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Coronavirus Updates, March 24, 2020: Silicon Valley Wraps Up Week One of the Lockdown

(Image via Shutterstock)

Scroll from the bottom up to read in chronological order. And click here to catch up on the rest of our coronavirus coverage. 

4:12pm: SJPD is on patrol.  

San Jose police officers have given warnings to more than 200 businesses that have continued to operate despite the local and statewide order to shelter in place. Police Chief Eddie Garcia gave an update on the force’s educational approach at Tuesday afternoon’s city council meeting. While some businesses have had to close, a number of trades such as banks, grocery stores and take-out only restaurants are allowed to continue operating since they’ve been deemed “essential” by local health officers.

Here’s a list of some of the 210 businesses they’ve shut down so far:

  • 25 smoke shops
  • 22 hair salons
  • 22 dine-in restaurants
  • 7 barber shops
  • 7 gyms
  • 4 flower shops
  • 4 clothing stores
  • 3 churches
  • 2 repair shops
  • 2 sporting good stores
  • 1 video game store
  • 1 billiards hall
  • 1 gun store
  • 1 recycling center
  • 1 furniture store
  • 1 flea market
  • 1 car wash
  • 1 music store
  • 1 computer store
  • 1 window tint shop
  • 1 mattress store
  • 1 party store
  • 1 large group gathering

Starting this week, SJPD will be stepping up enforcement and revisiting all of the previously warned businesses. If they’re still open, Garcia says they may be hit with criminal citations, licensing sanctions or health code violations.

San Jose’s top cop also added that his officers will not make any car or pedestrian stops. However, they have spent time educating park-goers playing basketball or picnicking out on the grass.

“Some parks that we’re seeing throughout the city look like it was a mid-summer day with people going out to parks,” Garcia said. “I understand the messaging that we sent in regards to exercise is important, but ultimately if we truly want to help our officers try to help enforce this, we’re going to need some help in some of these areas.”

2:25pm: Supes take action.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved $3 million for COVID-19 relief during its virtual teleconference meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The first $2 million will go to Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s regional response fund, which will aid in the launch of a financial assistance program to help residents feeling the economic impacts of the coronavirus. The fund, which was announced yesterday, has already garnered $11 million in support from nonprofits and businesses.

The remaining $1 million will go to SVCF’s nonprofit support fund. Nonprofits have felt the ripple effects of the coronavirus over the last few weeks as volunteers cancel and more people look for assistance as they lose out on work hours and wages. The money will help nonprofits with items like increased janitorial costs to deep clean facilities, rent payments and telecommuting expenses.

“We are continuing to work to identify additional financial assistance for these essential services to ensure that they remain during the COVID-19 crisis,” Supervisor Cortese said in a news release. “It is certainly an important and significant amount of money that signals our commitment to the nonprofits and community-based organizations that serve our community.”

The board also unanimously approved an eviction moratorium to protect renters who’ve lost their income as non-essential businesses shut down. The moratorium will expire May 31, 2020 unless it’s cut short or extended by the board of supervisors.

1:21pm: Another deputy falls ill. 

A fourth Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy has tested positive for COVID-19. Sgt. Michael Low said the officer was assigned to the Custody Bureau and is now under quarantine at home.

Yesterday, the Sheriff’s Office announced that three of its deputies tested positive. One was assigned to patrol and the other two were stationed in the jails. Two of those deputies are currently isolating at home while the other is in stable condition at a local hospital.

1:15pm: Here comes week two.

It’s officially been a week since most Bay Area residents retreated to their homes and non-essential businesses shuttered their doors.

The rest of the state has been on lockdown since March 20, and for many, the stay-at-home order that was issued to stop the spread of the coronavirus feels like it will never end. Beaches, parks and trails are being shut down across the state as residents disobey the mandate and refuse to practice social distancing.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom had a stern message for those wannabe weekend staycationers: “It’s time to grow up.”

The truth is, we don’t know how long this will last. The projections have ranged anywhere from a handful of weeks to 18 moths. But what we do know is that the more people who take this seriously and stay at home, the slower the virus will spread.

No one is immune to this. Not marathon runners. Not 20-year-olds. Not even the 12-year-old girl in Georgia who is currently hooked up to a ventilator.

We’re in it for the long haul folks, so buckle up, find a good book and please please please stay at home as much as you possibly can.

As always, you can direct tips or story ideas related to the coronavirus to me at [email protected] or to my editor Jennifer Wadsworth at [email protected].

Grace Hase

New Mandate Requires Private Labs to Report Comprehensive Test Data in 7 Bay Area Counties

A healthcare worker collects a sample from a patient (Via Shutterstock)

When Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department released information Monday night on how many COVID-19 tests it conducted, the data was incomplete. The 647 nasal and throat swabs done in a county of nearly 2 million people didn’t account for tests handled by private labs like Verily, Quest or Stanford.

