As the U.S. works to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus pandemic, San Jose lawmakers are exploring a paid sick leave ordinance to ensure workers have time off if they fall ill.
In a March 12 proposal authored by City Council members Maya Esparza, Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas, businesses in San Jose would be required to provide sick pay to employees who’ve worked at least two hours.
The councilors asked city officials to build on similar laws in San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco and require employers to provide workers with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours work. They also want to ensure that employees can accrue 80 hours of paid sick leave and let them use it no more than 90 days after their start date.
But at Wednesday afternoon’s Rules and Open Government Committee meeting, council members opted to explore paid sick leave only for employees deemed “essential” by a recently passed regional ordinance. Santa Clara County—along with a number of other jurisdictions in Northern California—have asked residents to “shelter in place” and only go out when absolutely necessary. But essential businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, news outlets, residential contractors and doctor’s offices, will stay open.
“We certainly want to create an environment where essential workers are not compelled to come to work sick and spread the virus,” City Manager Dave Sykes said.
During the meeting, Councilman Johnny Khamis said he was concerned about the impact the ordinance would have on small businesses. “I think that this could strain them even further by giving them more regulations and more hoops to jump through” he said.
As one of three co-authors of the policy, Arenas disagreed.
“We want to be able to go in [to these businesses] knowing that these workers are offered sick pay and that they’re not there because they have no other option,” she said. “It is not trying to hurt any of the small businesses. It’s really trying to protect all of us because we know containment is, for right now, the best solution.”
With Congress hearing new legislation on paid sick leave, Councilwoman Dev Davis wondered if San Jose should hold off on moving forward with its own version.
“I wonder about duplicating the efforts where we need to be on the ground right now versus waiting a couple of weeks, seeing how that all shakes out and then having staff turn to this if that doesn’t pan out” she said.
But the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the legislation she referred to, won’t protect everyone. Businesses with fewer than 50 workers could seen exemptions and the law wouldn’t apply to companies with more than 500 workers. That means it covers only a fifth of the American workforce.
“It’s pragmatic to allow people to be home when they’re sick and to take care of loved ones who are sick,” Esparza said.
City officials plan to bring back more info on the new law at a March 25 Rules meeting.
Since you may not get a chance to pick up the latest print issue of Metro, be sure to check out this cover story in our e-edition instead.—Editor
The sounds of clinking glasses and pinballs ricocheting off bumpers usually fill the air at the Campbell bar and arcade LVL Up.
For the last two years, South Bay gamers with pockets full of quarters have crammed into the ground floor of the Gaslighter Theatre building to eat, drink and play more than two dozen classic arcade games from Donkey Kong to Mortal Kombat. At the back of the nostalgia-fueled venue, board games and card decks pile high atop rows of shelving.
But over the last few weeks, the number of patrons mashing buttons and reaching for Candyland has dwindled as COVID-19—the illness caused by the novel coronavirus—sends shockwaves through the South Bay. As St. Patrick’s Day evening arrived, an eerie silence fell over the streets of the valley’s normally bustling entertainment districts.
The highly contagious virus is at the root of the unprecedented shutdown. Santa Clara County has confirmed 155 cases and five deaths since the first diagnosis on Jan. 31. Local health officials have taken increasingly aggressive measures to ward off the spread of the respiratory illness over the last two weeks, including banning large events and encouraging social distancing.
At the state level, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday imposed more restrictions, asking restaurants to cut capacity by half and keep patrons at least six feet apart from one another and calling for the closure of all bars and nightclubs.
On Monday, seven counties in the greater Bay Area—including Santa Clara County—ordered residents to “shelter in place,” declaring that people only leave home for necessary errands, such as trips to the grocery store. Similar orders in San Benito, Monterey and Sonoma counties followed on Tuesday.
But with more people holed up at home and major events getting slashed by the hour, eateries, bars and local artists are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout of the coronavirus. On Monday, the UCLA Anderson Forecast predicted that California employment would shrink at an annualized rate of 2.6 percent over the next six months, with the state’s unemployment rate rising to 6.3 percent by year’s end, with the loss of 280,000 jobs, disproportionately in the leisure and hospitality sectors, within a year.
It’s been less than two weeks since LVL Up co-owners Josh Schulenberg and David Ramsey debuted their second venture—LVL Up Respawn—on south Second Street in downtown San Jose. Building on their success in just a few miles away in Campbell, the budding arcade-enthusiasts were hoping to replicate the lively watering hole in the space of the former Bo Town Seafood Restaurant.
