Santa Clara County, CA – A sharp uptick in reported COVID-19 cases on Sunday and in recent days indicates community spread of the virus has increased, and County of Santa Clara officials are urging the public to adhere to social distancing, use of face coverings, and other safety measures to help keep the community healthy and the County in its current “moderate” risk-level categorization.
There were 358 new COVID-19 cases reported on Sunday, which is second only to the record 385 new cases reported on July 15. Nearly all these cases are from test samples collected in the past week, about half in the past three days. The seven-day average of new cases last week was between 131 and 139, accelerating after a slow climb that started in mid-October. In addition, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday went up by nearly 10 percent.
“This surge in COVID-19 cases is not what we want to see going into the fall and winter holiday season,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Health Officer and Director of Public Health for the County of Santa Clara. “New cases and resulting hospitalizations are increasing locally, regionally, as well as statewide and across the country and the world. These trends serve as a stark reminder that COVID-19 is all around us. Each and every one of us needs to redouble our efforts to keep our community safe.”
Cooler temperatures and inclement weather that come with fall and winter mean people will be inclined to engage in more indoor activities, which are riskier than outdoor activities. Indoor dining, gathering in private homes with people outside of one’s household, and becoming complacent with “pandemic fatigue,” all elevate the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez said it is imperative that both the community and businesses that are enjoying increased opportunities since the County moved into the state’s orange tier on October 13 be especially vigilant about adherence to mandatory social distancing protocols.
“Everyone appreciates the additional options that come from being in a less-restrictive tier,” Chavez said. “But we all need to be mindful that being in that tier doesn’t mean some activities do not come with certain risk, and that risk is greatly magnified if businesses and customers do not follow the rules in place to help keep them safe.”
Before you visit any business, it is important to know their commitment to COVID-19 Safety Protocols. Every business in the County is required to have a revised Social Distancing Protocol on file with the County and the public is encouraged to review this in advance at https://sdp.sccgov.org/
The County of Santa Clara Business and Compliance Enforcement Team has been diligently responding to complaints of non-compliance for over two months. The Team is also ramping up enforcement efforts in order to crack down on the businesses that willfully ignore educational outreach and continue to flout COVID-19 prevention mandates.
The enforcement – which can include fines and orders to cease operations – typically only come after educational efforts fail to yield results. Out of 1,658 business violation complaints received from Aug. 30 to Oct. 26, 1,088 were resolved through County contact and advisement regarding how the business can better operate within the realm of rules that keep staff and customers safe from COVID-19. By far the most complaints received involve the food service industry, and indoor dining continues to be one of the highest-risk activities currently allowed due to the fact patrons must remove their face covering to eat.
“Most businesses we contact are very interested in doing their part to keep themselves and the community healthy,” said County Counsel James R. Williams. “They readily accept their responsibility and operate accordingly. However, we cannot ignore those that operate in an unsafe manner. These are not optional guidelines; they are mandatory measures to protect our entire community.”
The County’s Business Engagement Team, which performs only educational visits, has been to over 10,000 businesses, with a particular focus on hardest-hit areas of East San Jose and Gilroy. Businesses are supported and provided assistance on how to understand the important protocols that are needed to maintain safety of their staff and patrons. This is accomplished by providing them with critical information, resources, posters, social distancing markers, face masks and other resources at no cost to them. Understanding and properly implementing the Health Order ensures a safe experience to limit the spread of COVID-19, which is ultimately the mission of the team.
However, entities that are not following safety protocols should be reported at www.sccCOVIDconcerns.org. The community has and continues to be our greatest ally in the fight against COVID. By acting as our “eyes and ears”, community members have been providing valuable information to curb illegal operations, such as large gatherings and other potential “super-spreader” events. The County’s enforcement team evaluates every concern that is received. All information is valuable and provides insight into potential safety issues. Formal enforcement is used for serious, repeat and willful violations and typically only after a business has refused to comply after being given an opportunity to do so. The County has significant authority to enforce the Health Order; fines start at $250 and increase to $5,000 for each violation and may double for multi-day violations. If there is a remedy to cure the violation, a grace period of 24 to 72 hours may be granted during which corrective action by the business will annul the fine.
The County may also pursue legal action to halt prohibited activities.
“These are by no means measures that we want to apply to any business, especially when so many are struggling to survive,” said Michael Balliet, Director of Environmental Health. “Our goal is to educate businesses to reach an outcome that’s best for us all. But we also have a responsibility to take appropriate enforcement action, and we will do so for businesses that refuse to comply with public health directives and are putting the community at higher risk of COVID-19.”