But this morning, in response to prodding from this news organization, the counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo and the city of Berkeley announced an order that requires private companies to disclose comprehensive testing data—not just the positive results.

“This order will ensure public health officials regionally and across the state have access to the information we need to understand, predict, and combat the spread of COVID-19,” Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a news release about the mandate. “Commercial and academic laboratories are important partners in providing testing to our community. Receiving this critical information from those labs will help local health departments respond to COVID-19 during this unprecedented time.”

As of today, the seven Bay Area counties reported a combined 930 cases of COVID-19—more than half the state’s entire tally. In Santa Clara County alone, the number of cases has reached 321. But those numbers don’t account for the many asymptomatic people, those who were unable to get a test or individuals tested by private labs.

In a phone call earlier this week, Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith told San Jose Inside that he expects the actual number of infected people in Silicon Valley is closer to 4,000 to 5,000. Today, he said that figure could be as high as 7,000 to 10,000.

County public health labs currently can only use testing kits supplied by the CDC, leaving them with only 500 tests per jurisdiction. But a private lab create its own tests, giving them the ability to scale at a much higher rate. Complete data from those companies will give public health officers a more comprehensive look at just how fast the highly-contagious virus is spreading.

“Expanding reporting beyond positive results to include timely reporting of negative and inconclusive results allows local health officials to better understand whether there are areas of the community that are experiencing more intense transmission and project future trends in in the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, the health officer of the city and county of San Francisco. “By sharing high quality test result data at scale, state and local health authorities can better track COVID-19, predict its spread, and better focus public resources to end this global pandemic.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom Supports PG&E’s Bankruptcy Exit Plan

The plan still awaits approval from the CPUC. (Photo by Matthew Henry, via Unsplash)

Gov. Gavin Newsom has reportedly signed off on PG&E’s latest plan to exit bankruptcy, over a year after the utility filed for bankruptcy protection.

The news brings PG&E one step closer to exiting bankruptcy by June 30, the deadline that the publicly-traded utility needs to meet in order to access a $21 billion state “wildfire fund,” established by AB 1054, state legislation signed into law last summer.

Under AB 1054, the utility still needs to gain final approval from the bankruptcy court and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), a state regulatory agency, by June 30 in order to access the funds.

Additionally, under PG&E’s deal with Newsom, the utility will appoint a “chief transition officer” and begin a process to sell the company, Bloomberg recently reported.

“This is the end of business as usual for PG&E,” Newsom said in a statement. “We secured a totally transformed board and leadership structure for the company, real accountability tools to ensure safety and reliability, and billions more in contributions from shareholders to ensure safety upgrades are achieved.”

The largest remaining hurdle may be winning approval by the CPUC, which has yet to determine whether or not PG&E’s plan meets the guidelines laid out in AB 1054.

Among those guidelines is a requirement that the utility’s plan does not burden ratepayers with additional costs.

“We really want to make sure that … ratepayers aren’t going to be charged more for PG&E getting out of bankruptcy, that there’s not going to be a bail-out of the PG&E bankruptcy,” Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network (TURN), told Utility Dive in a recent report on the issue.

East Bay Express Joins Five-Newspaper Alt-Weekly Group

EBX joins a family of Bay Area newspapers.

The East Bay Express has joined colleagues in the region’s alternative weekly press to form a five-newspaper group that will circulate throughout seven counties in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Anchored by the Metro Silicon Valley weekly, the group also includes the Santa Cruz Good Times, the North Bay Bohemian and the Pacific Sun, the nation’s longest publishing alt weekly. “The East Bay Express has for four decades been a bastion of great writing, distinguished investigative journalism and important cultural coverage,” Metro founder and CEO Dan Pulcrano said. “It fits perfectly with our strengths and mission to serve local communities in the greater Bay Area.”

Metro Silicon Valley has for three years in a row won the state’s top awards amongst weeklies for both Investigative Reporting and Arts & Entertainment Coverage. “We believe this combination offers readers the benefits that come with greater depth of editorial resources while providing local businesses unprecedented access to markets in local publications with strong reader loyalty,” Pulcrano said.

In recent years, free-circulation publications such as Metro Silicon Valley and the Express have fared better than paid circulation daily newspapers that were more heavily dependent on classified advertising and other shrinking categories. However, the coronavirus outbreak has hit free weeklies hard, as public health officials have ordered the cancellation of mass events and the closure of nightclubs, dining establishments and retailers in non-essential industries.

“These are obviously extraordinary times for independent publishers,” outgoing East Bay Express editor and publisher Stephen Buel said. “That Metro remains enthusiastic about our industry even amidst the unprecedented chaos of this moment in time shows the depth of Dan’s commitment to local businesses and independent journalism. The Express could not be in better hands.”