But instead of large crowds flocking to play a game of skee ball, it’s been quiet. “You hope to open the doors and everyone should be excited,” Schulenberg says. “Instead of people being excited, people are scared. It’s not the welcoming that we were hoping for.”
The situation escalated on Sunday afternoon after Newsom gave the order to close bars throughout the state. Schulenberg described what comes next as “chaos.”
LVL Up co-owners Josh Schulenberg and David Ramsey.
“We can’t pay anything,” he says. “The impact is as bad as it gets. It sucks when your employees ask if [they’re] not going to get paid.”
Even before LVL Up temporarily closed, three corporate parties with 85 to 100 attendees canceled or postponed events, Shulenberg says. To make up for some of the lost earnings and help bridge the gap, LVL Up was considering cutting staff and the owners picked up unpaid shifts. Schulenberg has already alerted his landlord that he won’t be able to make rent this month. “We’re doing what we can for a business to survive,” he says.
For many businesses, the economic impact of COVID-19 grows by the day, and many restaurants such as Original Joe’s, SuperGood Kitchen and the vendors in at San Pedro Square and SoFA Market have already shuttered by choice for the foreseeable future. Team San Jose—the city’s tourism arm—has kept tabs on the ripple effect that the cancelation of 13 conferences and 28 theater performances is having on the capital of Silicon Valley. The figures are staggering—topping out at eight digits.
Team San Jose spokeswoman Frances Wong says the city alone has forfeited $14.6 million in revenue from canceled conferences at the McEnery Convention Center. City employees working those events have also taken a hit—losing out on a combined total of 79,000 work hours. “From a travel industry perspective, we’re all just keeping a close eye on this,” Wong says.
The numbers are also expected to go up as Team San Jose calculates losses from show cancelations at the four city-owned theaters: the Center for Performing Arts, San Jose Civic, the Montgomery Theater and the California Theatre.
In addition to the millions that would have been dumped into the city’s coffers, Wong says they’ve estimated an $18 million loss in direct spending to local businesses. That figure includes costs of hotel rooms or other post-conference venues that attendees would have booked. Nearby restaurants, bars, shops and attractions are also estimated to miss out on $8.6 million that visitors would have spent outside of conferences.
And as San Jose begins gearing up for its annual budget process, Mayor Sam Liccardo says he expects COVID-19 will have a “negative impact estimate that ranges, as high as, or even as low as, $100 million” on the city.
Chacho's in San Jose has had to go dark. (Photo by Dan Pulcrano)
Matt Mahood has been a chamber of commerce executive for nearly two decades. The president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Organization (SVO) survived both the dot-com crash and the 2008 recession.
But this, he says, is different.
“No one has ever experienced what we’re experiencing right now, so there is no playbook to go by,” he says. “It affects everyone.”
SVO, the South Bay’s de facto regional chamber of commerce, has been working with local lawmakers to enact policies that would ease the economic blow to small businesses, such as deferring business taxes or providing zero percent loans.
Mahood says that they’ve also been working with local partners to establish a fund similar to what Amazon set up in Seattle. Last week, the online retail giant announced that it would spend $5 million to help support small businesses, including bars and restaurants, while sales decline and more and more people work from home.
But for mom and pop restaurant owners in downtown San Jose, it isn’t just the dwindling lunch crowd that’s sparked concerns—one of the area’s largest economic drivers has temporarily closed. Situated on the western edge of downtown, the SAP Center packs in 17,000 people on any given night for Sharks games and concerts. But with local health officials cracking down on large gatherings and the NHL suspending its season until further notice, the typically bustling arena has gone dark.
For Sushi Confidential owner Randy Musterer, the fallout has been devastating for the catering side of his business. Besides the Campbell and downtown San Jose restaurants, Sushi Confidential also operates a concessions stand outside of section 223 at the SAP and provides in-suite catering for the arena. In the last few weeks, the sushi chef has lost out on $40,000 in catering gigs and saw 12 other events cancel in a 48-hour period.
“The catering gives us the ability to not have to micromanage our labor on an hour to hour basis,” Musterer said. “It gave us the slight buffer to stay open late and fight through some of the slow time. And it allowed more specifically our sushi chefs and other catering staff to be able to make extra money in tips and gratuity.”
Without the added revenue stream and fewer customers coming in, Musterer says he had to reduce his own salary and has tried to cut hours across the board so he doesn’t have to lay off any employees. “There’s going to be a lot of restaurants going out of business,” he says in a recent interview. “Is this going to last a few more days, a few more weeks, or a few more months or a few more years for the full effect to present itself… We have no clue when people are going to come back.”
