Coronavirus LIVE BLOG: San Jose Unified School District says schools will remain closed | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

As of Sept. 16, Santa Clara County reported 19,760 confirmed coronavirus cases and 293 deaths. The county’s COVID-19 drive-thru and walk-up testing sites will remain open as fires around the South Bay worsen air quality in the area.

California had 762,963 positive cases and 14,615 deaths as of Sept. 16. However, health officials have warned recent figures have been underreported due to issues with the state database to input new test results.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an indefinite stay-at-home order for the state but has eased some restrictions by allowing certain businesses to operate outdoors.

8:30 p.m. Sept. 17: San Jose Unified School District schools will remain closed, despite state permission to reopen

San Jose Unified School District officials said Wednesday night schools will remain closed through Dec. 31, even if the county qualifies to reopen schools under state guidelines.

If Santa Clara County remains in the state’s red tier reopening phase for another week, it would be able to reopen K-12 schools.

However, education officials seem to be taking heed of county health officials’ warnings that risk is still substantial.

“We believe our schools should be a reflection of our community,” said San Jose Unified Superintendent Nancy Albarrán. “While we believe in-person instruction is the best option for our students, we cannot ignore the data on viral transmission in Santa Clara County and potentially compromise the health and safety of our students, families and staff by bringing students back at this time.”

Officials said classes would be risky indoor gatherings because the coronavirus spread and COVID-19 case counts are still too high in San Jose.

Students and parents will not hear any official announcements for the 2021 school year until December, but district medical staff said the county has stepped in the right direction by requiring private hospitals to increase testing.

“Schools must be able to rely on adequate and rapid testing in order to safely reopen,” said Katie Rodriguez, the district’s manager of health and family support programs in a news release Wednesday. “Today’s enhanced testing order is a positive step towards being ready to safely reopen our schools.”

1:30 p.m. Sept. 16: New order requires private hospitals in Santa Clara County to increase testing

Santa Clara County health officials can fine private hospitals up to $5,000 for not complying with a new order to increase COVID-19 testing access for their patients.

Under the new order issued Wednesday, private health care providers must provide testing for all patients who report COVID-19 symptoms, asymptomatic patients who have been exposed to coronavirus, patients referred to their provider by the county and essential workers.

Many residents have said they face barriers to scheduling COVID-19 tests with their private health care providers, according to county officials.

“We have seen and heard about concerning practices by health care providers that discourage COVID-19 testing or make it hard to access,” County Counsel James Williams said. “That must end. The testing order is mandatory.”

The county will enforce the order by receiving individual complaints on its website from people who say they have been denied testing, Williams said, and compliance officers will conduct an investigation before ordering the health care provider to take corrective action or be fined.

County officials said the public health department has been forced to bear the brunt of testing in the South Bay.

From the week of Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, Santa Clara County testing officers conducted 13,072 tests, while private health care provider Kaiser Permanente conducted 4,261 tests, according to Deputy County Executive David Campos.

County officials said the order will go in effect on Sept. 25 and will last indefinitely.

3 p.m. Sept. 15: State health officials urge people to avoid partying, handing out candy on Halloween

Hordes of kids gathering together, touching doorbells and taking other people’s candy could be a public health nightmare for state and local leaders this Halloween during the COVID-19 pandemic.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said families should be ready for an irregular spooky season.

“We’re really urging people to be prepared for a different type of Halloween,” Ghaly said. “The type of mixing that comes in our traditional trick-or-treating festivities is really not advised under COVID.”

But he suggested that parents should keep the Halloween spirit alive by allowing their kids to plan costumes and looking for alternatives to trick-or-treating.

State health officials are working on guidelines for people to celebrate Halloween, Ghaly said, and said some counties have already put out their own set of rules.

Santa Clara County has not announced any plans or guidelines for preventing COVID-19 spread on Halloween.

3:30 p.m. Sept. 11: Santa Clara mayor recaps COVID-19 relief measures

Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor on Friday recapped how the Mission City is helping residents survive COVID-19, from small business grants to food distribution programs and rental assistance.

The city has also implemented a 6-month relief on garbage rate increases and reduced power bills for residents and businesses, the mayor said. Santa Clara secured $1.59 million from the CARES Act and allocated an additional $1.5 million to various relief efforts.

According to city officials, the Small Business Assistance Grant Program received $590,000 in additional funds to support businesses and nonprofits, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program received $1.5 million to help pay rent for up to three months for low-income residents and various food distribution programs through the Santa Clara Unified School District and other partners continue for students and seniors.

To help protect restaurants from excessive fees charged by third-party food delivery apps, the City Council last week approved limiting delivery fees.

For a complete list of Santa Clara’s COVID-19 relief programs and community resources, click here.

2 p.m. Sept. 8: Despite new reopening tier, Santa Clara County still enforcing restrictions on indoor operations

Santa Clara County exited the most high risk tier for COVID-19 spread, which allows more businesses to reopen with modifications.

With the county now in the red zone – still labeled as substantial by California – businesses must submit their social distancing protocols to the county’s new business compliance website. The county was previously in the purple zone, which is the highest risk.

“Before anybody just runs out there and opens up, you’ve got to have all your practices in place, your I’s dotted, your T’s crossed to keep your workers and your customers safe,” said County Counsel James Williams.

Under the new tier, nail salons can now bring a limited amount of people inside while following stringent sanitary procedures, according to state health guidelines. Gyms and shopping malls are also allowed to welcome small groups of people for workouts, the guidelines say, and can only have their indoor spaces filled to 10% and 50% capacity, respectively.