The Express began publishing in October 1978, inspired by the success of the Chicago Reader and San Diego Reader. Co-founder John Raeside, who established a solid reputation with long-form journalism and a stable of freewheeling critics, sold the publication in 2001 to the national chain New Times Media.

Buel joined the paper that year.

In 2006, New Times merged with Village Voice Media and the following year, Buel and a group of investors purchased the Express, returning it to local ownership. In 2017, Buel’s Telegraph Media, which also published Oakland and Alameda magazines, bought out the remaining investors.

During Alameda County’s shelter-in-place order, the Express continues to publish on its regular schedule, with content primarily focused on the coronavirus outbreak, including news about the health crisis and coverage of food and entertainment options available during the shelter-in-place order.

Buel continues as a contractor and editor during the transition.

Over the past six years, Metro has expanded its portfolio of properties to include 17 regularly published titles, which also include traditional home-delivered broadsheets—among them the Gilroy Dispatch, Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Watsonville Pajaronian, all of which date back to the 1800s, as well as four newspapers in the Salinas Valley. The company also publishes specialty publications such as the wine country lifestyle magazine Bohème, the Cannabis Chronicle, the Dilated Pupil student guide and several visitors’ guides.

The newspapers are distributed in the California counties of Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey.

In addition to the printed editions, the company operates a large portfolio of digital media products, including electronic editions, websites and email newsletters, and offers web development, mobile SEO and digital marketing services.

The new regional newspaper group will be known simply as “Weeklys” and a new portal is under construction at Weeklys.com.

Santa Clara County Has Tested Just 647 Patients for COVID-19

Public health officials are flying blind when it comes to testing. (Photo via Verily)

In response to San Jose Inside’s prodding for more comprehensive testing data, Santa Clara County finally admitted how little it knows about the COVID-19 outbreak and how few people have been assessed for the highly contagious respiratory disease.

As of Sunday, the county Public Health Department lab has tested just 647 patients in a county of 1.9 million people, according to an FAQ posted online Monday evening.

In a phone call Sunday night, as we reported earlier today, county Executive Jeff Smith acknowledged that the actual number of infected people is probably somewhere closer to 4,000 or 5,000, although just 321 have tested positive to date.

How many tests private labs have conducted is something of a mystery since they have no obligation to report anything but positive results to local health officials. The county said the dearth of information and lack of widespread testing has hampered its ability to monitor the epidemic, mitigate its spread and inform people about their infection status.

“We appreciate you flagging the public’s questions regarding testing, and greatly appreciate your help and partnership with the county in sharing information with the public that will allow public health and the entire county organization to better protect and serve our community during this exceedingly challenging time,” county spokeswoman Betty Duong wrote in a letter to this news outlet before posting excerpts of it on the public health website. “Please reach out anytime if you are aware of issues you would suggest we prioritize as we do everything we can to share information around this quickly evolving and dynamic situation. We are doing our best but realize the demand for detailed information on everything that is happening is understandably insatiable.”

That said, she continued, while the county knows how many patients are tested in the public health lab, it has no clue how many are tested in other facilities. The problem is hardly unique to this county, which is grappling with a fractured system of public labs with fewer resource and stricter regulations and academic and commercial counterparts that report to federal authorities but not local governments.

“Large commercial laboratories have begun testing and have provided testing for patients of many different private and public healthcare delivery systems and test collection sites,” Duong wrote. “Some companies operate specimen collection sites but do not run their own tests; instead, they send those specimens to commercial labs for testing.”

Smith said on Sunday that an effort is underway to change that requirement. Duong reiterated as much in her letter tonight. “We are currently working on getting commercial labs to report all results to the Public Health Department,” she stated. “We are also working with the state and neighboring jurisdictions to obtain greater information about testing by private labs locally and regionally.”

According to the county, the public health lab performed its first COVID-19 test on Feb. 26, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention finally authorized the diagnostic assays. Public health labs serve a limited role, county officials explained, by testing emerging infections such as COVID-19 while commercial and academic labs gear up to conduct high-volume analysis.

“For example,” the county FAQ explains, “at the beginning of the West Nile Virus epidemic, only public health laboratories were able to test for West Nile Virus, but West Nile Virus testing was very soon offered widely in the commercial sector. In the United States, unlike in some other countries, high volume testing is done exclusively by commercial private sector labs.”