In light of Santa Clara County’s shelter in place directive, which only allows restaurants to operate delivery and take out, Musterer says that he’s decided to only keep the Campbell storefront open. The restaurant will also be limiting its menu as some items take longer to prep than others—especially with a skeleton crew. “We’ll have to see over the next couple days how people respond to the new order,” he says. “But we’re prepared to continue it for our customers and we hope everyone feels safe to order out.”
The seasoned restaurateur is also encouraging patrons to purchase gift cards at their favorite small businesses that they can use later on when social distancing is lifted.
The Old Spaghetti Factor in downtown San Jose is closed for now.
Heather Orth never got to take her final bow as the Princess Puffer in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The musical, which is based on an unfinished novel by Charles Dickens, was about to enter its final weekend at the Lohman Theatre at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills when its run was cut short.
The dominos began to fall in the local arts community—which had already been shaken by AB-5’s restrictions on contract work—as county health officials imposed increasingly stringent regulations on the size of large gatherings. Cinequest postponed the second weekend of its annual film festival to August and local theater companies like City Lights, TheatreWorks and Opera San Jose soon followed suit.
“When you look at things in perspective, you have to realize this was absolutely the right choice,” Orth says. “On a personal level, it’s a loss for the people who worked so hard.”
When she’s not performing on stage, Orth works full time at TheatreWorks in marketing and communications. But some of her fellow thespians aren’t so lucky and instead supplement their wages with hourly work. She says the last few weeks have been a “terror grip” on the local theater community as artists witness their income drying up. “I have so many friends—they’re watching their shifts disappear, their shows disappear,” she says.
But the cancelation and postponement of productions is having a ripple effect that impacts more than just actors’ pockets—many of them rely on being employed for a certain number of weeks out of the year in order to qualify for health insurance.
In an effort to keep its doors open in the long-run and support local artists and musicians, Opera San Jose has created a relief fund. Director Khori Dastoor says the cancelation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute has resulted in a loss of $435,000 in wages. But instead of giving total refunds, Opera San Jose has asked theater-goers to donate their tickets back. “I think we don’t know yet how many of these organizations, institutions will survive,” Dastoor says. “We’re hoping to be among the companies that are still here… It’s just too soon and too crazy and the news is still being processed.”
Dastoor says she fears that once the pandemic passes, the local theater community will have evaporated as diminished wages and high housing costs force actors, musicians and artists out of the region. “We rely on all the people to build and make and create and draw and sing and dance and move,” she says.
“When this started to unfold, I thought, ‘Oh my god, who will be left?’”
The McEnery Convention Center has lost many millions of dollars in revenue from canceled events. (Photo by Greg Ramar)
“We hope that we can limp by enough to stay open and call our staff back,” Insaleco said.
About 6.9 million Californians don’t have enough money for basic needs, per the Public Policy Institute of California. Another 7.2 million are just above the poverty threshold for their county, one step away from calamity—a job loss, rent hike or surprise medical bill.
Now the coronavirus threatens to swell those ranks of poor Californians as restaurants, stores and other businesses shutter and workers stay home. “Whole sectors will have to turn off. And that means that millions of people’s livelihoods will turn off,” said Jesse Rothstein, a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. “Very few Americans have cushions to be able to live for months without pay, and low-wage workers, even less so.”
In response, local, state and federal lawmakers are proposing—and, in some cases, enacting—new ideas to soften the economic blow for low-income people, including sending cash to people and halting all evictions and foreclosures.
Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said shutting down schools and businesses has “really hard consequences that we’re now struggling to address” but if it stems the spread of the virus “the overall outcome for families will be better.” The economy already has entered a recession expected to last through September, according to a UCLA Anderson report released earlier this week.
Who’s most at risk of losing work as the pandemic progresses?
“Low-wage workers broadly. People who are hourly, not salaried. People who work for small businesses, people who don’t have paid sick leave. People who depend on cash coming in the door of their businesses in order to cover their paychecks,” Rothstein said.
About 18 percent of American adults and 25 percent of those making less than $50,000 a year, reported last week that they had lost jobs or hours, according to a survey by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist of 835 working adults.
Keeping more people from falling into financial ruin is all the more important during a pandemic because poverty conditions can compromise people’s health and compel them to work when it’s safer for them to stay home, causing viruses to spread faster.
“California’s one of the best places to weather these storms,” Bartholow said. “I think the question about whether each decision made will increase inequality will be considered.”
