Santa Clara County moves to COVID-19 purple tier — most restrictive
Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody (front) and Supervisor Cindy Chavez announce new restrictions taking place Nov. 17. Photo by Vicente Vera.

With COVID-19 case counts rising across the state, Santa Clara County is moving back to California’s purple tier, the most restrictive.

The county recorded 388 new positive COVID-19 cases in a single day on Nov. 16 and now has a total of 28,686 cases and 445 deaths.

“This is a high number,” County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. “The important thing to know is that the case rate — how many cases per population per day are being identified and reported in our county — that curve is going straight up. That is what concerns us, how fast that number is changing.”

Cody added hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients are also reaching alarming levels. A total of 145 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 in Santa Clara County, according to county data.

County Counsel James Williams said the state decided Santa Clara County would have to move to purple after looking at more recent COVID-19 data after the county’s initial announcement on Nov. 13 that it would only regress to the less restrictive red tier.

“The faster you act, the more meaningful the impact, the more lives you can save and the more serious illnesses you can avoid,” Williams said. “The state did move up its announcement. It also acted to look at a more recent snapshot of time. It shortened the lag for the data which is why we ended up in the purple tier instead of the red tier.”

Effective Nov. 17, indoor dining is prohibited, but restaurants and wineries can still operate outdoors with modifications. Malls and general retail stores can remain open indoors with a capacity of 25%. Prayer services can only be held outdoors.

Outdoor bars, breweries and distilleries that do not serve food have to close in the purple tier, according to state guidelines.

In order to provide food service, businesses need to have gone through required county permitting and environmental health inspections, a county spokesperson said.

All indoor activities in museums, zoos, aquariums and movie theaters must cease, according to a county news release.

Nail salons, barbershops, aesthetic care and other personal care services can continue operating indoors following stringent cleaning and physical distancing guidelines.

Gyms and fitness centers cannot operate indoors under the purple tier.

Brian Amador, general manager of ClubSport in San Jose, said gyms need to anticipate sudden changes. ClubSport invested in outdoor space, he added, which members have preferred.

“We didn’t believe it would be a straight line forward from the beginning,” Amador said. “We will continue to deliver our current COVID protocols of deep cleaning, sanitation and social distancing.”

Under state guidelines, schools cannot reopen for in-person classes in the purple tier, but do not have to close if they already started in-person instruction in a less restrictive reopening tier.

However, Chris Funk, superintendent for East Side Union High School District, said the district will pause its in-person instruction for students, who were attending classes in “pods,” unless they lack Wi-Fi.

Pods are small groups of students who stay together as a unit.

Students in need of Wi-Fi can continue coming to campus and will study six feet apart, with masks, in libraries or student unions of each school. Staff will supervise students from offices within each building and avoid in-person contact.

“We are spiking in the county, so I’m not going to expose my staff to that,” Funk said.

Initially, Funk said indoor instruction will continue in pods and he was not concerned with the county entering the purple tier, but reversed course after publication of this article.

Funk said the school district will restart its phased reopening once Santa Clara County returns to the less restrictive red tier. “We are not required to stop what we have in place, but I feel it is safer for our staff, students and their families to pause Phase 2,” he said.

Elementary schools can still apply for waivers to hold in-person classes in Santa Clara County and reopen based on individualized approvals while in the purple tier, Williams said, noting “that’s only for elementary schools.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Nov. 16 said 41 counties are now in the state’s purple tier and case counts are surging throughout the state.

“Every age group, every demographic, racial, ethnic, in every part of the state, we are seeing case rates increase and positivity rates increase as well,” Newsom said. “(It’s) no longer concentrated in a handful of counties. We are seeing community spread broadly now throughout the state of California.”

Despite the allowance of outdoor services for churches, many South Bay faith leaders are taking extra precautions.

“We had pretty rigid requirements of masks, sanitizer and social distancing,” said Meghan Dake-Morrell, minister of cathedral operations for Trinity Cathedral in San Jose. “Now that the county is in a purple tier, I’m sure any outdoor activity will end.”

Dake-Morrell said the Trinity Cathedral follows the mandates set by the Diocese of Salinas, including filming online services with one person at a time to maintain physical distancing.

Jennifer Scott-Brand, office manager of Stone Church of Willow Glen, said services will continue on Zoom – even through Christmas – until a vaccine is widely available.

“We have to be comfortable serving everybody without endangering them,” Scott-Brand said.

Although Pfizer and Moderna have both announced COVID-19 vaccines may soon become available, Cody said the county will only decide “planning and logistics” for vaccine distribution and not who fits into priority groups.

“It is a federal role to decide on the priority groups. There’s two different committees that issue a report that decides on the priority groups for the country,” Cody said. “There is a another group at the state level that will refine those priority groups, make them a little bit more granular and appropriate to California. It is not a county role.”

Lorraine Gabbert and Vicente Vera contributed to this story.

Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.