The county public health lab can run a maximum of 100 tests a day, officials say, and only use kits from the CDC. The number of actual patients the lab can test is less than the volume of kits because some are used as controls and require multiple samples per person to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

“Our local public health laboratory, like all public health laboratories, functions as a specialty reference laboratory and as a bridge laboratory to enable testing to occur while other laboratory sectors come on-line,” the FAQ states. “The lab is not structured, physically and otherwise, to scale to commercial-volume testing. As a result, the current focus of the public health laboratory testing is to ensure that hospitalized patients get tested, as well as people who live or work in high risk settings such as long-term care facilities, healthcare professionals, and first responders, while we continue waiting for large-scale testing capacity to come on line through the commercial labs.”

There simply aren’t enough tests to go around.

“Unfortunately,” the county’s latest public health update reads, “local and national testing resources have not scaled to the extent that we expected, and not everyone who is ill can be tested at this time.”

San Jose FoodMaxx to Close Temporarily After Coronavirus-Infected Employee Dies

The clerk reportedly contracted the disease while on vacation. (Image via Google Street View)

The FoodMaxx grocery store off of Meridian and Parkmoor avenues in San Jose opted to close its doors for a week after the death of an employee with COVID-19.

Company spokeswoman Victoria Castro told San Jose Inside that the grocery chain decided to temporarily close the Parkmoor Avenue branch “out of an abundance of caution,” but that it’s due to re-open in just a few days.

FoodMaxx managers found out about the employee’s death on Saturday night, according to Castro, who said via email that the unnamed worker had fallen ill on a recent vacation and had not been in the store since March 6.

Santa Clara County public health officials “indicated no concern about the exposure for the customers or employees of the store,” Castro said. “However, FoodMaxx closed the store temporarily for cleaning and sanitizing and it will re-open in the coming days. The [county] signified the store can reopen when the company is ready to do so.”

The county Public Health Department did not return SJI’s request for comment.

Word of the death spread earlier today on Facebook, where people criticized the company for trying to keep employees from telling people about what happened.

“I’m in awe at how hushed they are about this,” one person commented. “The store is telling their employees to not say the real reason they closed. Please quarantine yourselves. Please get tested if you visited the FoodMaxx. Prayers up for everyone’s health. Prayers up for the families who are dealing with this tragedy.”

Silicon Valley Leaders Launch $11M Coronavirus Relief Fund

Cisco is one of several companies that's stepping up. (Photo by Ken Wolter, via Shutterstock)

As low-income families in Santa Clara County are crippled by the economic impacts of COVID-19 through lost hours and wages, nonprofits, public agencies and Silicon Valley’s private sector are banding together to help.

The Santa Clara County Homeless Prevention System this morning launched an $11 million relief fund to assist residents with rent and other basic needs.

In order to qualify for the program, applicants must have a household income less than 80 percent of the area median income—typically $103,900 for a family of four—and be able to document financial losses due to COVID-19.

So far, 11 nonprofits and businesses have kicked in money to help fund the program:

  • $2 million from Cisco
  • $1.5 million from Western Digital
  • $1 million from Adobe
  • $1 million from Destination: Home
  • $500,000 from Zoom
  • $500,000 from Broadcom
  • $300,000 from Micron
  • $150,000 from Facebook
  • $100,000 from Infosys
  • $100,000 from Silver Lake
  • $100,000 from Hewlett Packard Enterprises

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and the San Jose City Council will also be voting at their March 24 meetings to allocate an additional $2 million each to the fund.

“We are hoping that this allows direct financial assistance to alleviate the immediate financial crisis during this period of emergency in Santa Clara County,” said Chad Bojorquez, the senior director of initiatives for Destination: Home.

Households that fit the program criteria will be eligible to receive up to $4,000 a month and can request assistance once a month as long as the local health emergency lasts and as long as funds are available.

“The only way we get through this is if we do so together, so it's up to all of us to help keep families in their homes during this difficult time,” Facebook spokesperson Chloe Meyere said in a statement. “We’re proud to support Destination: Home’s work to prevent homelessness, and will continue seizing every opportunity to support our neighbors struggling with the impact of COVID-19.”

The fund is part of Silicon Valley’s latest efforts to pull together amid the coronavirus outbreak. Last week elected officials and nonprofit leaders announced the launch of Silicon Valley Strong. The website is currently connecting volunteers with nonprofits that are in desperate need of help with sorting, packing and delivering food to seniors and low-income residents throughout the county.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said that more than 1,000 volunteers have signed up since its launch on last Wednesday. “Right now we are seeing many step up to say we are ready to care for one another,” he said. “And we hope that together as a community ... we will be stronger through this crisis.”

Both Cisco and Facebook made commitments this weekend outside of the homeless prevention program to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Sunday evening, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said that his company would put forward $225 million in cash and in-kind donations for COVID-19 response locally and globally.

