As California moves forward to Phase II of the state’s COVID-19 recovery, Santa Clara County extended its shelter-in-place order indefinitely and announced social-distancing protocols for businesses to reopen.
The latest order went into effect at the end of last week, continuing the ban on dine-in service at bars and restaurants and closure of barbers and beauty salons.
Retail establishments are now allowed to reopen, however, as long as they keep customers outside, offer curbside service only and post social distancing protocols about how they conform to county guidelines. The new precautionary measures are aimed at preventing the gathering of crowds and unnecessary person-to-person contact, as well as offering protections for employees and customers.
The order comes on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that counties that have met variance requirements and have received approval from the state may allow barbershops and hairdressers to open.
While some neighboring jurisdictions—in fact, 47 out of 58 California counties, including Santa Cruz—have met state criteria to apply for reopening, Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody has proceeded with more caution.
“The pace at which the state has made these modifications is concerning to me,” she told the county supervisors at their regular board meeting earlier this week.
“If our overall rate of transmission remains stable,” Cody assured, “we will be able to continue to ease our restrictions and safely reopen activities on a regular cadence with at least an incubation period between each phase.”
One of the concerns locally, at least, has been whether the county is spending enough on reaching that next stage of reopening.
According to emergency spending data released to this news outlet earlier this week, the county had only spent little more than $1 million on testing by May 19, even though robust testing is critical to protecting people as they get back to work.
Meanwhile, only 50 contact tracers out of a hoped-for 1,000 are on the job. That might owe to the county’s plan to rely on volunteers instead of paying some of the laid-off masses to do the epidemiological sleuthing.
Other Bay Area counties have outperformed the South Bay when it comes to contact tracing, inching ever closer to the 15 tracers-per-100,000 metric set by Gov. Newsom as a condition of easing public health restrictions. San Francisco surpassed the benchmark.
In Santa Clara County, however, there’s a long way to go.
In the meantime, customers venturing out to newly reopened businesses should be prepared for to make their own assessments about safety, local health officials say.
The guidelines are built around what is becoming a common incantation of epidemiologists: “Time, space, people, place.”
Time. Transactions with other people in public should last no more than a few seconds, to minimize risk. This is not the time to chit-chat with your bank teller.
Space. The 6-feet-apart rule still applies. Shoppers, who have already become pretty savvy to the idea, need to assess how businesses allow people to keep their distance.
People. Are employees respectful of risk management? Are they wearing masks? Health officials have consistently asserted that masks are most effective in protecting others, which means it is unwise to confront someone not wearing a mask. Interactions that involve a lot of speaking are likely to raise the risk of spreading the virus.
Place. Enclosed spaces without a lot of air flow are the most risky environment. This is an element that retail spaces have limited control over. Health watchers suggest that if a customer has to do business in a small, enclosed environment, even more attention should be paid to the other elements of safety.
The public can also look for signs that a business is complying with the county health order and safe practices: Are hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes readily available? Are employees behaving in a way consistent with safe practices?
The county’s latest social distancing protocol for reopened businesses are codifying many of these elements, mandating that establishments minimize the number of customers in their store at one time, for instance, as well as placing limits on amount of goods that can be sold to one person in order to avoid lines.
To read up on the current mandate, click here.