Here’s a breakdown of the state and federal proposals under consideration:
Immediate cash and tax relief
The White House announced plans to send cash payments directly to Americans to replace lost wages over the next two weeks, as part of a $1 trillion stimulus proposal.
The plan includes $500 billion for two waves of direct payments to taxpayers on April 6 and May 16 that would vary by household income and size. Another $300 billion would help small businesses meet payroll, the New York Times reported. Politico reported that the checks could amount to $1,000 each.
“We want to make sure Americans get money in their pockets quickly,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Tuesday.
Senate Democrats are pushing their own proposal: immediate $2,000 payments to all adults and children in the US below a certain income threshold. If enacted, people would get a second check for $1,500 in July and a third for $1,000 in October if the public health emergency continues.
U.S. senators are reportedly working on a stimulus package aimed at providing relief for small and large businesses. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering low-interest federal disaster loans to California small businesses that suffer as a result of coronavirus. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service has delayed the deadline for taxpayers and businesses to pay their taxes to July 15.
Eviction bans, foreclosures and utility shut-offs
President Trump announced Wednesday that the Department of Housing and Urban Development would suspend evictions and foreclosures until the end of April. Details were unavailable, but it is likely that order applies only to federally funded housing.
From Sacramento to Los Angeles, large cities across the state enacted their own local moratoria on evictions related to coronavirus.
On Monday, Newsom issued an executive order that waives a section of the state civil code, clearing the way for more localities to ban residential and commercial evictions related to coronavirus through May 31. The order also asks banks and other financial institutions to halt foreclosures.
Both landlord groups and tenant-rights activists have asked the administration for emergency assistance for struggling renters, which Newsom could fund with the $1.1 billion that the Legislature passed for the state’s COVID-19 response.
Another novel idea: Los Angeles has temporarily stopped ticketing cars left in residential areas during street sweeping, and will stop ticketing and towing abandoned vehicles.
Boosting paid leave, unemployment benefits
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a coronavirus relief bill that would provide federally-funded emergency leave, including two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave.
Excluded, however, are millions of Americans who work for companies with more than 500 employees. The Senate is expected to vote on the plan this week.
California workers who have lost hours or jobs because of the virus can file for unemployment benefits, while those unable to work because they have contracted the virus or been quarantined can apply for disability benefits.
Last week Newsom signed an executive order waiving the one-week unpaid waiting period for both benefits due to COVID-19. A work-sharing program allows businesses facing financial hardship to avoid layoffs.
More help buying groceries
The House’s package would also put $500 million towards grocery money assistance for pregnant women and mothers with young children who lose work and $250 million to provide home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors.
A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s food stamp cuts, which starting April 1 would have kicked able-bodied adults without dependents who work or train for fewer than 20 hours a week off of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “As a global pandemic poses widespread health risks, guaranteeing that government officials at both the federal and state levels have flexibility to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP is essential,” wrote Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in her opinion.
Also, with more than 99 percent of California’s public school students affected by coronavirus closures, many families will still be able to receive free and reduced-cost meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a waiver that allows closed California schools to continue to serve the federally-funded meals.
The state has yet to release a plan for making sure that all residents had access to food, particularly the elderly and ill who have been told not to leave their homes.
One answer could be food banks.
The House’s coronavirus package includes $400 million for food banks to purchase and distribute foods. The California Association of Food Banks has also requested state funding to purchase food and staff food banks, which are currently facing precipitous drops in volunteers and cancellations of their distribution sites.
Coronavirus treatment for all?
In the crowd-less Democratic primary debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, Sanders zeroed in on the coronavirus crisis as further proof of the need for universal and free health care. In fact, the idea of universal coverage at least for coronavirus treatment is going mainstream. The House coronavirus bill would guarantee free testing for all.
State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat, urged Newsom to go even further, extending Medi-Cal coverage for coronavirus-related testing and treatment to all Californians, regardless of immigration or insurance status.
Currently, some health clinics are waiving test fees for the uninsured. The state Department of Public Health said that people who are uninsured and have symptoms should contact their local health authority to find out where free tests might be available.
Jackie Botts reports for CalMatters. This article is part of The California Divide, a multi-newsroom collaboration examining inequity and economic survival in California.
Coronavirus testing has been plagued by confusion, delays and chaos, with the number of available, usable tests far outstripped by the need.
The situation, healthcare providers and experts say, has impaired their ability to know how many people have the virus—but a significantly larger number, they suspect, than that confirmed by state and federal officials.
