governments took their own steps.

As the state continues to see rising cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19, Gov. Gavin Newsom previewed a “dimmer switch” to toggle back public health restrictions intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19. (Courtesy of the California governor’s office)

Newsom urged those 19 counties — encompassing more than 70 percent of Californians — to cancel fireworks shows.

In San Jose, all Independence Day celebrations and fireworks displays have been canceled, a city news release announced Thursday. “Do your part and avoid gathering at parks over the holiday weekend,” officials said.

There are no forced closures by police, according to San Jose Police spokeswoman Officer Gina Tepoorten, but officers will be on the lookout for unsafe behavior.

“The San Jose Police Department will maintain high visibility and patrols in the community to ensure everyone’s safety during this coming 4th of July,” Tepoorten said in an email. “If you plan on drinking this holiday weekend, make sure you have a safe way to get home. In addition, residents are encouraged to follow current Public Health orders and recommendations. We want all residents to stay healthy and safe during this 4th of July weekend.”

But Gilroy still planned to host a fireworks show, albeit shooting them higher for more to view, according to a social media post from the city. While the city encouraged residents to watch from home, it was not clear if the show was closed to the public. Public Health Department data showed Gilroy had the highest case rate of 389 cases per 100,000 people in the county. A call and email to the city were not returned Friday.

Additionally, Newsom closed parking at state beaches in the Bay Area and Southern California for the Independence Day weekend.

“Consider staying at home or seeking outdoor venues other than the beaches for holiday celebrations,” Santa Cruz Mayor Justin Cummings said in a statement Monday. “We are not only responsible for our own health, but also the health of the most vulnerable residents in our community.”

Another Bay Area coastal destination, Pacifica, closed beaches Friday through Monday. Taking it a step further, Monterey announced it would issue minimum fines of $100 for not complying with face covering requirements.

In announcing a new Santa Clara County health order Thursday to reopen hair and nail salons, gyms and larger gatherings pending state approval, officials said Thursday it’s up to businesses and the community to reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially with Fourth of July.

“If we’re not careful, 14 days from now we’re going to start to see people in our hospitals,” Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez said this week, referring to the virus’ incubation period. “But all of us, all of you, can do something about that.”

Contact Eduardo Cuevas at [email protected] or follow @eduardomcuevas on Twitter.

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