And on Saturday, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg announced via an internal employee memo that the social media giant would donate 720,000 masks—both surgical masks and N95 respirators—and 1.5 million pairs of gloves to healthcare workers world wide. Facebook had the stash of masks on hand as part of emergency kits due to California’s increasingly devastating wildfires.

To apply for assistance, go to sacredheartcs.org/covid19 or call 408.780.9134.

Coronavirus Updates, March 23, 2020: Hospitals Expand Surge Capacity as Outbreak Spreads

Healthcare workers staff a privately run testing site in Santa Clara County. (Photo via Project Baseline by Verily)

Scroll from the bottom up to read in chronological order. And click here to catch up on the rest of our coronavirus coverage. 

5:42pm: New cases, more deaths.

Santa Clara County announced three more deaths from COVID-19 this evening. While health officials did not give the exact ages of the three latest fatalities, they did say they would begin releasing more detailed aggregate information from now on, including age range, gender and whether or not the deceased had pre-existing conditions.

Of the 13 people who have died from the virus in this county, eight had pre-existing conditions that made them vulnerable to the respiratory disease. One was between the ages of 41 and 50, two were between 51 and 60, four  between 61 to 70, two between 71 to 80 and four between ages 81 and 90.

Health officials also reported 19 new confirmed cases today, bringing the total number up to 321. As the time of this writing, 116 people remain hospitalized.

“Because of limited testing capacity, the number of confirmed cases almost certainly represents a small fraction of the total number of persons with COVID-19 in the county,” the news release noted.

—Grace Hase

5:23pm: Code blue.

A planning, building and code enforcement employee in San Jose’s permit center tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. The employee was last at work on March 19.

As of Monday, all development services employees who typically work on floors one through four were ordered to work from home until the “situation could be further evaluated.

—Grace Hase

5:16pm: Deputies fall ill.

Three Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies have tested positive for COVID-19. One officers was assigned to patrol and the others to the jails. The Sheriff’s Office says it was made aware of two of the test results on Sunday and the other earlier today.

Two of the deputies are isolating at home and the other is in stable condition at a local hospital, authorities said.

“We are actively monitoring the situation by working closely with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department to mitigate further exposure,” reads a press release from agency spokesman Sgt. Michael Low. “We want to assure the public that our office remains dedicated to serving and protecting the community during these trying times. Furthermore, we are doing everything we can to protect our staff and other first responders battling this pandemic. We continue to ask everyone to comply with the county’s shelter in place order and do their part to keep our community safe.”

4pm: Eye on the Y.

While the shelter-in-place order prevents the YMCA of Silicon Valley from opening its facilities for after-school activities, the nonprofit will continue to help those who need it. Below are some of the emergency services offered during this health crisis.

Daycare. During the shutdown, the Y will offer childcare for families of essential workers, medical professionals and first responders. Starting today, the organization can watch up to 200 kids at two sites, the El Camino YMCA and at Morgan Hill Unified School District. Next week, the nonprofit will add a third site at Southwest YWCA.

Nutrition. With school out, many children lost access to health meals. To fill the gap, YMCA has teamed up with Second Harvest Silicon Valley and local school districts to distribute 6,000 daily meals through 20 drive-up-and-pick-up stations.

Blood drives. The Red Cross is grappling with a severe shortage of life-saving blood. YMCA will set up blood donation stations to help address that demand.

Hot, healthy meals for seniors. To ensure that older adults have steady access to nutritious food, YMCA will deploy staff to make home-cooked meals, package them and run them to cars of caretakers.

To find out how else the Y is helping out during this time of need, go to ymcasv.org.

2:35pm: Inmate tests positive.

The Main Jail confirmed its first COVID-19 case. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

Officers immediately masked the man and took him to an isolation cell in the booking area. After he was processed, they relocated him to the jail infirmary, where he underwent testing for the novel coronavirus. On Sunday, the test came back positive.

The inmate, whose name was not released, remains in quarantine. The SJPD officers who arrested him were notified about their possible exposure.

“As a precaution, custody medical staff has been screening new arrestees outside the jail in the sally port area,” according to a news release from the Sheriff”s Office about the inmate. “Healthcare staff is asking the individuals if they have a dry cough, shortness of breath, fever, or exposure to anyone with COVID-19.”

1:05pm: What a relief.

Local leaders set up an $11 million relief fund for people suffering an economic blow from the pandemic. Click here to read SJI reporter Grace Hase’s article about the effort.

12:58pm: Court adjourned.

The Santa Clara County Superior Court is taking steps to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by limiting access to visitors to the day of their hearing. The same goes for witnesses subpoenaed to testify and attorneys.

“The court is taking additional precautions to promote social distancing guidelines and the safety and well-being of the public, courtroom staff, sheriff’s deputies, judicial officers and those who have essential business at the courthouse,” Presiding Judge Ryan said in a Monday morning news release. “If you do not have a hearing taking place at the Court please do not come to the courthouse during this time.”