Gov. Gavin Newsom says, however, that help is on the way, from university medical centers, private labs, the tech sector and more.
So where are we on this? Who can get tested and where exactly should you go? If you do get a hold of a test, is it going to cost anything? Here’s what you need to know.
How many tests does Calif. have?
On Sunday, Newsom said California has conducted 8,316 tests, and has the capacity to run just short of 9,000 more. On Monday evening, he said that the state’s 19 public health labs have increased tests “by a few hundred” over the previous 24 hours. Still, he said, “That clearly is not enough.”
By Tuesday, the number of public health labs conducting testing had increased to 21. And the state has also turned to academic medical centers as well as private companies to fill in those gaps. UC San Francisco, UC Los Angeles, UC San Diego, and Stanford University are all offering tests for the novel coronavirus—and UC Davis is currently racing to get three different types of tests online.
Nam Tran, associate professor and senior director of clinical pathology at UC Davis, said one of the tests that runs on an SUV-sized instrument created by Roche Diagnostics should come online within weeks and is expected to churn out 1400 results per day.
He called it a “game changer.”
As for private firms, Quest Diagnostics has been running 1,200 tests a day out of its lab in San Juan Capistrano, Newsom said Monday—and could ramp up to 10,000 tests per day across the country with the addition of another laboratory by the end of this week.
Should I get tested?
Californians are still facing delays, or no tests at all. And a surge of demand for testing supplies—including swabs, kits for extracting the virus’s genetic material, and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers—threatens efforts to scale up tests.
At a time of limited resources, testing should be reserved for people with moderate to severe symptoms and for those with underlying health conditions, said Michael Romero, a program manager with Placer County’s public health emergency preparedness team.
Symptoms can show up between two days and two weeks after exposure to the virus, and include fever, cough, and trouble breathing, according to the CDC.
“Our guidance is if you have mild symptoms, just stay home, testing would help you know whether you have it or not, but it wouldn’t change anything,” because there is currently no treatment, he said.
Can I get tested?
One challenge is the patchwork of guidance about whom to test first across California’s counties, private testing companies, and health systems, according to Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California.
Guidelines may vary by county because of the uneven spread of the coronavirus, and local public health departments are required to approve the tests run through their labs, DeBurgh said. She’s calling for more guidance from the state about whom to prioritize, she said, to help with the crush of calls that local public health officers are triaging.
In Los Angeles, for instance, the public health lab “will test specimens from high risk patients requiring a rapid public health response if they test positive,” according to guidance from the county. Any other patients with fever and symptoms of a respiratory illness who may have been exposed should be tested by a commercial lab instead.
At Kaiser Permanente, clinicians decide who to test, spokesman Marc Brown told CalMatters in an email. Tests are only available to Kaiser members with a doctor’s order.
Priority goes to hospitalized patients as well as people with symptoms who also have additional risk factors such as being over 60, heart or lung disease, or being immunocompromised. Anyone exposed to someone with a confirmed or suspected case of the virus, or who recently traveled somewhere affected by it, will also be prioritized.
Where can I get tested?
People should first check with their doctor to ask whether they’re collecting specimens, said Romero with Placer County. If their doctor is not doing testing, they can try calling their local urgent care. Romero said people should not go to the emergency department just for testing. That is what would cause unnecessary over-flooding in the ER, he said.
Some counties, such as Los Angeles and San Diego, ask that people who do not have a primary care provider call the county’s 2-1-1 line for information on where they can find providers with tests. Sutter Health, for example, asks that its patients schedule a video visit with a doctor to check whether they meet testing criteria. If they do, then doctors make arrangements with patients about specific locations where they can go for testing.
Earlier this month, Newsom announced that all screening and testing fees would be waived for about 24 million Californians. That includes co-pays and deductibles for a hospital and doctor office visit associated with the test. But if a person is sick and needs further treatment and care, that cost is not required to be waived.
Newsom’s order does not apply to people who work for large employers and whose private health plans are regulated by the federal government. That said, an emergency coronavirus response bill pending in Congress would require that testing and all related fees be covered by all forms of insurance without out-of-pocket costs for the patient.
The California Department of Public Health has said that people who are uninsured and have symptoms should contact their county for information on how to get tested.
Some health clinics, like the AltaMed group in Southern California, are waiving test fees even for patients who are uninsured, but again, tests are only given to people who are showing symptoms. Also, clinics can help enroll patients in any available county program that may cover fees, and clinics themselves often charge on a sliding scale, which means costs are based on a person’s ability to pay.
