Coronavirus Updates, March 17, 2020: South Bay Hunkers Down

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

7:52pm: Park place.

San Jose firefighters, emergency responders and dispatchers remain fully staffed and ready to answer your call, city officials assured in the most recent flash report.

“In addition to reinforcing the importance of good personal hygiene, our firefighters are cleaning surfaces, high touch points and shared equipment daily at each fire stations” the update reads. “First responders are also donning personal protective equipment in the form of masks, goggles, gloves and gowns to limit exposures to themselves or members of the public while responding to medical emergencies. While social distancing is difficult for firefighters to practice with one another while on duty as they not only work in close proximity, they live, eat and train together, they will practice social distancing when out in the community. If you come into contact with firefighters, please understand they have been directed to maintain a six-foot distance from others whenever possible.”

In other news, all parks-and-rec fees will be refunded and crackdowns on illegal dumping suspended. And hey, another pandemic perk (should #pandemicperk be a hashtag?): you can park wherever the hell you want.

Well, sort of.

“Parking officers will not be ticketing for parking violations, or towing abandoned or illegally stored vehicles on city streets,” per the city. “Vehicles parked in an unsafe manner will be referred to the San Jose Police Department.”

For 30 days, there will be no citations and no way to contest them. To check up on a previously issued ticket, check out pticket.com/sanjose. Downtown parking garages will remain open, just with limited staffing.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

7:39pm: The latest tally.

Today, as we reported earlier, the Santa Clara County COVID-19 death toll went up to five with the death of a 50-year-old man. But we would be remiss to end today’s blog without updating the latest confirmed-case count.

According to county health officials, that now stands at 155. Fifty-six are hospitalized and 70 of those cases are of unknown origins. To find the latest numbers, click here.

7:19pm: On guard.

The National Guard is on the way.

So says Gov. Gavin Newsom, who announced via press release that he’s exercising his authority as the state’s commander-in-chief “consistent with duties routinely performed” during “natural disasters and other emergencies.”

The California National Guard has been told to prepare for “humanitarian missions,” including food distribution, protecting supply lines and supporting public safety.

“As Californians make sacrifices over the coming weeks and stay home,” Newsom says, “we are immensely grateful for medical providers, first-responders and National Guard personnel who are assisting those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.”

—Jennifer Wadsworth

6:41pm: A slice of life.

As one of thousands of legally defined “essential businesses” in the South Bay, ASONY is committed to keep people fed. But they’re taking care of themselves, too, by assiduously social distancing. (Photo courtesy of Kirk Vartan.

A Slice of New York, an employee-owned pizza parlor with branches in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, is still serving up slices—and modeling social distancing, to boot. Like many eateries in the Bay Area, ASONY is only taking carryout orders.

Kirk Vartan, who founded the business and transitioned it to a co-op more than a couple years ago, was looking forward to the city of Santa Clara pass a resolution today to support employee-owned businesses. But the pandemic prompted the city to postpone all but emergency items for today’s council meeting.

These are tough times for ASONY and many other local food-service joints. Vartan, who runs the place with his wife Marguerite and their fellow employee-owners, says he’s bracing himself for more difficult days ahead.

“I am trying to be very open and honest about the situation with the crew,” he told San Jose Inside this evening. “They are scared. We are all nervous. But I will continue to tell them to stay focused on being healthy and working right now. As long as we can operate, we will. We need to be able to provide for the community. My fear is that people will not get fed properly and start to panic.”

—Jennifer Wadsworth

6:13pm: Mission City mayor urges public to do its part.


Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor posted a video update to explain the county’s shelter-in-place order to residents. “The goal,” she said, “is to slow the spread of the virus and not overwhelm our healthcare system with people who are seriously ill.”

5:09pm: ‘We’ll be here when you need us.’

COVID-19 Update

We are adapting to COVID-19 but we are not slowing down. SJPD will continue to fulfill our mission of keeping San Jose safe while taking precautions to keep our officers and civilian staff healthy.