Although state guidelines allow restaurants to reopen indoors at limited capacity, Santa Clara County has not given the green light for indoor dining, Williams said.

Another exception to state guidelines is in-person worship, which is still forbidden indoors within Santa Clara County, Williams said.

He added that counties can impose stricter guidelines than the state.

Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said people still need to take the same level of health precautions, such as wearing masks and washing hands, despite moving to a lower-risk tier.

“COVID-19 is still here. It hasn’t gone away, and the fact that we’ve moved into the red tier at this point doesn’t change that,” Fenstersheib said. “We still have to remain vigilant. We still have to wear our masks. We still have to socially distance ourselves.”

Counties will remain in each tier for at least three weeks, said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly during an online livestream and can only move tiers if they maintain a designated case rate and testing positivity rate for two straight weeks.

Santa Clara County must reduce its case rate to one to 3.9 new infections per day and its testing positivity rate to 2 to 4.9% within the state’s timeline to move to the orange tier, the next lower-risk level.

11:30 p.m. Sept. 7: Santa Clara County creates website for businesses disobeying health order

Santa Clara County has developed a website for people to report businesses violating COVID-19 health orders.

Business compliance officials said Monday they rely on tips from customers and employees to catch businesses creating risks by not social distancing or wearing masks.

“We want to know specifically what actions these businesses are taking that are putting the community at risk,” said Beatrice Santiago from the county’s business compliance team during an online livestream. “You’ll go through and answer a few questions. You provide the business name. You can remain anonymous.”

People can also report schools and health care providers not complying with county’s health order.

County health officials say they aim to educate before penalizing businesses for violating COVID-19 guidelines, and allow businesses time to fix whatever protocols are creating risks.

If businesses do not fix their COVID-19 hazard within the grace period, they can be subject to fines up to $5,000.

The website also has portals for businesses to learn about county guidelines and submit their social distancing protocols – which is a county requirement to reopen.

However, the website is only in English and users speaking another language must call a county advice line for assistance.

1:30 p.m. Sept. 4: County says to avoid crowds, large gatherings during Labor Day

Santa Clara County health officials say to stay home and avoid crowds this Labor Day weekend.

“Hang out with only the people that live in your household,” said County Health Spokesperson Larry Little during a news conference.

County health officials said gatherings on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July spread COVID-19, and said to stay at home and continue following county health guidelines.

“We must all do our part to avoid getting sick or infecting others,” said Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. “This Labor Day weekend, change things up a bit to protect yourself and your family. For example, stay outside if you are gathering with people you don’t live with: indoors is riskier. We’re in an unprecedented situation now and can’t behave like it’s business as usual.”

If people want to go outdoors and see others, they should do so with few people, wearing a mask and social distancing, said county health officials.

However, Little said people should avoid contact with others if they feel sick.

“If you feel sick, please do not leave your home because there is a chance that you will transmit the virus to someone else, even if you don’t know you have it,” he said.

2 p.m. Sept. 2: State unveils new website for state eviction protections and homeowner relief

Under a new website, California tenants, landlords and homeowners can access information and resources to protect them from evictions or property loss.

The state has extended its eviction moratorium to January 31, 2021 under Tenant, Homeowner and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act of 2020 passed by state lawmakers on Aug. 31.

“As we all know during this pandemic many tenants have struggled to pay the rent and may be just one paycheck away from losing their apartment or the place that they call home,” said Lourdes Castro Ramírez, the secretary of California’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.

However, tenants still have to pay all their past months’ rent since the start of the moratorium.

Under the new law, they have until Feb. 1, 2021 to foot the bill.

The website has a portal for both tenants, landlords and homeowners to understand how the law protects them.

Ramírez and Gov. Gavin Newsom said the website will help break down the complex protections for tenants and homeowners.

Noon Sept. 2: Businesses still under strict reopening guidelines in Santa Clara County

Although some businesses can reopen under state guidelines, most face restrictions as Santa Clara County is still in the purple zone.

Hair salons and barber shops can operate indoors with limited amounts of people inside, said County Health Spokesperson Todd Naffziger during an online livestream, and indoor malls can open to 25% of their maximum capacity for shoppers and staff.

Nail salons and fitness centers can only operate outdoors under state guidelines.

Naffziger added that hair salons and barber shops should contact their city government officials and check if they can operate indoors and outdoors simultaneously.

“What this will do, if they’re allowed to do so, is maximize the services that they need to do inside the facility and still provide those services that they can provide outdoors,” he said. “But they should check with their city if those operations are still in effect.”

Naffziger said customers are required to wear masks and abide by social distancing rules, but was unclear on whether business owners can legally refuse service to them.

“For legal advice, we are pointing people in the direction of actual legal counsel as they’re more fit to determine what course of action, legally, a business would be allowed to take at this time,” he said.

If businesses have an employee who tests positive for COVID-19, Naffziger said the owner must contact the county within four hours of being notified about the infection and close until they have properly sanitized the building.

He added that the business owners or managers should identify all other close contacts of the infected person, but did not specify if all employees in contact with the infected person are required to be tested for COVID-19 to return to work.

7:30 p.m. Sept. 1: County health officials show COVID-19 cases still high in East Side, South San Jose

Santa Clara County health officials showed data from their new testing site at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds revealing most people who tested positive for COVID-19 at the site resided in South San Jose and the East Side.

People from the East Side and South San Jose received tests at nearly the same rates as people from the west of San Jose, but had tested positive at a much higher rate, according to county data.

“East San Jose and portions of South San Jose had the highest positivity,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s testing guru.