Testing through the Verily screening pilot program screening in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties is a philanthropic effort and also free to the public.
What’s the deal with Verily’s triage?
Confusion has dogged the rollout of a triage site aimed at directing concerned Californians to testing. At first, President Donald Trump said Friday that “Google has 1,700 engineers working” on a screening website that would be “very quickly done.”
In fact, it was Verily, the life sciences subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, behind the effort, and the site was not a nationwide screening tool but one specifically for Californians in the Bay Area. Newsom announced the triage website on Sunday, where people can fill out a questionnaire and schedule an appointment at one of two test sites in Santa Clara and San Mateo.
So far, demand outstrips availability: 174,000 people visited the website in the first day since it opened, Newsom said Monday. 174 people filled out the questionnaire. Fifty people signed up for specific appointments—and 30 people actually showed up. Newsom said he expects testing to grow by 200 to 400 tests per site, and in a press briefing on Tuesday, he projected the Verily mobile test sites had conducted 320 tests that day.
Newsom said the whole idea is to expand these mobile test sites beyond the Bay Area. “The good news is operationally, things went fairly well, not perfectly, but fairly well.”
What will this test actually tell me?
The current test for the novel coronavirus looks for the virus itself by sniffing out the virus’s genetic code. These tests can tell you if you have an active infection. What they can not tell you is whether you’ve been infected and recovered.
“Something that is missing from our knowledge of this virus is how many people are exposed to it,” said Philip Felgner, director of the vaccine research and development center at the UC Irvine School of Medicine. That data is key for understanding the breadth of the outbreak, and just how lethal it really is.
How can we track the virus?
Researchers across the world are working on developing another kind of test—one that looks for signs of the immune response to the virus, called antibodies. This kind of test—a serological test—would allow scientists to search out people who have recovered from less severe or asymptomatic cases of the virus who never ended up in a hospital.
That could help scientists identify chains of viral transmission, home in on hotspots of the outbreak, and would be a first step towards a fuller understanding of why some people recover more readily than others. STAT has reported that the CDC is working on developing two of these tests, and Science has reported that scientists in Singapore used a serological test to track the outbreak.
Here in California, Felgner at UC Irvine has teamed up with a company called SinoBiological to create tests that can hunt for antibodies to nine different infectious agents including other coronaviruses like ones that cause SARS and MERS, as well as viruses that lead to similar symptoms, like influenza.
Felgner and a research institute in San Francisco called Vitalant intend to validate these tests and other, similar ones, by running them with leftover samples of donated blood from Seattle. Another test will look for the kinds of antibodies that can neutralize infections, giving a sense for how effective the immune response actually is.
Michael Busch, director of the Vitalant Research Institute, clarifies that these tests aren’t to screen the blood. “We don’t screen blood purposefully for this virus, it’s not a transfusion transmissible agent,” Busch said.
The goal, instead, is to survey communities to find out just how far the virus spreads, and for how long. “What it does show you is how many people were infected,” Busch said. That changes the calculus for what we understand about how often the virus causes severe symptoms, or kills people—and where exactly to be looking for it.
CalMatters.org is a nonpartisan media venture explaining policies and politics.
A lot has changed since San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo authored his annual March budget message less than two weeks ago.
At the time, Santa Clara County had 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19, compared to the 155 announced Tuesday afternoon, and health officials had yet to implement the order to “shelter in place.” But as the coronavirus spreads throughout the community, city officials are increasingly worried about how it will impact the city’s financial health.
“It goes without saying, we find ourselves in a different place than we did just a week ago,” City Manager Dave Sykes said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
In Liccardo’s budget proposal, he divides up priorities into three tiers: fiscal resilience, affordable housing and homelessness solutions funded by Measure E. The first tier will allocate $51 million to increase the city’s “fiscal resilience” by saving dollars, paying down debt and reducing dependence on the general fund.
The second tier focuses on utilizing Measure E—a real property transfer tax ballot initiative that was passed by San Jose voters in the recent March primary election. The council previously passed a spending plan to divvy up the measure’s revenue, which will come from a tax on the sale of homes assessed above $2 million.
But in his budget message, Liccardo asked city officials to earmark money for a few more priorities, including the construction of tiny homes, housing college students through an Airbnb partnership and exploring the creation of a navigation center.
The remaining tier is made up of contingent expenditures that, due to the impact of COVID-19, may not make the cut. It includes priorities like increasing staffing for the San Jose Police Department, improving traffic safety and expanding community programs.