Posted by San Jose Police Department on Tuesday, March 17, 2020

SJPD posted a couple video updates about how the agency is responding to this strange situation. In the one above, Deputy Chief of the Bureau of Investigations Heather Randol assures us that they are not slowing down, “just doing things a little bit differently.”

The other clip, in case you missed it from the day prior, features Chief Eddie Garcia talking about how the department will be out in full force while still taking precautions to shield its own men and women as well as the public from COVID-19. Take a look below.

COVID-19 Update

Update on police department readiness and communication efforts during COVID-19 accommodations moving forward.

Posted by San Jose Police Department on Monday, March 16, 2020

4:36pm: Another life lost.

COVID-19 claimed another Santa Clara County resident. This time, it was a 50-year-old man hospitalized on March 14 and who died today, bringing the total number of local fatalities to five. “The Public Health Department expresses our condolences to the family and friends of the deceased,” officials stated in announcing the news.

4:31pm: Law and order.

Remember the other day when Santa Clara County explained how we all have to stay inside unless we’re off on “essential errand” or have to attend to “essential business?”

Well, as we mentioned earlier, that order is enforceable by law enforcement. Breaking it risks a misdemeanor citation. Technically.

The local Sheriff’s Office issued a statement assuring us that they expect members of the public to follow the shelter-in-place directive of their own volition.

“During times of crisis, we know that the community looks to law enforcement to provide public safety, guidance and sense of security,” agency spokeswoman Sgt. Jessica Gabaldon said in a news release. “The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office has been taking all precautionary and preventative measures to ensure the health and well-being of not only our staff, but those in the community that we serve.”

She went on to write that: “Our office stands in alignment with the shelter-in-place order set by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and we expect everyone to do their part by voluntarily complying with the order. Let’s all continue to work together to keep Santa Clara County safe.”

4:12pm: For survivors, the door’s always open

NextDoor, a nonprofit that helps domestic violence survivors, has closed its Gish Road office in San Jose but will maintain limited services by phone and email. During natural disasters or large-scale emergencies, abuse tends to increase, according to the organization’s director, Esther Peralez-Dieckmann.

All meetings have been canceled through April 7, but the NextDoor emergency shelter and 24-hour crisis line will stay open. Anyone who needs help should call 408.279.2962. Therapy. appointments will be scheduled via Skype or FaceTime. To send financial support to survivors during this time of need, click here.

3:20pm: It can wait.

Yes, DMV’s open. But you can probably put it off for a while. (Photo by stellamc)

Got an appointment to renew your driver’s license? Well, here’s another pandemic perk to celebrate: you can put it off for another two months.

The California DMV has asked law enforcement to go easy on some drivers with expired registration, permits and the like so coronavirus-prone populations (seniors, people with chronic health conditions) can avoid the agency’s field offices for the next 59 days.

Transactions that qualify for the waiver include driver license renewals for those:

  • 70 years and older, who are required to take a knowledge test
  • Individuals required to renew in the office (last DMV visit was 15 years prior)
  • Individuals subject to vision testing
  • Individuals with complex driving history

The 60-day period also applies to vehicle registration renewals for customers ineligible to to so any other way because of outdated insurance information, registration that expired more than 90 days ago, smog issues or a recent transfer.

All DMV offices will remain open, however, because REAL IDs and some other things require in-person visits. But some offices let you at least get a head start by allowing people to start filling out the applications online. Click here for more info.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

3pm: Renters beg for some relief.

The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley is calling on cities throughout Santa Clara County  to stop evictions as residents hole up inside amid this COVID-19 outbreak.

Today, the San Jose City Council is slated to vote on a 30-day moratorium on evictions for those who can document that they were unable to pay their rent because of a loss in wages during the pandemic. “Our friends, families, and neighbors cannot focus on maintaining good health if they are worried about losing their home,” Law Foundation CEO Alison Brunner said. “Now is the time for all of us to step up for our community members rather than turn our backs on them.”