Fenstersheib said testing positivity rates have been dropping slowly, but said East Side residents remain disproportionately infected with coronavirus.

Overall, tested residents from East San Jose had a 7.6% positivity rate, while residents of Gilroy and surrounding areas had a 7.1% positivity rate. These rates are about 4% higher than residents of other areas in Santa Clara County.

The county tested more than 43,000 people from Aug. 1-Aug. 21.

Dr. Sara Cody also detailed which worksites in Santa Clara County have had the highest amount of COVID-19 cases.

Construction sites were the workplaces with highest number infected workers, with 35% of worksites having 3 or more positive COVID-19 cases, according to county data.

Thirteen percent of Manufacturing plants had 3 or more positive cases, while around 10% of food-processing plants, restaurants and retail stores had 3 or more positive cases.

“These are just the overall number of worksites where we’ve documented the number of cases through late May through most of  August, but we don’t really have a comparative,” Cody said. “I can’t tell you how many construction worksites that were in operation had a cluster of cases and I think that’s really important.”

She said infections can happen if workers can not maintain physical distance from customers or if they interact closely with co-workers. She said this often happens during lunch breaks when people are close together and not wearing masks.

At construction sites in particular, Cody said that the volume of people required to be at projects in-person has also contributed to a rise in cases.

1 p.m. Sept. 1: California health officials announce contract to develop stand-alone COVID-19 database, caution people from Labor Day gatherings

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said OptumInsight, a health industries company that develops data software, has signed a contract with the state to build a stand-alone COVID-19 database.

Ghaly said the partnership will ensure the accuracy of California’s COVID-19 data, after the state found numerous glitches in their data-sets during August.

“A few weeks back as we worked through some of the state data system challenges and getting our data backlogs right, we said that we would be creating a new standalone COVID data reporting system,” he said. “And especially as we think about this increased number of tests that the state will see in the months to come. Having a robust system is key.”

Meanwhile, because Labor Day is next monday, state health officials asked the public to avoid mass gatherings and going out for the three-day weekend.

“We’ve made some incredible progress together as a state in the last several weeks and months and we do not want to lose in that progress so we do not want to let up our guard,” said Dr. Erica Pan, California’s acting state public health officer. “It’s time to stay vigilant.”

Pan said that if people choose to see others, gatherings should be small, brief and outdoors – all socially distanced.

“The safest thing for you to do is still to stay at home and stay with people you live with,” Pan said. “but if you do choose to be with others, please keep it outside, maintain your physical distance, keep it small, make sure it’s brief. The longer you’re with others, the more risk there is you’re exposed to COVID-19. And make sure you wear your mask.”

Noon Aug. 31: Santa Clara County hospitality industries work on adapting to remote business

As South Bay hair salons and barber shops are allowed to resume business indoors today under stringent state guidelines to prevent coronavirus infections, other businesses are still struggling to stay afloat, according to a local sales executive.

In particular, Santa Clara County event and hospitality industries are trying to adapt to the continued cancelation of in-person events, said Yuliya Vasudev, a sales executive at South Bay catering service Tony Caters.

Vasudev said the company has started to adapt to remote business.

“We are trying to pivot. We are trying to find creative ways to provide our services,” she said. “We’re providing virtual cooking kits where we can mail the box of ingredients to our attendees. That way we can kind of continue doing what we’re doing, but in a safe way.”

The sales executive said Tony Caters furloughed most of its employees, lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and limited its service as Santa Clara County ordered the mass cancelation of in-person events.

Although Vasudev said a complete return to business won’t be possible until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, she’s collaborating with other event coordinators to provide web seminars on adapting to pandemic limitations.

Vasudev said she’s planning a webinar on Sept. 3 at 2 p.m to discuss how event service providers can stay in business and reopen safely.

1 p.m. Aug. 29: California releases revised reopening guidelines and upgraded COVID-19 website

Yellow, orange, red and purple now form the color palette for reopening California’s counties.

In a color-coded graph, the colors indicate the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in each county based on each county’s case rate and test positivity rate.

The color-coded tiers are part of new reopening guidelines Gov. Gavin Newsom released this week after facing weeks of pressure to make revisions after an abrupt halt to restarting the economy in June.

Purple shows a “widespread” risk and means most non-essential indoor businesses are closed. Red shows a “substantial” risk and orange and yellow indicate a “moderate” and “minimal” risk for reopening, respectively.

“We don’t put up green because we don’t believe there is a green light that says go back to the way things were or back to the pre-pandemic mindset – quite the contrary,” Newsom said during his daily briefing.

The state also started an upgraded website to track each county’s case numbers and progress in reopening.

The color-coded tier system, interactive maps and website form the blueprint for guiding counties on when to reopen, Newsom said.

To be in the yellow zone, for example, counties must have zero COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and have less than a 2% test positivity rate, according to the state’s guidelines, To be in the purple zone, counties must have more than seven COVID-19 cases per 100,000 or have a test positivity rate of more than 8%.

The case rate is the amount of new cases per 100,000 people each day calculated into a weekly average and the test positivity rate is the percentage of tests that come back positive.

Santa Clara County is currently purple with eight COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and a 3.4% test positivity rate.

It takes two weeks of maintaining metrics to advance and move back from each tier.

11:30 a.m. Aug. 29: Santa Clara County Completes more than 26,000 tests in August

Santa Clara County health officials have completed more than 26,000 tests in August, despite recent fires and poor air quality throughout the area.

“Testing is one of the most important tools in combatting the pandemic,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 testing officer, in a news release. “We encourage people to contact their healthcare provider when possible, but to know the county is there to close the testing gap.”