Those experiencing any kind of illness should not show up for in-person hearings and are encouraged to attend via CourtCall 888.88.COURT or other remote options.

Jurors, attorneys and other parties should direct questions to [email protected] or 408.882.2700. Jurors who received a notice to serve from now through March 30 are officially excused from jury duty.

—Grace Hase

12:10pm: The count must go on.

Last year, we were all rightfully worried about how adding a citizenship test on theU.S. Census form would prevent people from participating in the decennial count. Now, we face chilling effect we would have never imagined just weeks ago.

The coronavirus pandemic threatens to leave vast swaths of the nation undercounted, which would undermine our democracy for years to come.

Santa Clara County officials held a virtual press conference today to address this grave threat on a long-held custom that determines how much representation we get in our government and how much funding we receive down the line.

For more information about the census, go to my2020census.gov or call 844.330.2020 (for English, 844.468.2020 (for Spanish) and 844.461.2020 (for Vietnamese).

11:11am: Something in the air.

A fifth TSA worker at the Mineta San Jose International Airport has tested positive for COVID-19. The security employee last worked on the evening of March 11 at the passenger screening checkpoint of Terminal A. Meanwhile, city officials say a SJC employee who also tested positive may have had limited contact with airport tenants.

11:02am: Milpitas on alert.

Two Milpitas firefighters and one of their spouses have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Monday morning news release. All three are quarantined at home.

The Milpitas Fire Department’s designated infection control officer was alerted over the weekend that the firefighters tested positive. Five others in the department were exposed to the first confirmed case, including the other infected colleague. Three have shown symptoms and the remaining firefighter has no apparent signs of illness.

A Milpitas fire recruit who participated in a recent fire academy training was also exposed to a separate case and is showing symptoms. All of the individuals exposed are under home isolation for the next two weeks.

“It is our belief that there is very little chance of infection to the public,” Milpitas Fire Chief Brian Sherrard said. “My priorities right now are the safety of the residents in our community and our first responders who serve them. Our firefighters take their oath very seriously, so it's difficult during an unprecedented time like this to quarantine to stay safe, but that's exactly what we are doing.”

On Sunday, Milpitas also announced that one of its crossing guards tested positive for the highly contagious virus. The person, who is not being identified, last worked on March 6 near Yellowstone Avenue and Sequoia Drive and have been hospitalized ever since.

—Grace Hase

10am: Perks for the clerks.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 reached a deal with Safeway granting grocery workers stronger protections as they become frontline workers in a pandemic.

The agreement includes more scheduling flexibility to accommodate childcare and expanded use of paid sick leave. Workers will get up to two weeks of pay if they contract the coronavirus or have to self-quarantine because of exposure. The contract also calls for stricter sanitizing for employees and customers, assures that stores will hire temps only after offering existing workers additional hours and that all staffers will get a $2-an-hour bump for at least two weeks.

“Local 5 members are working around the clock to assure that families have the food and supplies they need,” union President John Nunes said. “Along with healthcare workers, they are truly first responders during this growing crisis.”

The UFCW is also asking the state to require grocers to give workers more paid leave, free COVID-19 testing and consistent access to hand washing, cleaners and protective gear.

9:16am: Hospitals get surge-ready.

This is how many hospital beds will be needed in San Jose if infections are spread out over six months, 12 months or 18 months. (Infographic via ProPublica)

As the outbreak continues apace, Santa Clara County is welcoming help from the federal government in setting up a temporary medical facility in a local event venue.

By placing between 250 and 290 beds in the Santa Clara Convention Center, health officials hope to ease the burden on the county’s nine-hospital system by taking in patients who need treatment for issues unrelated to coronavirus.

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services affiliate would run the operation, according to a memo detailing the strategy. Valley Med Chief Medical Officer Paul Lorenz explained Sunday in a Facebook Live talk that the venue conversion is part of a broader “surge plan” to offload some patients to alternative sites.

The main driver behind the kinds of social-distancing mandates that brought the economy to a stop this past week is to slow the outbreak enough that U.S. hospitals don’t get bombarded with too many critically sick patients at the same time.

According to recently released data from a Harvard Global Health Institute study led by Dr. Ashish Jha, the South Bay has a total of 2,250 hospital beds, about 64 percent of which are usually occupied. That bed count includes 340 ICU spots, which are best prepared to handle acute coronavirus cases, per the American Hospital Association.

Of Santa Clara County’s 1.9 million residents, census data show that about 12 percent are 65 years or older—a demographic particularly susceptible to the respiratory failure seen in the most severe COVID-19 infections.

