Silicon Valley Coronavirus Updates: March 13, 2020

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

6:07pm: Death toll rises.

Health officials are reporting the second COVID-19 fatality in Santa Clara County. The woman who died was in her 80s, hospitalized on Monday and among the cases reported this morning by the Public Health Department, which offered condolences to her family.

6:02pm: News flash.

San Jose’s latest flash report includes several notable updates. For starters, the number of San Jose firefighters who tested positive for COVID-19 went up to eight out of 46 of the rank-and-file thought to have been exposed to the virus.

But fear not. SJFD is still out in full force.

“The fire department has been able to successfully backfill all temporarily vacant positions and we expect to maintain normal resource levels indefinitely,” the city wrote in its latest flash update.

On the homelessness front, the city says it’s working with the county, local nonprofits and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect our unhoused neighbors. Steps taken to help this particularly vulnerable population include:

  • Suspending sweeps
  • Providing hand-washing stations, portable toilets, and water to encampments
  • Expanding shelter capacity
  • Sending outreach teams to encampments to educate people about COVID-19
  • Requesting faith-based shelters to expand services
  • Identifying individuals 50 and up with chronic conditions who may need to be isolated
  • Developing protocols for transporting anyone who needs to be quarantined

Meanwhile, the San Jose Housing Department has been busy studying how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting renters as the city gears up to place a moratorium on coronavirus-related evictions later this month. Tenants with insight into the matter are encouraged to reach out to staff at 408.535.5621 or [email protected].

The update also lists a bunch of cancelations and closures. The Tech Interactive will stay dark for the rest of the month. As will Happy Holl0w Park & Zoo and the Lake Cunningham Action Sports Park.

The Federated City Employees Retirement System Board has called off its March 19 meeting, the Arcadia Ballpark has postponed its March 28 grand opening and an April 1 Department of Transportation safety outreach has been canceled.

Also canceled: after-school programs, recreation preschool, zoo education, teen centers, youth intervention and Clean Slate tattoo removal. A link to the full list of parks-and-rec cancelations is right here. To subscribe to the flash reports, click here.

5:36pm: Gotta keep those lights on.

The city of Santa Clara, which runs its own municipal electric utility, has put a moratorium on service disconnections for non-payment—effective immediately.

“This suspension will apply to both residential and commercial customers, and will remain in effect until further notice,” the city explained in an email. “To further support customers who may be impacted by the pandemic, the city will offer its most flexible payment plans to customers who indicate either an impact or hardship as a result of COVID-19. The city will continue to monitor current events and identify opportunities to support our customers and communities.”

5:20pm: Elbow bumps are the new high fives.

After several San Jose firefighters tested positive for COVID-19, it’s good to see their counterparts at the Santa Clara County Fire Department taking precautions.

5:12pm: Special delivery.

Earlier this week, Kyra Kyzantsis, head of the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits, wrote us an op-ed about the pandemic is taking such a huge toll on our charitable organizations. So it was nice to see that some kind soul showed the Bill Wilson Center some love by donating 50 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to the organization, which serves thousands of homeless youth and young people.

4:06pm: The more you know.

California’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) just sent us some useful info about what Gov. Newsom’s recent executive order actually does. To wit, the directive:

  • Waives the one-week waiting period for anyone unemployed or disabled from COVID-19
  • Delays the deadline for state tax filing by 60 days for individuals and businesses unable to meet the usual deadline because of coronavirus-related mandates
  • Directs residents to follow public health directives and guidance, including canceling large non-essential gatherings that do not meet state criteria
  • Readies the state to commandeer property for temporary room and board as well as medical facilities for quarantining, isolating and treating individuals
  • Allows local or state legislative bodies to hold meetings via teleconference and to make meetings accessible electronically
  • Allows local and state emergency administrators to act quickly to protect public health

The updated guidance can be found here.

OES also shared stats that were current as of today. According to this batch of data, California has so far recorded five COVID-19 deaths and 247 positive cases (this does not include passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship that’s still docked in Oakland). Of the confirmed positives, four are children, 143 are between the ages of 18 and 64 and 98 older than 65.

Per OES, 24 involve federal repatriation flights and 65 are travel-related. The virus spread from person to person in 52 cases and through community transmission in 56. Another 50 remain under investigation.