The nonprofit law firm is also supporting related actions by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who issued an executive order on Monday to give local governments the power to halt evictions. No statewide moratorium has been created at this time and other nearby cities like Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Milpitas, Mountain View, Cupertino, Palo Alto and Santa Clara have yet to enact a policy similar to the one proposed in San Jose.

“A piecemeal approach, rather than a statewide ban, is putting thousands of Californians at risk of homelessness,” Law Foundation Directing Attorney Nadia Aziz said. “We know this crisis is disproportionately impacting low-income people and communities of color who won’t be able to work from home and rely on every paycheck to make it through the month. Preventing evictions for those impacted by the coronavirus and protecting our homeless community should be a major part of California’s response.”

While the Law Foundation’s office is currently closed, those in need of free housing-related legal advice can contact them at 408.280.2424. The organization has also created a COVID-19 resources page for residents on its website that can be found here.

—Grace Hase

2:11pm: We feared this would happen.

California COVID-19 Update

Governor Gavin Newsom provides a COVID-19 update. *subtitles will be added shortly after the broadcast ends.

Posted by California Governor on Monday, March 16, 2020

Last night, Gov. Gavin Newsom jumped on Facebook Live to give Californians an update on COVID-19. So far, he said, 392 people have tested positive for the virus—a 15 percent increase from the day before.

Among that death toll, the governor added, is the state’s first homeless resident to succumb to the virus—a man who happened to live in Santa Clara County. Newsom said he’ll give a another update about that later today.

—Grace Hase

1:10pm: 2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate?

Denny’s—greasy spoon diner of $2, $4, $6, $8 menu fame—is offering free delivery in the Bay Area since millions of us are cooped up to keep our germs to ourselves.

In an email today, the restaurant said it will waive all carryout and delivery fees through April 12 and that you can order online at dennys.com.

12:59pm: Can’t stop, won’t stop.

We’re all still trying to wrap our heads around what we can and cannot do and where we can or cannot go during this lockdown. Well, VTA wants to remind everyone that while service is reduced for now, buses and light rail are still up and running for those who need to get to work or otherwise go about their “essential business.”

“VTA will continue to operate bus, light rail and paratransit services,” agency spokesman Ken Blackstone said. “Essential travel means taking trips to your jobs that are providing essential services, hospitals, health care providers, pharmacies, grocery stores, and other destinations that are necessary to access during this time of aggressive caution.”

Click here for info about the latest services changes, which took effect last week.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

12:42pm: If you can, pay it forward.

The Bay Area needs all the help it can get. (Photo via SVCF).

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation has set up a regional fund in response to the public health crisis. Proceeds from the philanthropic effort will go to 10 Bay Area counties, including Destination: Home here in our own. Contributors can choose to donate to a specific area or to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation to help with the national pandemic response effort. Click here for more info.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

12:30pm: Stay connected.

Chris Thompson, of the San Jose Knight Foundation, has set up a digital drop-in space that his office will monitor every weekday for folks in the community who want to stay connected. “At times when we can’t be together in person, we’re relying on these types of human touch points,” he said, “and we hope you’ll connect and join us for virtual coffee.”

For a private convo with Knight, you can book some time here or call 408.495.8420 to talk with the San Jose team about your grant, your organization, to strategize about your own plans, or to help put your mind at ease, Thompson said.

The local Knight director also suggested using San Jose-based Zoom, which also offers a free version, to communicate remotely. Knight will a training on the platform, and you can send a note here for info about the next session.

For translation services, Thompson recommended Google Translate, which you can learn how to use by watching this video tutorial.

“We don’t know how long we’ll be operating at arm’s length, but we’re keenly aware of the pressures this is putting on you, your colleagues, your family and our community,” Thompson wrote in an email today. “We’re also aware there is almost no challenge that we can’t meet head-on by acting together. We’re eager to support San Joseans as we find ways to help keep our communities connected and informed.”

