Two years after Santa Clara County announced its first shelter order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the region is stable—but the foreseeable future remains uncertain, county officials said.
“Our levels are relatively low,” said Dr. Sara Cody, county public health officer. “But we still are in the middle of the worldwide pandemic. Even though many messages out there said we’re moving on, the virus hasn’t moved on.”
Santa Clara County is monitoring a mutation of the omicron strain that has popped up around the world in the most recent COVID surge. The subvariant, known as BA.2, was detected in the county in January. It spreads more easily than omicron, but is not driving up new infections, Cody added. The subvariant is most prevalent in areas such as Palo Alto.
Community COVID transmission in Santa Clara County fueled by omicron has declined significantly in recent weeks. The seven-day rolling average of new infections is 171 as of Thursday—a sharp drop from 1,922 infections in early February.
On the two-year anniversary of the county’s shelter-in-place order, officials commended the collective efforts of residents and public agencies in protecting each other through masking, social distancing and vaccinating. On Thursday, Cody boasted about the county’s high vaccination rates. Roughly 85% of the population is fully vaccinated and almost 70% of the eligible population has gotten booster shots.
The local health orders, which shut down businesses and sent hundreds of thousands of workers home, were among some of the most stringent COVID restrictions—and fines—in the Bay Area and the state. Santa Clara County was the only Bay Area county to keep its indoor mask mandate when California loosened its own order earlier this year. The county lifted its mandate after hitting several metrics this month.
The orders drew criticism and frustration from residents and businesses, but county officials said they saved at least 2,000 lives.
“We have lost 2,180 people in our community, but without the collective efforts that we all have made, we would have lost many more,” Cody said, adding the county imposed the restrictions based on levels of infection and hospitalization in the South Bay.
If Santa Clara County had the same death rate as the state, the toll would have been closer to 4,000 people, according to the county’s calculation. The county would have lost more than 5,000 people if it had been at the national rate.
Even as states and cities ease back restrictions, county officials continues to be wary of the future. The federal government has shifted its focus away from COVID funding, but Santa Clara County officials said they will be ready should a new surge start up.
“We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and federal funding has collapsed,” Cody said. “This isn’t a new place for our county. Our county has been ready and scrappy and dedicated—we’ve done everything we’ve been able to do, in spite of what sometimes happens at other levels of government, and that’s what we’ll be doing.”
County officials continue to encourage masking indoors and vaccination. Cody called on local health providers and hospitals to continue giving out tests—and vaccinations—for patients.
The county and local hospitals have also started to administer the COVID-19 antibody treatment Evusheld, aimed at people who cannot be vaccinated, to help further protect the most vulnerable populations in the county. The treatment can only be used for a small group of people—the majority of whom are immunocompromised.
“Evusheld is being administered to the highest-risk patients such as transplant recipients, certain cancer patients on active therapy, patients taking certain high-risk medications and patients with immune system diseases,” county officials told San José Spotlight.
Dr. Thomas Lew of Stanford Health Care also said the treatment provides a layer of protection for people who are immunocompromised, but it’s not a substitute for COVID vaccines and booster shots.
“This is another tool in our (toolbox) to help provide protection for this population,” Lew told San José Spotlight. “The real game changer was the vaccines.”