San José Spotlight last month hosted an exclusive Q&A webinar with Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, one of the nation’s leading health experts and the driving force behind the country’s first shelter-in-place order in March.
Eight months later, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, Cody sat down with San José Spotlight for the second time to answer questions from our readers. We received dozens of 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.
Watch the video from the Q&A webinar in October here.
Q: Is any air travel safe?
There is a level of risk with any activities when moving about and the risk increases depending on the specific activity. It is simply important for anyone to be as safe as possible no matter what activity they are engaging in. It is still safest to stay in place, so residents should continue to avoid unnecessary trips when possible.
Q: Is it safe to go to my dentist appointment next week?
Medical procedures have been open for the public for some time and the entire medical community must follow guidelines and procedures to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Q: I have a small company that organizes events and we haven’t worked since March because
of the gatherings ban. Would we be able to finally do something outside soon? Can you please clarify for all people working in the event business?
-Bay Area Italian Events
Our hearts go out to those most affected by the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, from those who have lost loved ones to those with struggling businesses. As of this moment, with the exception of worship services, cultural ceremonies and protest or political activities, the state guidelines only allow outside events where attendees are from no more than three separate households.
Q. The Latinx population has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crises. What suggestions do you have to curb the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Latinx community, especially in East San Jose and Downtown San Jose?
-Jose Luis Pacheco
The county of Santa Clara has been diligent about caring for our most disproportionately impacted communities. The high rate of infection for the Latinx population is due in part to jobs that can’t be performed from home and high-density housing situations. The county has employed business engagement and community health workers to actively reach out to individuals and businesses in the Latinx community to provide additional resources.
Our county understands these financial barriers to health and has created a COVID-19 support team for those with the virus that includes assistance with rent, food, a place to isolate and more. Additionally, testing locations have been strategically located in hard hit locations such as East San Jose and Gilroy in an effort to ensure we reach everyone in our community. The COVID-19 support team can be reached at (408) 808-7770.
Q: Can you address why Santa Clara County’s death rate is increasing?
The county of Santa Clara’s seven-day rolling average case count has come down substantially since the peak in July. Deaths are a lagging indicator. We would expect and hope that our death counts would start to substantially decline as well, but that hasn’t happened yet. We are not certain of the reasons why.
Q: Where can we find more information about ventilation indoors?
You can find ventilation information by clicking here.
Q: Will the public health department support schools so they have access to free, regular testing for staff and students? Schools do not have the resources to do this on their own.
Testing is available in a wide variety of formats throughout the county. County officials meet regularly with school leaders and have redeployed staff to advise and provide guidance to schools. Teachers are essential workers and those with insurance are required to be provided testing through their local health care provider. For those without insurance, the county provides free testing with scheduled locations and popup test sites that don’t require pre-registration. To find the nearest test location, simply visit www.sccfreetest.org
Q: What does the state’s new “equity metric” mean for Santa Clara County?
The state created a new state health equity metric to ensure that the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in a community aren’t left behind as a county advances along the state’s tier system. The idea is that the entire community needs to be safe enough to move forward to a less restrictive tier
The county of Santa Clara has been at the forefront of reaching out to communities that face inequities in health care. Test sites have been strategically located to reach these communities, support systems are in place to assist financially when someone tests positive for COVID-19 and the community outreach team is going door to door to individual households and businesses in these communities to provide resources,
respond to questions and ensure they know about free testing and available support systems for their households and businesses.
These efforts have helped position Santa Clara County well on the state’s Health Equity metric. Our equity metric places us in the same tier (orange) as we would have otherwise been placed.
Q: Besides sheltering in place and wearing masks, what can residents do to best support you and your team?
First, we want to thank everyone in the county for doing their part. We would not have moved into the orange tier without the incredible commitment from the public. It is important for everyone to remember why we are doing this. We are working to save the lives of those around us. Additionally, if our numbers change in the wrong direction, the state’s rules could easily push us back to more restrictive tiers.
The person with the virus may not know they have COVID-19 due to a lack of symptoms, so wearing a mask and sheltering in place as much as possible remain the primary ways to combat COVID-19. It’s also important to minimize your contacts, have activities outdoors whenever possible and limit the duration of interactions. Also remember that no single interaction is perfect, but when you layer several protections together, you can significantly reduce your risk.