More than 11,400 people who returned from abroad through SFO or LAX are self-monitoring for the disease. Meanwhile, only 18 labs in California are testing for the virus, which seems not nearly enough. No wonder results are taking so long to come back.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

3:43pm: Jail break.

At the public health presser earlier today, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith mentioned steps taken to quarantine inmates by canceling all but the most essential programming (such as mental health services). She also mentioned how her agency is working with the defense bar on reducing the jail population altogether.

Silicon Valley De-Bug—a nonprofit that advocates for people caught up in the criminal justice system—called on the county to release people in custody and impose a moratorium no pretrial detention in the interest of tempering this public health crisis.

“The county jails are institutional opposites of what the public is told to do [to] slow down the spread—and is essentially a combustible crisis waiting to happen,” De-Bug activists state in an open letter shared online just minutes ago. “Medical experts say that it is not a question of if, but when the virus will enter jails and prisons.”

Given the history of dangerous medical issues and hygienic problems at the local jails and the abundance of physically vulnerable people locked up there, the county should act quickly, the letter goes on to say.

“That is why we are calling for a release of those currently incarcerated and a moratorium on pretrial detention and county jail sentences for those with new charges,” the declaration continues. “This approach would be a prudent step the county can take to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak of coronavirus.”

De-Bug also condemns the county’s decision to stop jail visits and lock down detainees, many of whom suffer from mental health issues that only worsen with isolation.

“Your actions,” De-Bug says, “can literally save thousands of lives in Santa Clara County.”

—Jennifer Wadsworth

3:25pm: Order in the court.

Santa Clara County Presiding Judge Deborah A. Ryan just announced that the following matters will be rescheduled until after April 5 to protect everyone’s health in accordance with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency order:

  • Civil and probate jury and court trials, except for those that are ongoing
  • Small claims motions, trials and appeals
  • Most traffic matters, except for trials
  • Many family hearings
  • Most guardianship and adoption proceedings
  • Many criminal trials

To set a traffic court date by phone (for most hearings, except for trials), call 408.55. 3000 (press 1, then 5, then 8). To check the status of a case, click here. Lawyers and parties to civil proceedings are advised to make arrangements to appear telephonically.

2:49pm: By the numbers.

Each day marks a new height in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. In the past week alone, the Santa Clara County tally has tripled. To see the trajectory of cases since officials first documented the virus here on Jan. 31, check out the graph below.

—Grace Hase

1:40pm: God help us.

No más mass.

1:17pm: Testing, testing. Testing 1,2,3.

The TSA boss at Mineta San Jose International Airport just notified us that a fourth security agent tested positive for COVID-19. “The employee’s last day at work was March 7 and tested positive on March 12,” according to an SJC Facebook post. “They were last stationed at the Security Identification Display Doors (used by employees) and performing passenger screening duties at the Terminal A Checkpoint.”

1:08pm: Take care, now.

Source: Santa Clara County

This is great to see. The county Behavioral Health Department invites anyone who needs help coping with pandemic-related anxiety to text RENEW to 741741.

1:03pm: A price to pay.

The Santa Clara County DA just now reiterated its warning against price-gouging, snake-oil cures and hate crimes, reminding folks that it will prosecute anyone who takes criminal advantage of people these trying times.

“We will be vigilant against anyone who seeks to take criminal advantage of this outbreak,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a news release. “This is a time for us to care for each other. Those who illegally exploit or harm anyone during this emergency will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

12:53pm: Sick and tired.

The Silicon Valley Organization—the local chamber of commerce, aka SVO—just came out swinging against an urgency ordinance that would require companies in San Jose to provide staff with paid sick leave. The proposal from City Council members Maya Esparza, Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas heads to a vote next week.

In a statement to reporters, SVO President Matt Mahood said he understands the need to help employees weather this pandemic but that “a better approach is needed.”

“Requiring paid sick leave for all businesses in the city of San Jose will only add gas to the fire in accelerating an economic recession and would especially hurt small businesses, who cannot bear the burden of additional costs,” he said. “If small businesses are required to provide paid sick leave, then this would lead to lost jobs, shuttered businesses, and would ultimately hurt working families even more.”