The county continues to offer pop-up testing in San Jose and Gilroy, with no appointment required.

This week health officials plan to offer appointment-only testing in San Jose, Milpitas, Mountain View, Cupertino, Campbell and Los Altos Hills.

The list below shows the location and hours of each site.

APPOINTMENT-ONLY SITES

San Jose
Santa Clara County Fairgrounds Parking Lot A (across from the blue arch): 344 Tully Road in San Jose
Appointments: September 1-4, (12 – 6:30 p.m.); September 5 (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.)

Milpitas
Milpitas Sports Center, 1325 E Calaveras Blvd in Milpitas
By appointment only for August 31 (9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.)

Mountain View
Center for Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street in Mountain View
By appointment only for September 1 (9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.)

Cupertino
Cupertino Senior Center, 21251 Stevens Creek Blvd. in Cupertino
By appointment only for September 2 (9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.)

Campbell
Orchard City Banquet Hall, 1 W. Campbell Ave. in Campbell
By appointment only for September 3 (9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.)

Los Altos Hills
Council Chambers, 26379 W. Fremont Road in Los Altos Hills
By appointment only for September 4 (9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.)

POP-UP TESTING SITES
No appointments are needed for a free and easy nasal swab test at either of these pop-up locations.

San Jose
William C. Overfelt High School gymnasium – 1835 Cunningham Ave. in San Jose
Tuesday thru Friday, September 1-4 (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.)

Gilroy
South County Annex (formerly Del Buono Elementary) – 9300 Wren Ave. in Gilroy
Tuesday thru Friday, September 1-4 (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.)

12:15 p.m. Aug. 27: Santa Clara County health officer slams news CDC testing guidelines

Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody slammed newly-released guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising asymptomatic people not to get tested for COVID-19.

“When I first heard about this change in guidelines, I actually didn’t believe it, for it seemed entirely bizarre,” Cody said.

Cody said testing has been an “achilles heal” for the county’s health response, and increased testing is a necessity for people to start returning to work and school.

“It undercuts our very basic tenets of how we control an infectious disease — that testing is our way out of this epidemic,” Cody said.

Cody advised anyone who can get tested to do so.

“When you get a test, you know your status, you know whether you’re infectious and you need that information for two reasons,” Cody said. “One, for yourself to know whether you’re going to get more ill and to be able to watch your symptoms. Number two, you need to know whether you pose a risk to your family and your friends and your coworkers.”

Under a new plan, the state is aiming to increase its COVID-19 testing supply.

On Aug. 26, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state is partnering with genetic testing company PerkinElmer to build a lab in California to supply the state with an additional 150,000 tests per day.

5:30 p.m. Aug. 26:  State legislator calls for revised reopening guidelines as salons struggle to remain open

Orchid Nail Lounge is one among few shops reopened outdoors after Gov. Newsom released new guidelines for salons. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Despite the push for businesses to operate outdoors to prevent COVID-19 spread, a state lawmaker representing San Jose says it creates additional risks for nail and hair salon owners.

Assemblymember Ash Kalra sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom this week demanding the release of new guidelines to allow salons to operate indoors.

“As historic wildfires continue to ravage California affecting our air quality and making it increasingly dangerous for residents to be outdoors in general, it is impossible to expect salons to provide services outdoors,” Kalra said in the letter.

He said forms to access small-business loans are complicated to fill out and the majority of salon owners in his San Jose district are Vietnamese and Latina women and may also face language barriers filling out forms.

When COVID-19 cases surged in California after reopenings in June, state officials scrambled to revise reopening guidelines and to order abrupt closures of different counties.

The result was  confusion and frustration among business owners.

Many San Jose nail salon owners say doing business outdoors actually creates more risk than operating indoors, according to Kalra. Salon owners in other South Bay cities echoed the same sentiment.

He said outdoor operations could jeopardize equipment cleaning and expose clients to unbearable heat and passersby not wearing masks.

During an news conference, Newsom said the state would release reopening guidelines for counties with more detailed timelines and expectations, but made no mention of revised requirements for personal care businesses.

2 p.m. Aug. 26: Governor lays out plan to reduce COVID-19 testing costs

Awaiting COVID-19 test results can take nearly two weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a news conference. The wait is quite long and the tests are costly for the state.

“In essence when you’re north of 10, 11, 12 days the tests, dare I say, are quite useless,” Newsom said. “But they’re also quite expensive.”

The cost of COVID-19 testing for the state is on average $150 to $200 per test, Newsom said.

In order to curb costs, the governor announced the state is partnering with genetic testing company PerkinElmer to build a lab in California to supply the state with an additional 150,000 tests per day.

Under this partnership, Newsom said that if the lab boosts supply to 40,000 tests, the cost per test will be $47.99. If supply rises to 100,000 tests, the cost per test will be $37.78 and if it rises 150,000 tests the cost will be $30.78.

Currently, medical professionals conduct about 100,000 tests per day in California, according to Newsom. He noted that the number dropped from 132,000 tests per day because of wildfires burning across the state.

Newsom said this will open the door for a safer reopening of the state and for more effective contact tracing.

Noon Aug. 26: Hospital leader says county-owned hospitals have adapted to COVID-19

Jill Sproul, chief nursing officer for the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said hospitals are getting a handle on treating people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said county-owned hospitals have enough capacity to take in patients from other counties. There are far fewer people using the hospital’s critical-care units compared to six months ago, she added.

“I know this has been very hard on families, but we are decreasing families,” Sproul said. “Under special circumstances — end of life, pediatric patients, labor and delivery — there are special circumstances we are allowing visitors.”