“We’re going to have to hang on and find out whether we’re even going to have that,” Liccardo said. “The world is going to change very dramatically fiscally.”
The mayor estimates the city’s deficit once the pandemic is over could be around $100 million. As San Jose leaders brace themselves for drastic cuts, Councilwoman Maya Esparza says she wanted to ensure that equity is taken into consideration before programs go to the chopping block.
“In the last recession, we didn’t really take equity into consideration when we made cuts to services in our city and we had to cut our city down to bare bones,” Esparza said.
The city manager will roll out his own budget message in May before the council approves the final 2020-21 spending plan before the end of June.
Scroll from the bottom up to read in chronological order. And click here to catch up on the rest of our coronavirus coverage.
5:19pm: Early bird special.
Because of how vulnerable the 60 and over crowd is to this COVID-19 scourge, Zanotto’s Family Markets has set aside an hour each morning for seniors-only shopping.
That’s right: the Italian grocer is reserving an hour each morning for our elders to browse the aisles with ease, free from the contagious-but-asymptomatic youngsters driving the exponential growth of the pandemic. To find the branch nearest you, click here.
5:10pm: Data central.
California launched an online portal for all the latest updates about this intractable pandemic. Covid19.ca.gov highlights critical steps people can take to stay healthy and links to resources available to anyone impacted by the outbreak, including paid sick leave and unemployment benefits. The site includes PSAs from California’s public health czar, Dr. Sonia Angell, and our state surgeon general, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris.
“The state is mobilizing at every level to proactively and aggressively protect the health and well-being of Californians, but we cannot fight this outbreak alone,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in announcing the new data hub. “We need the participation and support of every Californian, and that’s why we’re providing recent, relevant and reliable information. Californians need to know how to stay healthy and where they can get help. These actions are critical, and there is no doubt our collective efforts will save lives.”
4:45pm: ‘What this was intended for was to save lives.’
San Jose’s top cop and our DA modeled social distancing with an elbow bump after a PSA about Santa Clara County‘s shelter-in-place ordinance.
Chief Eddie Garcia and District Attorney Jeff Rosen said the mandate—while technically enforceable by misdemeanor citation—isn’t meant to keep people on complete lockdown. You can still go out for groceries, essential business, exercise, to care for a loved one and for other errands that don’t undermine public health. “What this was intended for was to save lives,” Garcia told the camera. “So let’s all try to work together to accomplish that.”
3:54pm: Dangerous curve ahead.
I keep hearing about “flattening the curve” on coronavirus. What does that mean?
Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) is urging San Jose to enact an ordinance that would grand employees paid sick leave to tide them through coronavirus quarantine.
In a letter supporting the local measure, he said he’s pushing a state bill that would that would expand a number of worker protections. However, Kalra said state legislators are taking time off just like so many Californians to stay safely separate from one other amid the ever-advancing coronavirus outbreak. “Until we can act on this AB3216 at the state level,” he wrote. “the actions you take today take on greater urgency and importance.”
2:27pm: Dashers to the rescue.
Door Dash announced a series of pandemic-related initiatives to help the restaurants that make the food its dashers deliver. For starters, it’s made no-contact delivery the default, shipped free hand sanitizer and gloves to couriers in 400 cities and sent notifications to let customers know which restaurants are still taking carryout orders.
What’s more, the app-based delivery service will stop charging commission for now and offer independent restaurants $200 each in marketing credits to boost sales. The company also offered to hire restaurant workers who want extra hours.
“We’re in this together,”the company wrote in an email to local eateries, “and as the situation evolves, we’ll continue to do everything we can.”
1pm: Facebook flags real coronavirus news as fake.
We’ve restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics - not just those related to COVID-19. This was an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too.
With a pandemic that’s changing perceptions of reality each passing day, Facebook renewed vows to police disinfo on its platform. But did you notice how the site bugged out the other day, flagging totally innocuous posts as spam or otherwise inappropriate?
In just out circle of friends, we heard about the FB powers-that-be yanking links to news articles about AOC’s move toward universal basic income, landlords evicting people because of this coronavirus crisis and cities suspending utility shutoffs for non-payment. All totally legitimate coronavirus-related stories to share.
After enough people complained, Facebook put out a few public statements about how it was just a glitch, that all’s hunky dory now and that the apparent AI freak-out had nothing whatsoever to do with all those $20-an-hour flesh-and-bone content moderators having to go home the day before.
