Santa Clara County retailers to reopen for curbside pickup, but there’s a catch
A vacant storefront is covered in newspaper on S. 1st St. in downtown San Jose. Photo by Katie Lauer.

    After growing pressure from Silicon Valley businesses desperate to get back to work, Santa Clara County health officials on Monday made the highly-anticipated decision to allow certain retailers to open for curbside pick-up.

    The announcement Monday aligns Santa Clara County — along with four Bay Area counties and Berkeley — with the state’s revised shelter-in-place order. Gov. Gavin Newsom on May 8 modified his order allowing retail clothing, florists, bookstores, sporting goods and music stores — plus logistics and manufacturers that support them — to reopen for curbside pick-up.

    But the county’s new order Monday comes with two caveats that largely flew under the radar.

    First, face coverings will be required inside all businesses. Until now, Santa Clara County merely encouraged face coverings — it did not require them, unlike other counties and cities, including Milpitas, Cupertino and Palo Alto. San Jose is set to decide on requiring face coverings Tuesday.

    “(Face coverings) are mandatory, they’re not optional,” County Counsel James Williams said of face coverings inside businesses under the new order, adding that the county strongly recommends people wear them in public elsewhere.

    Second, the new health order announced Monday has no end date. The previous order was set to expire on May 31, but this new one will remain in place indefinitely until rescinded or amended by county health officials. It goes into effect Friday.

    Williams said the local revisions include more physical distancing protocols for all businesses, including having one employee per 300 square feet. The Bay Area has been slower than other parts of California in moving through the second of four stages to easing the state’s stay-home order, though Newsom said regions like the Bay Area can maintain their stricter health orders.

    The other counties to ease the stay-home orders to allow retailers to open for curbside pick-up include Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Francisco. Santa Clara County’s previous order eased restrictions on childcare, construction, gardening, landscaping, real estate, outdoor businesses and activities.

    “By proceeding cautiously and safely, we will increase consumer confidence, improve resilience, and ultimately we will recover,” said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody during a news conference Monday.

    Cody cited COVID-19 indicators such as stable and decreasing new cases and hospitalizations, as well as increased testing capacity, allowed for Monday’s actions. The amended order also allows more outdoor activities to resume, such as car parades, outdoor museums, historical sites and publicly accessible gardens.

    Although it’s not a full reopening, some East San Jose business leaders said allowing curbside sales for retailers is good news.

    “This partial reopening will allow many micro businesses to be able to restart contact with their customers,” said Jesus Flores, president of the Alum Rock Santa Clara Street Business Association. “Many of these businesses have been selling their products online (Facebook live) and then delivering personally. Now they have the opportunity to offer curb side pick up and that will definitely make it better.”

    Flores added that there’s some confusion in the county’s order about which businesses can partially reopen.

    “So we have to make sure they understand the rules and follow the safety protocols,” he said.

    Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, pointed to national controversies between public health orders and reopening the economy, and said the county is balancing both. “We want to make sure that people can safely get back to work, but we want that to happen in the safest way possible,” she said.

    Also Monday, Newsom said roughly 53 of the state’s 58 counties can now meet criteria in order to reopen dine-in restaurants and shopping centers with modifications.

    Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly outlined revised criteria for counties to meet in order to reopen. Counties can have no more than a five percent increase in hospitalized patients over the past seven days; for smaller counties, they can’t have more than 20 hospitalizations in the last 14 days. There also can’t be more than 25 people diagnosed with COVID-19 per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days, or the test positivity rate must be less than eight percent.

    “With the support of the state, we are confident that we can continue to do this in a safe and modulated way,” Ghaly said.

    Newsom said attending religious services or getting a haircut would be possible as early as next week, while professional sports without live audiences could be held by June.

    Bay Area health officials said progress on key indicators for COVID-19 response led to the easing for retail and associated businesses. The metrics include stable or decreasing new cases and hospitalizations of the virus; more testing each day; improved supply of personal protective equipment in hospitals; and increased capacity for case investigation and contact tracing.

    “The Public Health Department will carefully monitor coronavirus cases and other data to ensure that we continue to make progress toward reducing the impact of the virus,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese. “Continuing to practice the measures that brought us to today’s action, combined with testing and contact tracing in order to move on to the next phase seems to be the best strategy we have.”

    Read the county’s full order here.

    Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

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