Despite increased pleas and restrictions for people to stay home over the past two weeks, Santa Clara County’s case rate and hospitalizations are even worse after the first two days of Thanksgiving weekend.
As of Nov. 28, health officials tallied 760 new COVID-19 cases within 24 hours, a new record for the county. Hospitals have admitted 239 patients for COVID-19, 71 of whom are in intensive care, prompting a score of new restrictions on business and travel.
“We are in the midst of a severe surge. I want you to know that we don’t take these measures lightly. These are extraordinarily painful and difficult decisions,” said County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. “But it is a matter of life and death, and we must slow this train or it will derail.”
Cody added the county now has the highest case rate in the Bay Area. As of Nov. 28, Santa Clara County had 33,732 COVID-19 cases and 476 deaths.
By Nov. 30, nonessential retail must limit its capacity to 10% under the new guidelines, while grocery stores and pharmacies can maintain a 25% capacity.
But all stores must establish a metering system to monitor the number of people going in and out of an establishment. To do this, an employee can stand at the entrance of a business and count how many people enter and leave to ensure capacity is not exceeded.
Small business owners said the increased capacity limitations would be a blow to employees, especially because stores would have to limit staff in order to reduce capacity.
“We were pretty spread out. Twenty (percent) was pretty comfortable. Ten (percent), because we’re a fairly busy store, is going to be hard,” said Eric Johnson, owner of Recycle Bookstore in San Jose and Campbell. “Some people are going to lose hours because we can’t have too many people working. That affects how many hours you can actually pay.”
But Johnson said he understood the need for more restrictions and that it was better than a total closure.
Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association, was worried that small businesses would not be able to keep up with the county’s new directives.
“Businesses have been whipsawed by the constantly changing protocols,” said Knies. “If we are headed back to March restrictions, where’s the financial support to help keep the small businesses alive who’ve kept at it these past eight months?”
Close-contact professional, collegiate and youth sports in the county must temporarily cease under the new guidelines, which includes teams such as the San Francisco 49ers and programs at San Jose State such as football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.
Lawrence Fan, a spokesperson for San Jose State Football, told San José Spotlight that county officials informed the university that the cancellation of sports would last until Dec. 21 at least.
Fan said the football team was on its way back to San Jose from Boise, Idaho after their game against Boise State was abruptly canceled.
“The morning started with learning today’s football game would be declared a no contest,” Fan said. “In flight, in effect, the county made its announcement that there’ll be a three week period with a new directive.”
The county and university officials will meet tomorrow to discuss the restrictions, Fan said. He did not comment on whether or not SJSU would move the football team to train in another county, as it did at Humboldt State University in October.
People can continue doing outdoor activities and sports that do not entail close contact. Outdoor gatherings protected under the First Amendment, such as church services and protests, of up to 100 people are permitted in the county, said County Counsel James Williams.
Card rooms must close, while hotels and other lodging facilities can only accommodate people quarantining or staying for essential travel.
The county also imposed new travel restrictions, requiring people returning to Santa Clara County from areas more than 150 miles away to quarantine for 14 days, but it is unclear how it will be enforced.
Businesses that usually rely on foot traffic fear that revenue might be hampered. Jerry Wang, owner of Celsius Ice Cream in Milpitas and Paper Moon Cafe in downtown San Jose, fears less foot traffic will hurt his bottom line.
“We are adjusting the store hours for winter since the sun sets earlier,” Wang said. “We are also down to our bare operational team and everyone is exhausted and tired.”
Wang believes the new restrictions are important and has implored customers to get tested and follow social distancing guidelines.
“Shutting down is important, yes,” Wang said. “The hospitals and frontline workers are maxed out. But we are looking for leadership at the federal level.”
Health care workers traveling into the county to provide essential services are exempt from these travel restrictions.
“Our hope is that these additional measures will bring down the rate of growth so that our hospitals won’t be overwhelmed,” Williams said.
Dr. Clifford Wang, chair of the medicine department at Valley Medical Center, said hospital staff is bracing for a surge in COVID-19 and flu cases.
“Our staff physicians and nurses are working around-the-clock, working extra shifts to take care of all the patients,” Wang said. “It’s a stressful time, but we know we’re heading into possibly the toughest time of the pandemic because we’re getting hit by both COVID and non-COVID cases.”
Health officials urged people to follow the new restrictions so hospitals are not overburdened.
“This pandemic is like a high-speed train,” Cody said. “And our projections tell us that we are on target to derail by the third week of December if we don’t apply brakes right now with all our collective might.”