So, let’s say our lockdown initiatives “flatten the curve” just moderately, meaning 40 percent of adults contract COVID-19 in the coming year. Even then, the South Bay would need to expand surge capacity at its local hospitals based on estimates from the Harvard study showing that 8 percent of infected adults would require hospital care, which amounts to an estimated 120,000 patients with an average of 12-day inpatient stays.

In that scenario, Santa Clara County would require 3,990 beds over 12 months—about 4.4 times what’s available now.

Intensive care units would be hit the hardest, researchers found. Even without coronavirus patients, ICUs in this county typically have just 150 available beds, which is nearly six times less than what’s needed to care for the most severe coronavirus cases.

Again, that’s just in a moderate scenario.

The worst-case outcome projected by Dr. Jha and his team, in which 60 percent of the county gets infected in just six months, would force healthcare staff to basically choose who should live and who should die because of a lack of resources. That’s the situation unfolding in Italy now, and one that prompted Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody to call for the sweeping lockdown that’s now going on week two.

Though hospitals in urban areas like ours stand to bear the brunt of the surge, researchers at Harvard say they’re also better prepared than their smaller counterparts to stretch resources in times of crisis. And that’s exactly what’s happening here now as the number of Santa Clara County COVID-19 cases surpassed 300 on Sunday and the death toll broke the double-digit mark for the first time.

I believe we’re in capable hands.

That said, I’d like to see more transparency from our county leaders. While the public health department has posted daily updates to the confirmed-case and fatality count online, it’s been silent about how much testing’s being done.

While I wrote about how Rachel Maddow lavished praise upon the Santa Clara County for its clear and effective public health communication, Trump’s CDC fielded criticism for dodging questions about testing. Now, I’m starting to wonder what’s taking our local authorities so long to tell us what they know about their own testing capacity—or, if they lack comprehensive data, to acknowledge as much to the public.

I raised the question over the weekend after eight days went by with the county ignoring our questions about local testing capacity. In a March 14 email to public health spokeswoman Joy Alexiou, I asked for, among other things, the total number of patients tested, total samples required to get an accurate reading for each person and a list of testing sites in the South Bay.

When I didn’t hear back, I forwarded the email to the county’s main emergency press address. When I still didn’t hear back, I called to find out what’s holding things up. In one of those calls, a spokesman named Roger (who wouldn’t share his last name with us) took down the questions and said he’d get back to me by late afternoon the next day.

He never did.

So when I wrote an update about the ongoing testing scarcity on Sunday, I made note of our futile attempts to learn about the extent of the county’s diagnostic efforts in an article and on Twitter, where many others shared our concern about the lack of transparency.

San Jose Councilman-elect Matt Mahan fired off a series of tweets at about the same time I did last night about the incomplete data.

“Local press ought to provide a big asterisk next to these official Santa Clara County case count numbers,” he wrote. “They are way too low and may lead people to think COVID-19 is less widespread than it is. To explain: The official data imply that 35 percent of known cases require hospitalization and just over 3 percent result in death. These ratios are too high. In fact, they are outside the range seen elsewhere, at least before a health system is overwhelmed. More realistic assumptions are that closer to 15 to 20 percent of cases require hospitalization and about 1 percent result in death.”

With a more realistic death rate of about 1 percent, he went on to say, we should expect that about 1,000 people in the county have COVID-19—not 302. That implies that three-and-a-half times more people have the disease than the official case count tells us.

“Essentially,” Mahan continued. “the case count is meaningless without significantly more testing. As a matter of transparency, @HealthySCC ought to be reporting the number of daily tests completed and press should make clear that the case count represents a significant undercount at this stage.

Other counties have provided constituents with data about testing—even the lack thereof. In Orange County, where officials reported 95 confirmed cases on Sunday, they also noted the total number of people tested by public and commercial labs: 1,585.

When we spoke to Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith last night about his agency’s lack of comparable data, he chalked it up to employees being overwhelmed.

Our communications team has been confused and befuddled, he told me. I don’t know exactly the situation with your particular questions, but there’s been a lot of challenges with the EOC [Emergency Operations Center]. The workload’s been pretty immense.

Meanwhile, he added, there simply aren’t enough people to conduct the level of “community surveillance”—public health parlance for finding out who passed the virus on to whom. “All of this is rough stuff,” he said, “as you can imagine.”

It’s safe to assume that anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 people in Santa Clara County actually have the virus but don’t know because it’s mild or asymptomatic.

“And if each of them infect a few people a week, it just gets harder to trace,” he said.

On Sunday night, Smith said he didn’t have an answer about the total number of tests conducted, but that he’d get me more info on that today. In the meantime, here’s what he does know. The county’s public health lab can only use CDC kits, each of which has supplies for roughly 500 tests. The county lab tests 45 to 50 patients a day. Private labs can do more because they make their own tests.

