Santa Clara County not ready for next stage of reopening, Cody says
Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody spoke about the latest shelter-in-place order. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Santa Clara County isn’t ready to seek state approval to open more businesses due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that has attracted the state’s attention, Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s top health official, said Tuesday.

“At the moment, we don’t meet all the criteria on the variance application,” Cody told the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in a Zoom meeting Tuesday. In order to move into the next stage of reopening its economy, Santa Clara County must meet certain California Department of Public Health criteria, including benchmarks for testing, hospital capacity and contact tracing.

But Cody said the county isn’t ready to do that yet.

County public health data Tuesday showed 122 new cases from the previous day, among the county’s highest daily increases, to a total of 3,727 cases. There were also recent upticks in hospitalizations and intensive care cases. Cody said Tuesday the virus may be spreading, especially in East San Jose and South County.

Cody’s explanation came after a heated exchange with Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, who asked whether the county was ready to meet criteria to move further into the state’s second of four stages of reopening businesses and lifting stay-home orders. This includes dine-in restaurants, barbershops and hair salons, gyms, hotels and nail salons. Nearly all of California’s 58 counties have peeled back those restrictions, but Santa Clara is among four counties lagging behind the rest of the state.

Initially, Cody couldn’t give a firm answer. Ellenberg, who has criticized the slow timeline to easing the shelter-in-place order, said her question should have been expected, before letting out a sigh.

“Duly noted,” Cody said.

In order to move into the next stage of reopening, county officials must verify they meet public health thresholds on new cases, hospitalizations, contact tracing and health care capacity, among other indicators defined by the state Department of Public Health.

“I need the answer,” Ellenberg said. “Because if it’s yes, then my question is, can you (apply for reopening) in the next 48 hours? If the answer is no, then I need to know what tools or resources are needed for us to be able to put you in a position to do that.”

In a second round of questions to Cody, Ellenberg again asked whether the county was ready to attest to public health criteria. Cody said she received an email saying Santa Clara County was on the state’s watchlist for the local uptick in hospitalizations, the second time since June 9. This meant the county couldn’t yet apply for further reopening.

Ellenberg requested county health officials provide a daily report of whether the county can meet the criteria outlined by the state public health department.

While an increase in testing could cause a rise in COVID-19 cases countywide, Cody warned the virus may be spreading as health restrictions have been eased and people are shopping, eating out and returning to work.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday the outbreak’s first wave isn’t over in California amid increasing new cases and hospitalizations across California.

On Tuesday, the state tallied its highest daily increase in confirmed cases, state figures showed. There were 7,149 new cases, surpassing the state’s previous highest daily counts from Monday.

In the last two weeks since Monday, Newsom said new cases accounted for nearly 36 percent of all cases since the pandemic began in the state. California’s COVID-19 hospitalizations also continued record trends, with 4,095 positive patients Tuesday, surpassing the previous highest count Monday of 3,868 patients.

Meanwhile, California’s 14-day positivity rate, an important statistical indicator to determine how many positive results there are out of tests conducted, has steadily increased from 4.5 percent on June 14 to 5.1 percent reported Tuesday, suggesting COVID-19 is spreading across the state.

Newsom threatened to reinstate more strict health measures if cases continue increasing.

“We don’t intend to do that, we don’t want to do that, but I want to make this clear: We are prepared to do that if we must,” Newsom said. “Clearly we have the capacity — individual and collective capacity — not to have to go in that direction by just being a little bit more thoughtful about how we go about our day-to-day lives.”

President Donald Trump has downplayed the effects of COVID-19, and recently said testing is the reason for increased cases. Less testing, he tweeted Tuesday, would result in fewer cases.

But the upward trend of increasing cases has occurred throughout the U.S. Cody, the architect of the nation’s first shelter-in-place order, blasted the federal COVID-19 response.

“The root causes of this epidemic in the U.S. is the collective national failure to invest in public health preparedness,” Cody earlier told supervisors. “We are now managing the best we can county by county. But we’re managing this pandemic at a local level, but it’s not a local epidemic.”

The county last revised its shelter-in-place order on June 5 to reopen in-store retail, outdoor dining, childcare for all families as well as outdoor religious activities.

Cody said the county would reevaluate easing restrictions every three weeks, enough time for the coronavirus’ two-week incubation period. Supervisor Mike Wasserman asked Tuesday if the county was ready to ease restrictions again.

The end of the last three-week period is Friday.

“It’s, of course, important that we understand what’s happening around us,” Cody said. “I will keep my commitment, so we’re looking at that (data) very carefully through Friday.”

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

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