—Jennifer Wadsworth

12:02pm: No guests allowed.

Santa Clara County jails are suspending all social visits to inmates—effective immediately. Previously scheduled appointments through at least April 7 will be canceled. Window-only legal visits can continue.

Sheriff’s Office spox Sgt. Jessica Gabaldon delivered the news just now, saying the agency “values visitation as an essential part of our jail operations,” but that “the health and wellness of all those who work, live, and visit in our facilities must be protected.”

There are no confirmed coronavirus cases at Elmwood or the Main Jail, she said. “We currently do have three inmates taking part in a 14-day isolation period, due to a possible exposure by a visitor,” she added. “None of those inmates show any signs or symptoms associated to COVID-19, but are being closely monitored by medical professionals.”

To make up for the canceled visits, the jails teamed up with Global Tel-Link to give inmates two five-minute phone calls a week, Gabaldon said. And Aramark will allow inmates to order more phone card minutes.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

11:15am: Still in session.

Though many of San Jose’s subcommittee hearings have been canceled or postponed, the City Council will still meet in person today. Anyone is welcome to attend, as long as they’re not medically fragile or over 65, and as long as they abide by social distancing requirements (that means staying six feet apart, mmkay?).

Here’s a link to the agenda, which includes some coronavirus-related items such as a discussion about getting federal loans to small businesses reeling from pandemic closures. The council also plans to vote on Mayor Sam Liccardo’s March spending plan, which focuses on weathering the expected economic downturn.

“The report of the third COVID-19-infected person in Santa Clara County that came out on Friday, February 28, shifted my assumptions about the trajectory of our economic prospects dramatically,” the mayor said in an announcement about the tentative budget. “In evaluating our budgetary decisions, we expect heavy headwinds in several key economic sectors—that will have direct impacts on city revenues.”

As such, Liccardo proposes the following three-tiered framework for 2020-21 spending:

  • Fiscal Resilience. Allocations of $51 million will boost the city’s fiscal resilience, including building reserves, paying down debt and other mechanisms that reduce stress on the general fund in preparation for the downturn. These savings will also prepare for the recovery ahead.
  • Affordable Housing and Homelessness Solutions Funded by Measure E. With the March 3 passage of sales tax hike Measure E, Liccardo says he will keep the faith of voters by focusing its revenues on homelessness prevention grants and immediate solutions to solve the homeless crisis, including building more “tiny homes,” transitional job programs, accelerating affordable housing construction and building a navigation center.
  • Contingent Expenditures. San Jose’s budget will certainly face a serious negative fiscal impact following COVID-19 that could exceed $100 million annually. Liccardo says he will face this challenge head-on by saving funds to protect critical services such as emergency medical response and police until news substantially improves in the weeks and months ahead.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

10:59am: Need a job?

Source: Glassdoor

A silver lining to all the panic-buying: it’s prompted a hiring spree at Bay Area grocers.

Safeway, Vons, Pak ’N Save and Andronico’s are looking for folks to staff deli, meat, bakery, produce, fuel and customer service stations. The positions include paid training, flex scheduling, employee discounts, benefits, vacation and holidays. To apply, go to safeway.com or ask one of the harried store managers about it next time you brave the lines to restock your hoard of toilet paper.

Farmstead, a Bay Area-based food courier, is hiring about 50 warehouse workers and delivery drivers in the coming week and may recruit more going forward. Meanwhile, Amazon and its subsidiary Whole Foods want to add 100,000 people to its U.S. workforce and is offering a $2 bump to the normally $15 hourly wages through the end of April to keep up with the influx of orders.

Meanwhile, though many companies have had to suspend hiring until they get a sense of the economic fallout from the pandemic, others have kept bolstering the ranks through remote interviews, according to jobs site Glassdoor.com. Luckily for us: a large share of the job opportunities are in California.

Most of the telecommut-able work openings on Glassdoor involving keywords related to the coronavirus involve the government, healthcare, biotech and pharma sectors.