The chief nursing officer acknowledged that solitude can be a burden, and encouraged people to use tablets and smart phones to stay in contact. She said county-owned hospitals would provide an iPad if patients did not have one.

She said medical staff are taking additional precautions to prevent COVID-19 transmission at county hospitals.

Triage tents at the hospitals separate patients experiencing flu-like symptoms and staff provides masks to people who don’t have one.

“I see the staff’s confidence and level of really knowing how to take care of these patients,” Sproul said. “It’s very inspiring to see how we’ve come together as a county and we’ve come together as three hospitals and how we’ve come together as a community to take care of these patients.”

2 p.m. Aug. 25: California HHS Secretary warns of potential COVID-19 spread during fire evacuations

During an online news conference, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said he foresees potential COVID-19 spread among people sheltering from fires.

“The fires are important and a major challenge, but in the context of COVID, we need to make sure that we do certain things differently, and we believe that those things have largely been in place and followed,” Ghaly said. “But I won’t be the first to be surprised if we have some increased in transmission in those areas because we’re experiencing different conditions.”

Emergency response officials ordered about 136,000 people across California to leave their homes because of the fires, Ghaly said.

Of those people, 3,383 people from evacuated areas are in “congregate shelters,” he said, which group many people in the same space. More than 1,000 people are staying in hotel rooms, which classify as non-congregate shelters, Ghaly said, and the remainder have found shelter with friends and family.

But he warned people that hugs and handshakes among friends and family can still spread the virus.

“They may, because of the stress of COVID-19, the concern around the fires, reach out, give a loved one a handshake or a hug,” Ghaly said. “And I want to remind you at this moment to remember all of the things we’ve been talking about for the last many weeks and months, that this is no time to put down our guard.”

He urged people to continue wearing masks, wash their hands and to find individualized spaces wherever they take shelter.

2:30 p.m. Aug. 24: Newsom confident in COVID-19 protocol during fires, state sends masks to shelters

As fires burn across California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he’s confident in the state’s ability to balance fire response with reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Emergency shelter operators now have the additional responsibility of ensuring people social distance and wear masks as neighborhoods are evacuated across the state.

“I’ve visited most of these shelters over the past 14 days,” Newsom said.

Newsom said when he visited a Santa Cruz community college facility that was being managed by the local Red Cross, he was required to wear a mask and to go through a screening at the door.

“I was subject to health screening, I was subject to assessments before I was allowed to enter,” Newsom said. “She didn’t just take my temperature, but she also asked me a series of questions.”

He said social distance protocols were adequately in place and shelters were taking them seriously.

“You saw cots that were well in excess of 10 feet apart,” Newsom said. “You saw tape protocols going to the restroom, they had air purifiers.”

The governor said the only concern he heard was about a shelter housing 200 elderly people that had trouble ensuring social distance between them, despite all of the seniors wearing masks.

Despite the social distancing precautions at shelter, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said health officials faced a dilemma because cloth masks made it more difficult to breath in smoky environments despite reducing the spread of COVID-19.

The best masks to use in a fire are filtered air masks, Ghaly said.

He added that the state has sent surgical masks and N95 masks to shelters to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and protect people from smoke inhalation.

Noon Aug. 24: Free COVID-19 testing available at Mexican Heritage Plaza

People in East San Jose can now access more free testing.

The School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza has partnered with Gardner Health Services and Santa Clara County to create a pop-up testing site at the Mexican Heritage Plaza.

No appointment is needed to walk in and get a test and people do not need health insurance or a doctor’s note. Getting a test will not affect anybody’s immigration status, health officials said in a news release.

However, medical workers test people on a first-come, first-served basis, and can only test 300 people a day.

The site will be open from Wednesday-Friday, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

11 a.m. Aug. 24: Santa Clara County urges immigrants to fill out 2020 census form

As coronavirus has taken a disproportionate toll on the immigrant community, Santa Clara County officials urged families to take the census.

Zelica Rodriguez, the county’s director of immigrant relations, said during an online briefing that COVID-19 has stifled civic engagement within immigrant communities.

“I think that people understand the importance of 2020, the census, being civically involved and engaged, but it really has created more chaos in our community and frankly more of a community that’s isolated,” Rodriguez said.

So far, about 26% of people in Santa Clara County still need to fill out the census. The deadline to fill out the census is Sept. 30.

“With every person who isn’t counted that’s thousands of federal dollars not coming to our individual community, funding important social safety programs as well as our COVID relief,” said Nick Kuwada, the program manager for the county’s 2020 Census.

Rodriguez said many of the people being overlooked are most likely immigrants and said county workers will be knocking on doors encouraging people to fill out the form.

“Immigrant communities are still being undercounted, we’re not filling out our surveys,” Rodriguez said. “As hard as it’s been in the last couple of months with the citizenship question, with just really not a lot of encouragement in the media to fill out the census. Encouraging our community to fill out the census, it matters more than ever.”

The citizenship question is not on the Census, Kuwada said, and personal information won’t  be disclosed to federal and local government agencies.

“You pay your taxes every single year,” Kuwada said. “Only once every ten years you get the opportunity to say ‘what’s my piece, what do I get back for my family, my generation of kids that live in this community?’ ”

2 p.m. Aug. 23: Medical expert says vaccine creation won’t be instant fix for COVID-19

Gaining herd immunity from COVID-19 requires much more than finding a vaccine.

Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiology professor at UC San Francisco, discussed the barriers to reopening during an online town hall with Santa Clara County Supervisor George Simitian on Aug. 23.

Rutherford said once a vaccine is developed, ensuring everyone is vaccinated will be a daunting task.