Instead of requiring paid sick leave, Mahood suggested that the city “stay the course” with a recent council vote to explore other options. More promising, he said, are some of the other measures being studied, such as waiving certain fees, helping small businesses secure low-interest loans and creating a philanthropic fund to sustain companies and their nonprofit counterparts through this crisis.

“The long-term success of businesses, employees and local government are intertwined,” he concluded. “We need to look at the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic holistically rather than placing the burden solely on businesses.”

What do you think? How should San Jose—and other cities, for that matter—balance the interests of businesses and the people they employ as we navigate through this mess?

—Jennifer Wadsworth

12:39pm: So says Sam.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo just issued the following statement on the new public health order: “In the absence of adequate resources in the U.S. for testing that would enable local communities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we are left with little choice but to shut schools and manage as best we can the very substantial disruption to our families and communities.”

12:36pm: Curtain call.

Montalvo Arts Center became the latest venue to announce a coronavirus-related closure. The 60-year-old venue says the hiatus will last through April 11 and require postponing the Carriage House Concert Series. Ticket holders are told to call the box office for more info from 10am to 4pm on weekdays at 408.961.5858 or anytime by email at [email protected].

12:28pm: Doctor’s orders.

Here’s a link to the county’s new public health mandate prohibiting crowds of 100 or more. And heres a link to the latest guidance, which strongly advises people to cancel even smaller events or to abide by five conditions if the show must go on for some reason.

A gathering is defined as “any event or convening that brings together people in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, conference room, meeting hall, cafeteria, theater, restaurant, bar, or any other confined indoor or confined outdoor space,” according to the public health department. “The ban does not include normal operations at airports or spaces where persons may be in transit; office environments; classrooms; medical offices, hospitals, or clinics; or retail, pharmacy, or grocery stores where large numbers of people may be present.”

The new order takes effect for three weeks, starting at midnight.

Dr. Cody’s revised edict comes as the number of cases ticks up to 79 in this county—that’s 36 more than we had on Monday and a threefold increase since last week.

“As the outbreak of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County continues to accelerate, our aggressive measures are designed to slow the spread of disease and protect critical healthcare system capacity and other essential services,” she said in a statement emailed to reporters after the press conference. “We recognize these actions will have a significant impact of the lives of our citizens, but we believe they are necessary to protect the well-being of our community.”

—Jennifer Wadsworth 

12:06pm: Rules are rules.

James Williams, the guy in charge of the county’s emergency plan, says that in addition to the new crowd size cap, there are five conditions for gatherings of 35 to 99 people.

One, attendees must keep a five-foot distance from one another. Two, there must be sanitizers available at the venue. Three, hosts must actively discourage people from attending, especially if they’re vulnerable to the virus. Four, organizers must repay people for cancelation. Five, they have to throughly clean the facility before and after the event.

Those are legal requirements, Williams said. And they will be posted online today.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

11:50:am: 100’s a crowd.

The allowable head count for public and private gatherings is being lowered from 250 to 100 and area schools will shut down for three weeks starting Monday.

That’s the latest from Santa Clara County’s Dr. Sara Cody and county Superintendent of Public Instruction Mary Ann Dewan, who relayed the orders in a presser just now.

“I recognize that we are in very difficult times,” Cody said from a podium at the county HQ. “These decisions are hard to make.”

Dr. Cody seemed to choke up a little as she relayed the news. These are tough decisions, she said, and will have a profound impact on us all.

However, Cody added: “We believe these actions are necessary to protect the well-being of our community during one fo the most historic public health challenges of our time. ... What we are attempting to do, in close consultation with many, many people, is make the right decision at the right time that’s in the best interest of the most people.”

—Jennifer Wadsworth

11:19am: Ooh baby, it’s a wild world.

Wow. What a week.

The coronavirus has basically canceled everything—from the NBA to the local spoken word mic. And it put every reporter on the pandemic beat—even the Merc’s Sharks scribe, who now has to cover a team that can’t play because of that whole NHL-suspending-the-season thing.

People are panic-buying TP and sanitizer, leaving the shelves empty at virtually every Target and supermarket in the area. At least Costco is limiting people to a two-item daily max for things like water and disinfectants.