However, it’s unclear how many tests private labs are conducting because the law only requires them to disclose positives. Smith said the county’s in the process of revising its public health order to get those private labs—including Quest, Stanford and Sunnyvale’s Cepheid—to disclose data about all tests.

I asked him whether the lack of exhaustive data hampers the county’s efforts.

“I guess I would say yes,” he replied. “And the efforts have been changing pretty dramatically. Initially, the focus was on trying to identify and mitigate the disease, then we switched rapidly to community distancing and now the real issue is trying to prevent the health system from getting overwhelmed. So that’s the big focus, and yes, it would be much more effective from an epidemiological perspective to have an idea of what the testing capacity looks like, to know more about the transmission. But at this point, at a l0cal level, we’re in much more of a reactive mode than a planning mode.

Smith and countless others under his purview have had an exhausting few weeks, so we thanked him for taking the time to help us get to the bottom of all this. Seeing so many people go through so much at the same time is a tremendous burden, he acknowledged.

“This is a disaster to begin with, but on top of that we have all these individuals who can’t go to work,” he said. “And here at the county we have a lot of duties and responsibilities and—basically everything’s being knocked off kilter and we’re doing the best we can.

USPS to Dog Owners: Keep Your Canines Sheltered in Place

Mind your dog, please. (Photo via USPS)

When kids stay home from school, dogs are more likely to attack our friendly neighborhood mail carriers. At least that’s what the U.S. Postal Service says in a PSA reminding everyone to extend the shelter-in-place order to their aggressive fur-babies.

“Children rush to the door when they see a mail carrier and the household dog usually follows right behind, leaving the carrier vulnerable to a dog attack,”the announcement reads. “As [USPS] continues to provide an essential service, we want to make sure our carriers are safe and out of harm’s way while making their appointed rounds.”

The advisory urges families to wait until the carrier leaves the area before opening the gate to pick up the mail. “Too many dogs have slipped between an owner’s legs while the door is open and attacking the carrier,”the notice cautions. “Dogs should be restrained and/or kept in another room as mail carriers make personal deliveries.”

WHO may have let the dogs out, according to a quarantine joke that went viral these past couple of weeks, but responsible pet owners need to keep their house-beasts on lock.

12-Step Meetings Migrate Online During Coronavirus Pandemic

Social distancing doesn't mean social disconnection. (Photo by Lorenzo Ochoa, via Shutterstock)

For folks in Alcoholics Anonymous, sobriety is hard enough already.

In a pandemic, all the more so, as crowd-size restrictions suspend the 12-step meetings so many rely on to cope with emotions that make it tempting to use.

Recovering addict Omar Torres (who gave SJI permission to use his name for this piece) says people like him now find themselves caught between two diseases—both of them fatal. “If we don’t go, we’re going to relapse,” he says. “If we meet up in person, we spread the coronavirus. It’s a life-or-death situation either way.”

Thankfully, 12-steppers the world over have found other ways to connect.

“Like everybody else, we had no idea what to do at first,” says Torres, a 38-year-old San Jose native who’s three years clean. “During the first calls to limit gatherings, people kept going to some AA and NA meetings. There would be 15 people, then 10 and the number kept going down until they did the shelter-in-place and we could no longer meet.”

Since addicts need peer support to survive, he says, they began “meeting” on everyone’s favorite new app: Zoom. The digital 12-step sessions are unofficial, Torres explains. But they comprise many of the same regulars from local in-person meetings.

On Tuesday last week, Torres says he tuned in for a 7:30pm meeting in which the chair was from L.A. A few days later, he logged on to share his personal story in a virtual version of one of his favorite LGBTQ Narcotics Anonymous groups. “Zoom is making life easier for a lot of people,” he says. “People can choose to go audio-only and remain completely anonymous if they like. And we also got some people from out of state.”

The out-of-state drop-ins are one of the positive things to come out of the challenge of physical disconnect, Torres says. Some people logging on say they had no idea they were joining a group out here in California.

“One woman we had the other day told us, ‘You just saved my life,’” Torres recounts. “It’s amazing because we get to interact with people from all over. It expands our community.”

Between meetings, many of the usual 12-steppers Torres used to interact with in cramped rooms of church basements and local community centers have instead been texting on WhatsApp, posting to a private Facebook group and responding to cries for help with impromptu Zoom meetings.

“For me, like for a lot of us, I have to remain connected to my group of folks because this disease, when you isolate, makes you think crazy thoughts,” Torres says. “The anxiety makes you want to pick up again or use or drink. And if you’re not connected to those meetings, to your tribe, you put yourself in a life-or-death situation.”

Click here to find out how to log into remote recovery. Or check out this site for a schedule of online AA meetings and resources for staying sober in trying times.