“It will take a long time to get 40,000 people vaccinated in the state,” he said. “That’s assuming we even have the supplies to do it.”

The epidemiologist added that another challenge for health officials will be to ensure people get a double dose 28 days apart.

“Even if everybody got vaccinated on Jan. 1, you’d all have to be revaccinated on Feb. 1, in order to be protected,” Rutherford said.

In order to acquire herd immunity, at least 70% of people must be immune to the virus, Rutherford said. He added that restrictions on public gatherings must remain in place because rushed reopenings of businesses have led to resurgences in case numbers in California.

“These kinds of draconian shutdowns can work in terms of decreasing transmission,” Rutherford said. “But if you let them up too quickly and people aren’t paying attention to masking, social distancing, all those kinds of things, then you can get it back as bad as it was, if not worse.”

5 p.m. Aug. 22: COVID-19 testing continues in Santa Clara County as fires worsen air quality

Santa Clara County will continue COVID-19 testing from Aug. 23 to Aug. 29 as smoke from fires around the South Bay pollute the air.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 does not take a break during fire emergencies. The county continues to provide free, easy and quick turnaround testing for the public,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s COVID-19 testing officer. “Testing is one of our best tools for slowing the spread of COVID-19, and the county will continue testing even under these difficult circumstances.”

Health officials reported 196 new COVID-19 cases on Aug. 22 and numbers reported throughout the week show 11 people have died from the disease since Aug. 18.

Testing sites remaining open during the fires will either be drive-thru or indoors and a list of the locations and hours of sites is below.

Read the full San José Spotlight story here.

Appointment-based testing sites

San Jose
Santa Clara County Fairgrounds Parking Lot A (across from Gate B) — Tully Road in San Jose
Appointments Tuesday-Friday, August 25-28, 12 – 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, August 29, 9 – 3 p.m.

Sunnyvale
Murphy Park, 260 N. Sunnyvale Ave. in Sunnyvale
By appointment only for Monday, August 24, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Morgan Hill
Council Chamber Building, 17555 Peak Ave. in Morgan Hill
By appointment only for Tuesday, August 25, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Santa Clara
Central Park Library, 2635 Homestead Road in Santa Clara
By appointment only for Wednesday, August 26, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Saratoga
Friendship Hall, 19841 Prospect Road in Saratoga
By appointment only for Thursday, August 27, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Palo Alto
Art Center Auditorium, 1313 Newell Road in Palo Alto
By appointment only for Friday, August 28, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

To schedule an appointment, visit https://direc.to/eyD1 or www.sccfreetest.org.

Pop-up testing sites
No appointments are needed for a free and easy nasal swab test at either of these pop-up locations.

San Jose
William C. Overfelt High School gymnasium – 1835 Cunningham Ave. in San Jose
Tuesday to Friday, Aug. 25-28, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 29, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Gilroy
South County Annex (formerly Del Buono Elementary) – 9300 Wren Ave. in Gilroy
Tuesday to Friday, Aug. 25-28, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

4 p.m. Aug. 22: Silicon Valley unemployment sees slight decline, still alarmingly high

People are starting to go back to work in Santa Clara County but unemployment is still alarmingly high.

After unemployment reached a historic peak of 11.6% in April, it declined to 9.3% in July, according to a study released Aug. 21 by Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a group that provides analysis on the Silicon Valley economy and quality of life.

“We by no means want to diminish that nearly 21,000 jobs were added to our regional economy,” said Rachel Massaro, the research director for the group’s institute for regional studies. “Yet, when you look at the rise in unemployment that happened at the beginning of the shelter in place (order), it’s hard to look at this slight decline in the unemployment rate as progress.”

Massaro said the pandemic has muddied up any clear forecast of job growth in the next few months. Usually employment ties directly to the economy but researchers now have to account for public health in predicting when business will boom again.

“Right now is a very unique time in which the unemployment rate is primarily driven by government policies to reduce transmission rates to keep our population healthy,” she said. “So, those industries that are closed or are very hard to reopen, given the social distancing requirements, are the ones that have the greatest unemployment right now.”

Read the full San José Spotlight story.

11 a.m. Aug. 19: COVID-19 testing sites remain open amid poor air quality, fires

Outside is the last place to be in San Jose this week as air quality has reached unhealthy levels because of fires burning around the South Bay.

However, all Santa Clara County COVID-19 testing sites will remain open, according to a news release.

Health officials said the new drive-thru testing site at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds will remain be fully functional despite the smoky air.

People with appointments can still get swabbed, said county spokesperson Betty Duong during an online livestream.

Although businesses can continue operating outside, health officials recommended that business owners scale back their hours and people stay indoors.

“I know it’s a tough time for all of our businesses to be functioning,” Duong said. “But your health does come first and the air is just not healthy today.”

She added that the poor air quality has stalled a COVID-19 outreach program in East San Jose and Gilroy.

Although chilling at the mall or the movies for air conditioning is not an option right now, several cooling centers are open to the public throughout Santa Clara County.

The list below shows the location of each cooling center. Everybody must social distance and wear a mask, and county officials urge people with COVID-19 symptoms not to enter.

Open Monday-Wednesday, Aug. 17-19 from 1:00 – 9:00 p.m.

  • Roosevelt Community Center 901 E. Santa Clara St. in San Jose
  • Mayfair Community Center 2039 Kammerer Ave. in San Jose

​Open Monday-Wednesday, Aug. 17-19 from 1:00 – 7:00 p.m.

  • Mountain View Community Center, 201 South Rengstorff Avenue in Mountain View

Open Monday-Wednesday, Aug. 17-19 from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.

