A wide range of residents — from business and nonprofit leaders to aged-out foster youth and property owners — could benefit from Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors’ actions Tuesday.
The supervisors approved multiple items related to COVID-19, including plans to start preparing for a reopened economy, a pilot income program for former foster youth and a waiver of penalties and fees for late property tax payments.
Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody and County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith told the board that while the county is bending the curve of coronavirus cases and testing capacities are increasing, residents won’t return to “normal life” any time soon.
“This is going to be slow and steady,” Cody said, adding that the rates of community transmission haven’t decreased since the shelter-in-place order was implemented March 17. “COVID-19 is something we’re going to be managing for a very, very long time — months and likely years.”
The county cannot set up a commercial lab of its own to test all residents, so it relies on private labs to make up the bulk of coronavirus testing, Smith said. While the number of antibody tests is increasing, Cody said that even if antibodies are detected, many studies are needed to learn what exactly that means — namely, which results indicate immunity.
Plan to reopen the county
A proposal from Board President Cindy Chavez was approved to reach out to San Mateo County to partner in its contract with IEM, a disaster recovery organization that creates plans aligned with both public input and FEMA regulations. Alongside that work, Chavez recommended an ad-hoc COVID-19 subcommittee be formed to keep the board informed of updates from county officials.
The goal is to start conversations about reopening the local economy, especially as more than 3 million Californians have filed for unemployment. The March unemployment rate in Santa Clara County spiked to 3.3 percent and April numbers are expected to be even higher.
One element of a referral from Supervisor Susan Ellenberg was folded into that approval, which will bring a report back to the board detailing what resources Dr. Cody considers necessary to support future phases of public health’s response to COVID-19.
The board did not approve, however, Ellenberg’s proposal for a multi-partner county task force to collect public input, which outlined more than 20 seats filled by groups like the School Boards Association, Interfaith Council and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
While aligned with similar efforts from Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Supervisor Mike Wasserman voiced concerns about assigning those roles to local leaders tasked with other responsibilities and said planned outreach included those same community groups.
“While my colleagues did not agree that the timing was right for the creation of a public-private task force to assist in the transition out of the shelter-in-place, I plan to reintroduce this idea when we have a clearer picture of the strategy going forward,” Ellenberg said in a statement. “I look forward to how, together, we can work toward a safe reopening of our communities.”
Shelters for homeless families
The board also selected a plan to temporarily house homeless families with children at the county’s Civic Center, located at Hedding and North First streets.
The chosen approach will feature 100-square-foot homes built by Pallet Shelters, serving up to 25 families, with estimated stays of four months. More than $2.1 million from the general fund is available for the project.
The project will provide power, heating and cooling capabilities in each unit. There will be an on-site office and community space, as well as food storage and heating. The housing project could open in about 6 months.
The shelters will also provide three meals a day, case management and shower, laundry and restroom facilities. The shelters will be sanitized between uses.
The units are aimed at helping residents into permanent housing and can serve up to families of four. Larger families are referred to other programs, including the state’s Project Roomkey motel program.
Foster youth basic income
Also Tuesday, supervisors accepted preliminary plans for a pilot program providing basic income for up to 60 former foster youth who have aged out of the system. Coming back to the board on May 21 for a final vote, the yearlong program will pay $1,000 a month to eligible residents between 21 and 24 years old.
The goal of the program, which was initiated by Supervisor Dave Cortese and fast-tracked from its last committee meeting in December, is to assist former foster youth to financial stability.
Former foster youth in their early 20s typically have less access to built-in support systems, and a trend of lower education levels leads to more volatile income, county officials said. The program is slated to start in June and will use $750,000 from the general fund.
The county said there could be the potential for a public-private partnership to fund the program in the future, and Supervisor Joe Simitian asked that the program include an emphasis on providing evaluation and data to reflect what does and does not work, thinking this could be a model for others to follow.
“If we go through this exercise and don’t fully realize the potential to be a pilot that breaks ground and opens up possibilities at a much larger level, that will be something we regret for a very long time,” Simitian said.
Valley Homeless Healthcare Program update
Paul Lorenz, CEO of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said the Valley Homeless Healthcare Program’s backpack medicine team and mobile medical units — one of which has been designated solely for COVID-19 work — are still going out to encampments. They’re scheduled in Mountain View this week, Lorenz said.
The most recent screening at a large homeless encampment included 60 people late last month, several of whom were tested for the coronavirus. Alongside Dignity on Wheels and Shower to the People, outreach workers are providing resources like hygiene kits, meals and hand sanitizer. The county also reported that any medical respite clients who were at the HomeFirst Shelter at Boccardo Reception Center have been relocated to motel rooms to safely recover.
Cortese requested that the mobile medical unit program create a system to publicly report its weekly efforts — similar to a trip log — and look into a partnership with ambulance providers, as they may receive fewer calls due to shelter orders.
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