San José Spotlight two weeks ago hosted an exclusive Q&A webinar with Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, the driving force behind the nation’s first shelter-in-place order credited with flattening the curve on coronavirus infections and saving lives.
We received nearly one hundred questions from Silicon Valley residents before and during the 15-minute Facebook live event. Below are some of the most common questions from you — our readers — for the county’s top health official during this time of uncertainty and fear.
This is the first of a two-part series.
Q: When will local hospitals see a surge in patients — including those who are hospitalized with the coronavirus and when will hospitals in SCC reach capacity?
-Pete, San Jose
A: The goal is to not have a second surge, but a lot will depend on how well the shelter-in-place order is followed, when certain aspects are opened back up, and how well social distancing guidelines are followed.
Q: When will you release a “roll out” plan for re-activating the local economy?
-Pete, San Jose
A: One of the most difficult factors of the shelter-in-place order is the socioeconomic realities for members of our community. That is why we began opening certain business sectors, with the order taking effect May 4. Construction will play a major role in this, however, construction businesses must adhere to proper social distancing and protections at all job sites. The county has also instituted a myriad of safety nets to assist those struggling financially during this time.
Q: What does Dr. Cody suggest when we have a teenager living with older people (66 and 70)?
A: We know that older populations — especially those with pre-existing conditions — are at greater risk from COVID-19. In a situation like this, it is even more important for the household to shelter-in-place per the order. This will limit the risk of COVID-19 being brought into the house and exposing older members of the household.
Q: I’m curious how Bolinas was able to get tests for all its residents (granted, a small population) — is testing available for cities and counties that have enough money?
A: The county is rapidly ramping up testing capabilities and we just announced two new sites: One each in San Jose and Gilroy. Reaching certain testing parameters is a goal of the county, but the reality is there simply are not enough tests available to test everyone in a county approaching 2 million people.
Q: Can you and the county provide the number of those who have recovered from the coronavirus on the dashboard provided by Santa Clara County?
A: We are continually evaluating our dashboard numbers and just added more information about cases in long-term care facilities. While we offer daily data on hospitalization numbers, many of those infected never require hospitalization and isolate at home. It would be difficult to track all positive cases through their recovery.
Q: Is it appropriate for summer school to take place this summer? Should they be canceled in order to protect the community?
-Sunil, San Jose
A: How our schools proceed this summer and this fall will depend on the success of our shelter-in-placer order. The current orders are in place until May 31 and we will evaluate the situation closer to that date.
Q: If someone tests positive for antibodies, what are the next steps? If they are healthy and weeks beyond any symptoms of being sick, no fever, etc., are they OK to go out for essentials? Are they immune? Do you need their plasma to develop a vaccine?
A: Once someone has tested positive for COVID-19 they should rely on the advice of their doctor for when they can return to normal activities. Studies are currently underway to determine what it means for individuals who have already had COVID-19 and what it means from an immunity standpoint.
Q: Why doesn’t your department report COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara County by ZIP code?
A: We plan to report data by ZIP code in the near future.
Q: Will the decline in COVID-19 cases go down similarly to the way they have gone up, such that it will likely resemble a bell curve?
A: The curve is affected by the amount of testing being done. While we suspected there were more cases early on, there was no way to validate the presumption. Now, with more testing centers being activated, we expect the number of positive results to continue to grow.
Q: When and how will dentists safely reopen?
A: As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dental facilities should postpone elective procedures, surgeries and non-urgent dental visits, and prioritize urgent and emergency visits. If you are a patient, you should contact your dentist to inquire about whether a dental service is urgent or should be deferred. Dentists should refer to guidance that is available on the CDC website.
Q: Could you add data on the number of deaths by city?
A: The number of deaths by city is listed on our dashboard page.
Q: Many people went through what we thought was the flu in February. But now that a COVID-19 death in early February has been identified, should we inform our doctors if our symptoms were different from what we’ve experienced in the past? Is there a chance some may have had COVID-19 and should be tested for antibodies?
A: We presumed there were cases prior to our first case, but it could not be confirmed. Short of specific cases where samples were saved, it will be impossible to confirm potential earlier cases. There are studies taking place with antibodies and we look forward to seeing peer reviewed results. Until that time, it would be premature to discuss what the antibodies specifically mean for individuals.
Q: Is there any reliable antibodies testing available in our area, and if so, should we be interested in trying to get tested? Does the county offer antibodies testing?
-Elisa, San Jose
A: See answer to question above.
Q: How many positive COVID-19 cases and deaths do we have among homeless people in Santa Clara County?
A: The county was able to confirm a death among those tested in our homeless community. When a positive case comes from a homeless community, we immediately check those in the homeless encampment for symptoms, then test those with symptoms for COVID-19. If there is a positive test, we provide medical care and a place to self-isolate for two weeks. This helps prevent further spread in the community.
The county does not have data for positive COVID-19 cases among homeless people.
Q: It seems the medical establishment is prepared for a surge to come. With the economic impacts being so devastating, isn’t it reasonable to consider allowing healthy people to return to work while continuing to implement shelter-in-place for susceptible groups?
A: We just implemented a new order on May 4 and will continue to evaluate the overall health of our community. Opening construction in Santa Clara County will play a large role in opening the economy. We will continue to evaluate our progress and evaluate what our next steps will be.