  • Saratoga Library, 13650 Saratoga Avenue in Saratoga
  • Gilroy Library, 350 W. 6th Street in Gilroy

Open Monday-Tuesday, Aug. 17-18 from 1:00 – 7:00 p.m.

  • Campbell Community Center, Q80 (Roosevelt Redwood Room), 1 W. Campbell Avenue in Campbell

Open Monday-Wednesday, Aug. 17-19 from 1:00 – 8:00 p.m.

  • Cupertino Senior Center, 21251 Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino

Open Monday-Wednesday, Aug. 17-19 from 1:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

  • Santa Clara Senior Center, 1303 Fremont Street in Santa Clara

Open Monday-Wednesday, Aug. 17-19 from 12:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

  • ​Centennial Recreation Center, 171 W. Edmundson in Morgan Hill

Open Tuesday-Wednesday, August 18-19 from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

  • Milpitas Sports Center, 1325 E. Calaveras Blvd. in Milpitas

Open Tuesday-Wednesday, August 18-19 from 1:00-6:00 p.m.

  • ​Mitchell Park Community Center, 3700 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto

6 p.m. Aug. 18: Santa Clara County steps up penalties for businesses violating health order

Businesses that don’t comply with Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 health order may have to pay $250 to $5,000 in fines per day under an ordinance passed by county supervisors on Aug. 11.

Already, health officials said they’ve issued violation notices to five establishments for not complying with the health order.

Environmental Health Director Michael Balliet, who oversees health inspections, said the county can penalize businesses for a variety of violations to the county’s COVID-19 mandates. “They range from indoor operations to masking to not following separation on tables,” Balliet said.

He said the county usually enforces health violations after receiving reports from the public of poor practices by the business.

However, some establishments may receive a grace period to resolve any violations to the order.

“Once the notice of violation is issued to the business, they can have anywhere from no grace period or up to 72 hours and there is some enforcement officer discretion based on how egregious the violation is,” Balliet said.

Three of the businesses that received notices of violation had already fixed their problems, Balliet said.

Health officials did not disclose which businesses were in violation and would only release the names if they had not resolved the issues by the end of the grace period, according to county spokesperson Roger Ross.

2 p.m. Aug. 18: Testing site at Santa Clara County Fairgrounds to test 5,000 daily

A new drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at the Santa Clara County fairgrounds opened today and is set to test at least 5,000 people a day, health officials said.

The fairgrounds site will be appointment-only and will test at the highest capacity in the region, said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 testing officer.

“At this point the county is doing about 40% of all the testing in the entire county,” Fenstersheib said. “We’re doing more testing at this site, as a mass site, than anywhere in Northern California.”

Health officials said the drive-thru site would make it easier for people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to get a swab test.

“It doesn’t hurt, it’s easy and free,” Fenstersheib said. “You don’t need any medical insurance.”

The site will additionally have a pedestrian testing lane for people who don’t have cars, he said, but everybody still needs to make an appointment.

But Fenstersheib said health officials could expand the site to walk-up testing without appointments in the near future.

Read the full San José Spotlight here.

1 p.m. Aug. 17: Santa Clara County remains on state watchlist

Santa Clara County remains on the state’s county monitoring list for COVID-19 cases, which includes 42 counties.

If counties remain on the list for more than three days, gyms, shopping malls, nail salons, churches and barbershops need to remain closed under the state’s requirements.

In order to be removed from the list, each county must show their case number trends are stable for a period of three days. The state just removed Santa Cruz County from the list.

“This is a dynamic list. People come on, people come off,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during his briefing Monday. “The numbers shift every single week and I anticipate this week, the numbers to shift again.”

However, being removed from the list does not necessarily mean businesses will reopen immediately. Newsom said the State Health Officer has to concur with any plans to allow nonessential businesses to resume in each county taken off the list.

But it appears some counties have not had a smooth process being removed from the list or received clear guidance on reopening.

Although the governor announced he plans to take San Diego County off the list as soon as tomorrow, a KPBS reporter questioned him about county leaders lacking guidance to reopen businesses and facing a two-day delay to be removed from the watch list.

Newsom did not answer whether or not new reopening guidance would be released for counties and did not touch on why there may have been delays taking San Diego County off the list.

10 a.m. Aug. 17: Long waits continue for COVID-19 test results from Santa Clara County

Don’t expect COVID-19 test results from Santa Clara County too soon.

“If you’re expecting 72 hours for your results. It’s not happening for us right now,” said Todd Naffziger, a Santa Clara County health spokesperson, during a briefing Monday.

Despite increasing available COVID-19 tests to 600 to 750 per day at appointment-only sites and introducing new pop-up sites, the county is unable to provide test results within 72 hours, according to Naffziger.

“That’s a question we’re getting a lot right now because as people are going back to school, people are traveling for business, there’s additional regulations and requirements going into place,” Naffziger said.

If people are in dire need of receiving fast results, he recommended checking with other health care providers for a quicker turnaround. Naffziger still encouraged use of the county’s COVID-19 testing sites and said tests are provided at no cost, regardless of insurance status.

12 p.m. Aug. 15: New testing sites announced

Santa Clara County health leaders on Saturday announced new COVID-19 testing sites opening in San Jose, Gilroy, Los Gatos, Mountain View, Cupertino, Campbell and Milpitas.

The new sites offer drop-in and appointment-based testing with more appointment slots added due to high demand, county officials said.

Appointments can be made starting three days before the testing date until all slots are taken. County leaders said appointments fill up rapidly – most were booked within two days of availability – so the county increased tests available per day from 600 to 750.