We are also strongly encouraging everyone to get their flu shot this year. Each winter, people sick with flu crowd hospitals and urgent care clinics, resources that may be strained due to COVID-19. Early and timely flu shots can prevent a disease that hospitalizes 200,000 Americans every year.
Q: What is the true value of COVID testing? I question testing’s value because of the variable number of incubation days along with the potential for false negatives and positives, and the many different types of tests available.
Testing is the number one way to know where we stand with COVID-19 in our community. It tells us if we are having success with our current tactics or if we need to change direction. It also helps community members know their status so that they and their family and other contacts can take appropriate action to protect themselves. Our county also benefits from an adjusted case rate number because of the testing efforts that far exceed California’s average tests per capita. The knowledge gained from testing is why the state has moved us into the new orange tier.
Q: All the “experts” claim failure to mask up and keep social distancing spreads COVID-19. The urban homeless neither mask up nor social distance. So, after eight months of ignoring those guidelines, why aren’t half of them in the hospital and the other half dead?
-John Michael O’Connor
Our county has been proactive in reaching out to our community members battling homelessness. Just like anyone else, if a community member tests positive, they are provided locations to isolate and assistance with food.
Q: What, if any, considerations are considered when making COVID-19 decisions and policies in regards to economic impacts on Santa Clara County?
The Health Officer and her team are focused on protecting the health of our community, while minimizing the negative impacts to economic or education opportunity.
Q: The county’s latest Case Investigation and Contact Tracing (CICT) dashboard shows there are quite low percentages for COVID-19 positive contacts requesting food, housing and household items. Does the script/instructions for Contact Tracers include an offering of food/housing/household items or must it be requested by the COVID-19 positive contacts?
The contact tracing script proactively discusses support services for those contracting COVID-19. Whether it’s rent assistance, locations to isolate or food, these important support items are available to anyone who needs them to stay safe from COVID-19.
Q: With all the positive cases, should the percentages of those who die from this be much lower? Why not allow risk-based decisions? Schools should be opened because the ‘risk’ is much lower and adults should decide what is best for them?
The county’s Revised Risk Reduction Order generally allows all businesses to operate as long as they state allows them to be open. That order does allow residents to make risk- based decisions. It is important to note that just because an activity is allowed doesn’t mean it is safe. We are relying on each other to be careful, take appropriate precaution, and avoid unnecessary risks whenever possible.
Q: It is my understanding that when an individual survives a serious bout with the virus, he/she develops an immunity that lasts for about 3-5 months. If that is the case, what is the duration of the immunity one would expect from a COVID-19 vaccination?
There are projections on how long someone with the antibodies might be immune from COVID-19, however, it is important to remember the virus has been around for less than a year and we are learning more each day. Everyone should be diligent about social distancing, wearing a mask and staying outdoors when you might be around people you don’t live with.
Q: You recently updated the health order allowing estheticians to safely return to work but that is contingent upon the mandatory use of only N95 masks (and not KN95 masks). These masks are not available anywhere, and limited vendors only sell them to the front line health care workers. How can we go back to work?
Let us refer you to our directives page that deals with the personal care service industry.
Q: How do you see COVID19 impacting higher education in our county? The CSU is facing a $92 million cut, which is forcing economic changes for students, staff and faculty alike. How can the county and state best support public education during this time?
As with all institutions, COVID-19 is having a substantial impact on higher education in our county. Most classes are being held remotely and colleges and universities are following numerous protocols and recommendations to adapt to the new environment we are in. Funding for the CSU system is a state budget issue, the county doesn’t have any involvement in these decisions.
Q: Will indoor church services be allowed consistent with state mandates? If not, why the inconsistent treatment?
-Joe and Mary D.
Indoor activities are being treated consistently in Santa Clara County, whether is it a movie theater, restaurant, gym or religious activity. There are many variables in keeping the public safe from COVID-19, but it is important to note that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities. Indoor gatherings and worship services are allowed in Santa Clara County for up to 100 persons or 25% of a facilities capacity, whichever is less.