Authorities told us to call off gatherings of 250 or more and advised everyone who's able to stay home. Small businesses and working people are feeling the pinch while the parent company of Purell goes on a hiring spree to keep up with pandemic-related demand.

The world’s gone crazy. It’s surreal. It’s impossible to keep up with all this madness.

With so much news about COVID-19 going viral (here’s what we’ve covered so far), we’re starting this live blog, which we could really use your help with. Please send tips to yours truly at [email protected] or @ me on Twitter. If you’re sick of me, hit up my esteemed colleague Grace Hase at [email protected] or @grace_hase.

Alright. Here we go.

This morning we learned that Santa Clara County confirmed 18 new cases of the virus, bringing the total up to 66. That’s the biggest jump we’ve seen so far and we can expect to see that number tick upward as our tireless health care pros ramp up testing.

In fact, we may get an updated count here pretty shortly because the Santa Clara County Public Health Department has scheduled a press conference at 11:30am to announce new orders to slow the spread of the virus.

You can watch the presser on Facebook in just a few minutes.

All we know, really, is the lineup of speakers: county Supervisor Cindy Chavez, Santa Clara County Office of Education Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan, County Counsel-turned-Local Emergency Czar James Williams and Silicon Valley’s Doctor-in-Chief Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer.

We’ll give you the next update after we hear what they have to say.

—Jennifer Wadsworth


  1. It’s all about the money . . .

    “Trump didn’t give us all the money we wanted. WAH! WAH! WAH!”

    > “In the absence of adequate resources in the U.S. for testing that would enable local communities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we are left with little choice but to shut schools . . . ”

    And, by the way, what difference does testing make anyway?

    Ninety-nine percent of people with regular flu are not tested. They know they’ve got the flu.

    We know there is a pandemic. Whether or not you’re tested, wash your hands, drink fluids and don’t cough on people.

    If you feel bad enough to go to a hospital, you don’t need a test to tell you that.

    “Testing” is just a “gotcha” issue for Dems to claim that Trump isn’t doing enough.

    By the way, I was told that a “Test kit” provides tests for 800 people. A hundred thousand test kits provides tests for 80 million people.

  2. > California’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) just sent us some useful info about what Gov. Newsom’s recent executive order actually does. To wit, the directive:
    . . .

    > Readies the state to commandeer property for temporary room and board . . . .

    I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that this would allow for “the quartering of troops” in private homes.

    California National Guard personnel are “troops”, aren’t they?

  3. > On the homelessness front, the city says it’s working with the county, local nonprofits and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect our unhoused neighbors. Steps taken to help this particularly vulnerable population include:

    > Suspending sweeps
    . . .

    > Sending outreach teams to encampments to educate people about COVID-19

    Just WHO is the “vulnerable population”?

    Is it the addled, behaviorally challenged grifters who populate San Jose’s urban micro-squalor villages?

    Or, is it the civilized, responsible citizens and taxpayers of our community who are exposed to contagion by the progressive community’s pet, free-range disease vectors?

    I would say that the checkout clerks at Safeway or Whole Foods are very much a “vulnerable population” when a coronavirus hobo flaunts his rights and snaps open his “reusable shopping bag” to tote is wine bottles.

    “What happens if the homeless population gets infected with coronavirus?”

  4. Says Sparky Harlan:

    > ‘Practicing #SocialDistancing as I accept 50 boxes of donated Girl Scout cookies the someone bought to give to our #homeless shelter residents.

    Dear Sparky:

    I’m a little awkward at “social distancing”. I need your guidance as to how much distancing is OK before it becomes racism or xenophobia.

    I went to the CostCo food court earlier today and I tried to practice appropriate social distancing, but I felt uncomfortable.

    How far away from a black person should I stand in the food line? Two feet is probably overly intimate and likely epidemiologically risky, and fifteen feet is probably more hygienic, but then again, it would likely be perceived by some people as — you know — “racist”.

    Also, i need to know if the practices of “social distancing” should conditioned on the race or gender or sexual orientation or the ethnicity of the person being distanced from? Does “social distancing” require standing further away from an Asian person than from a black person because the coronavirus originated in China, or is that a violation of fairness with respect to Asians?

    I’m sure I’m not the only one struggling with these very sensitive issues.

    Please give us the benefit of your insight.

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