“Like the pop-up sites, the appointment-based sites are proving to be very popular,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, COVID-19 testing officer for Santa Clara County. “It’s a good fit for folks who prefer a time slot in advance, especially if they live or work near the site. But we advise those seeking a time slot to act fast when reservations are available to secure an appointment at a time that best suits their schedule.”

Scheduled walk-up appointments are available Monday through Friday in Los Gatos, Mountain View, Cupertino, Campbell and Milpitas at the following locations:

Los Gatos — Los Gatos Adult Recreation Center: 208 E. Main St. in Los Gatos
Monday: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Mountain View — Center for the Performing Arts: 500 Castro St. in Mountain View
Tuesday: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cupertino — Cupertino Senior Center: 21251 Stevens Creek Blvd. in Cupertino
Wednesday: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Campbell — Orchard City Banquet Hall: 1 W. Campbell Ave. in Campbell
Thursday: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Milpitas — Milpitas Sports Center: 1325 E. Calaveras Blvd. in Milpitas
Friday: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

No appointments are needed for a free and easy nasal swab test at either of these pop-up locations.

San Jose — William C. Overfelt High School gymnasium: 1835 Cunningham Ave. in San Jose
Tuesday to Friday: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Gilroy — South County Annex (formerly Del Buono Elementary): 9300 Wren Avenue in Gilroy
Tuesday to Friday: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

County health officials advised residents to arrive early at the pop-up test sites, which use a wristband system in which people are assigned a testing time later in the day. The time slots often fill up within hours.

There are more than 50 COVID-19 testing sites in Santa Clara County.

2 p.m. Aug. 14: School’s back in session, governor lays out plan to enhance distance learning

Laptops, WiFi and tablets will do no good if students lack interaction with their teachers, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said during an online news conference Friday.

“We just don’t want people to take their lectures and just video tape them and then provide them online,” Newsom said. “You can just go to YouTube and pretty much get that on every subject that’s been debated since the beginning of mankind.”

The governor announced a set of new state requirements for schools to supply technology to all children enrolled, to ensure teachers meet with their students daily and to create challenging assignments equivalent to work for in-person classes.

In addition, schools must adapt lessons for children learning English as a second language and students in special education.

The state has delivered 73,000 devices and 100,000 hotspots to students and secured $5.3 billion of CARES Act money for schools. Newsom said 81% of the CARES Act funds would go to low-income students, homeless students, foster youth, English language learners and students with disabilities.

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said his department is focused on learning what the social and emotional needs of students are.

Although Newsom said schools are a top priority for the state in providing funding and technology, he also announced an Executive Order to improve state broadband and internet access to people lacking internet across California.

The plan aims to improve internet download speeds to 100 megabytes per second and to revive the State Broadband Council to develop an action plan to close the digital divide.

10 a.m. Aug. 14: Registrar of Voters explains how Election Day will work during pandemic

Packing a polling location is the last thing people want to do during a pandemic.

However, Santa Clara County vote centers will open for four days starting Oct. 31, according to Shannon Bushey, the Santa Clara County registrar of voters.

“The safest way to vote is to vote from home,” Bushey said. “But for those of you that may need in-person voting because we have accessible voting machines or maybe as they say ‘the dog ate your ballot and you need a replacement ballot,’ you can come to any one of our voting centers.”

People can drop off ballots at more than 90 drop-off boxes for ballots around the county and can use more than 100 vote centers, Bushey said. Staff at the centers will provide personal protective equipment, language assistance and replacement ballots for voters.

Staff members and volunteers will have personal protective equipment and be behind plexiglass barriers to prevent coronavirus infections. Additionally, because of the Voter’s Choice Act, every registered voter will receive a mail-in ballot with a free postage-paid envelope.

Bushey said her staff will count any ballot postmarked by Election Day that they receive within 17 days.

In addition, she said military personnel and people living overseas who are registered voters in Santa Clara County will be able to access a secure connection to print out ballots that they can mail back to the registrar’s office.

Oct. 19 is the last day to register to vote. After that people will have to sign up for conditional voter registration.

6 p.m. Aug. 13: Study shows neck gaiter masks may ease spread of coronavirus

Duke University researchers found that a neck gaiter made from thin polyester fabric actually dispersed droplets of germs people emit as they speak – making it easier for the coronavirus to spread through the air.

In other words, wearing that particular neck gaiter as a face covering would be worse than wearing no mask at all.

At the moment, San Jose’s mask requirement allows people to wear any piece of fabric that covers their face.

“We attribute that to the mesh, the fabric actually dispersing some of those droplets, so turning the bigger droplets into a bunch of little droplets, which of course increases the number of total droplets,” said Martin Fischer, an associate research professor of chemistry at Duke University, during a Zoom call.

Fischer specializes in developing mechanisms for molecular imagery and wanted to capture images of droplets potentially carrying coronavirus.

To find the size of these droplets emitted with and without masks, researchers said the words ‘stay healthy, people’ into a dark space with a laser going through it. The thin sheet of light from the laser illuminated each droplet people emitted while speaking.

The light showed barely any droplets from people who spoke with a valveless N95 mask and cotton masks, Fischer said, but it exposed much tinier particles from people wearing the neck gaiter.

“What makes that somewhat concerning, is you might emit a big droplet and it might fall to the ground, the little droplets have an easier time hovering in the air or maybe being carried away by air currents,” Fischer said.

The professor clarified that this was not a comprehensive study and neck gaiters with thicker fabric could be effective for blocking particles.

Catch up on our past coronavirus coverage:

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