Silicon Valley officials remain cautious as big changes to ‘shelter in place’ order take effect
Santa Clara County Public Health Department Director Dr. Sara Cody spoke Friday about the latest shelter-in-place order. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Life in the Bay Area won’t to return to normal anytime soon, county officials announced Tuesday as they extended the region’s existing stay at home order by nearly a month, and added a slew of strict new restrictions.

Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s top health official, on Tuesday told residents that they’d be under a mandatory order to stay home until May 3. Officials also announced a set of new rules that will shut down more businesses, create stringent requirements for those allowed to remain open and closes additional construction sites.

County officials also clarified that people can face misdemeanor-level penalties if they do not follow the order, which requires residents to stay at home, except for essential tasks, like grocery shopping, working at an essential business, picking up medicine, doctor appointments, doing laundry, going to the bank or caring for a family member or pet. The order, initially put into place March 17, aims to slow the spread of a contagious coronavirus that causes a deadly respiratory illness known as COVID-19.

“The goal is to decrease, to the greatest extent possible, the average number of contacts that each of us has with each other every day,” Cody said. “So, please remember that every unnecessary contact with another person increases the chance that the virus may spread from one person to another.”

The biggest differences between the previous order and the updated one that went into effect as of midnight Wednesday include:

  • Limiting activities at parks and other outdoor activities to improve social distancing
  • Playgrounds and recreational facilities are now closed
  • Dog parks are now closed
  • All essential businesses are required to prepare, post and implement a “Social Distancing Protocol” by Friday
  • It limits the number of people allowed in a store at one time and requires stores of provide hand sanitizer
  • Some construction sites previously allowed to stay open will close
  • Businesses that sell products to help people work from home aren’t considered “essential” anymore
  • Residents can still get goods delivered, but not services

Bay Area officials were among the first in the nation to announce a shelter in place order, but other states and cities across the country have followed suit in the weeks following.

And while county and state officials say the order has saved lives and decreased the spread of infection, none are ready to celebrate a victory just yet.

“The incredible sacrifice everyone has made, I believe it’s starting to bend the curve,” Cody said. “We need to keep at it – we just need to keep at it.”

Since Cody’s first order took effect March 17, the county has seen the number of cases increase from 138 to 890. As of Tuesday, 30 people have died from the disease in Santa Clara County.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday demurred when asked whether the Bay Area’s aggressive health order and social distancing requirements have proven successful in the past two weeks.

“We are taking nothing for granted in this state and we are doing everything we can to take advantage of these moments,” he said of the state’s work to secure more hospital beds and hire medical personnel ahead of a projected surge in hospitalizations due to the virus.

Across the state, 6,932 people have been infected by the virus and 150 have died. Those numbers are on the “lower end of our projections,” Newsom said, but he warned against jumping to conclusions about how well contained COVID-19 is currently.

“Very easily tomorrow I could say something different and that is why one has to be very cautious about this,” Newsom said. “Modeling means nothing if individuals don’t continue to practice physical distancing, social distancing and continue to do the right thing with the stay at home order.”

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

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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