Google, Facebook, Amazon and recruiters PageGroup are among the multi-national firms switching to online interviews for the rest of the outbreak. Video-conferencing apps—WeChat, Slack and Zoom—have seen a five-fold surge in demand so far this year.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

9:34am: Who else has to work today?

It goes without saying that grocery stores—like this San Jose Safeway—are considered an essential business.

As you probably already know, an unprecedented stay-the-heck-home order took effect at midnight in Santa Clara County and several neighboring jurisdictions. The mandate—a drastic attempt to curb the exponential spread of the COVID-19 pandemic—lasts through midnight April 7 and is enforceable by law enforcement, although local officials assured us they plan to police it loosely for the time being.

Guidelines posted here the other day specified who can still go to work and who should hunker down at home. But there was some confusion about what authorities consider the kind of essential business that exempts people from this lockdown.

One of the questions we got from readers yesterday was about who can still go out in the world and who has to shelter in place. We haven’t yet seen an exhaustive list published anywhere other than the Santa Clara County website that answers this question. So, below we present the specific excerpt of the directive that defines “essential business.”

  1. Healthcare operations and essential infrastructure
  2. Grocery stores, certified farmers markets, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, food banks, convenience stores, and other establishments engaged in the retail sale of canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pet supply, fresh meats, fish, and poultry, and any other household consumer products (such as cleaning and  personal care products). This includes stores that sell groceries and also sell other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences
  3. Food cultivation, including farming, livestock, and fishing
  4. Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals
  5. Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services
  6. Gas stations and auto-supply, auto-repair, and related facilities
  7. Banks and related financial institutions
  8. Hardware stores
  9. Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, essential activities, and essential businesses
  10. Businesses providing mailing and shipping services, including post office boxes;
  11. Educational institutions—including public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities-for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing essential functions, provided that social distancing of six-feet per person is maintained to the greatest extent possible
  12. Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers
  13. Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery or carry-out. Schools and other entities that typically provide free food services to students or members of the public may continue to do so under this order on the condition that the food is provided to students or members of the public on a pick-up and take-away basis only. Schools and other entities that provide food services under this exemption shall not permit the food to be eaten at the site where it is provided, or at any other gathering site
  14. Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home
  15. Businesses that supply other essential businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate
  16. Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences
  17. Airlines, taxis, and other private transportation providing services necessary for essential activities and other purposes expressly authorized in this order
  18. Home-based care for seniors, adults, or children
  19. Residential facilities and shelters for seniors, adults, and children
  20. Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities
  21. Childcare facilities providing services that enable employees exempted in this Order to work as permitted. To the extent possible, childcare facilities must operate under the following mandatory conditions:
    1. Childcare must be carried out in stable groups of 12 or fewer (“stable” means that the same 12 or fewer children are in the same group each day).
    2. Children shall not change from one group to another.
    3. If more than one group of children is cared for at one facility, each group shall be separate. Groups shall not mix with each other.
    4. Childcare providers shall remain solely with one group of children.

Notice that newspapers and media are considered essential. That means we’ll be working through this craziness to keep you informed about how this pandemic hits home.

If there’s anything you’d like us to look into and potentially write about, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected] or to my colleague Grace Hase at [email protected]. Thanks for reading. Now let’s see what today has in store.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

5 Comments

  1. Why is the Tesla factory in Fremont still open? They risk infection not only at the factory, but all over the Bay Area given the number of people that commute to that facility.

  2. I feel like the media is doing a terrible job in this crisis. San Jose Inside, why can’t you use the muckracking powers of the media to dig into what we are being told? For example, why won’t Santa Clara County tell us where the people diagnosed with coronavirus are clustered? They have been extremely secretive in this crisis, dripping out bits of vague information in dribs and drabs. The message is, don’t question us, just shut up and do what you are told, little dumb people, while we take away your civil rights in the name of the greater good. Please, reporters, do your jobs.

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