One of the moderators we interviewed earlier this week after he left the Mountain View office of FB subcontractor Accenture scoffed at the denial. “Facebook is sick,” he said, adding that the timing of alone proves how he and his team is “super valuable to them.”
Facebook says it’s exploring a way to allow its army of hourly content reviewers—whose job requires watching some of the most vile and traumatizing stuff on the internet—to work from home throughout this public health crisis.
“We don’t expect this to impact people using our platform in any noticeable way,” the Menlo Park-based company wrote in a statement right before the county told everyone to stay home for a few weeks. “That said, there may be some limitations to this approach and we may see some longer response times and make more mistakes as a result.”
You don’t say.
12:41pm: Up and away.
As Santa Clara County expands coronavirus testing, health officials have announced 20 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total up to 175. Of that number, 56 patients remain hospitalized for the upper respiratory illness.
But as the number of cases grows ever more exponentially, so too are fears about whether the region’s healthcare system can handle the influx of patients. San Jose Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness expressed that concern at Tuesday’s council meeting, saying there’s only 11 unoccupied ICU beds left in the whole county.
12:27pm: Stay strong, Silicon Valley.
As COVID-19 continues its rapid spread, Silicon Valley leaders are banding together to help people bearing the economic brunt of the pandemic.
At a press conference this morning, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and a slew of other local electeds and nonprofit workers announced the creation of Silicon Valley Strong. The initiative aims to connect volunteers with nonprofits in dire need of help with sorting, packaging and delivering food to the valley’s most vulnerable residents.
“Silicon Valley Strong is about seeing how we can bring more people in who want to help with organizations like Second Harvest,” Liccardo said in unveiling the campaign. “Together we’re proving that social distancing does not mean socially disabling. We are able to pull together and do more together.”
After falling 10 people short for Meals on Wheels deliveries this morning, Chavez put out a call out for volunteers: “Especially if you’re young and you’re healthy,” she said, “and you’re just driving people crazy in your house and you want to be able to do something that’s really going to make a difference.”
The city and Silicon Valley Community Foundation have also teamed up to create the San Jose Strong fund. The pot of money will help residents at risk of displacement, small businesses facing closure and local organizations feeling ripple effects of the coronavirus.
Cupertino-based Apple has already committed to chipping in $1 million for the effort.
“At the heart of the community are small businesses,” Mike Faulke, Apple’s director of state and local government affairs, told reporters. “From the jobs they create to the customers they serve all our lives are richer when these businesses can thrive.”
The website, siliconvalleystrong.org, includes a number of health, safety and education resources related to the ongoing crisis. Those interested in volunteering or donating can do so online. And if you need more information on local health and human services, you can call always call 2-1-1 or visit 211bayarea.org/santaclara.
12:14pm: We’re gonna need a lot more than that.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics put together a fact sheet about paid sick leave in response to how critical the benefit has become for people faced with weeks without work.
According to this document, 68 percent of American workers get a fixed amount of paid sick leave—an average of eight days a year, which seems like not at all enough to last through this weeks-long purgatory in which we find ourselves.
A lucky 3 percent have as-needed sick leave with no cap on the number of days. And 28 percent only get sick leave as part of a plan that consolidates paid time off for workers to use for various reasons, including vacation, personal business and the like.
Here’s a link to the fact sheet. What does your employer offer in terms of PTO?
12pm: A school’s errand.
Gov. Newsom’s announcement about class potentially being canceled for the rest of the school year has sent the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SSOE) scrambling.
We reached out to find out more about what’s going on locally, and it looks like there’s not much in the way of info on that point. Here’s what SCCOE Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan, says, by way of a spokeswoman:
“Schools in Santa Clara County remain closed temporarily and no determination has yet been made as to when schools will reopen. The SCCOE will be working closely with the SCC Public Health Department to assess when schools can physically reopen. All schools are working on plans for reopening and to offer flexible learning until schools reopen.”
We’ll let you know if we hear more.
11:03am: Yet another fatality.
A 60-something-year-old man hospitalized on March 5 just became the latest local to succumb to COVID-19. In an announcement just now, Santa Clara County public health officials said he passed away on Tuesday, bringing the total death toll to six.
10:46am: He may never know what hit him.
Frank Ponciano (right) says he has no clue what sickened him. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)
The fever came first, then the aches.
Frank Ponciano—a 27-year-old ex-San Jose policy aide and community organizer—says it was March 8 when he got a bug of some kind. Over the next few days, his temperature rose, giving him chills. His head throbbed with a steady ache and it felt like mucous congested his lungs. Every cough stung his painfully sore throat.
By then, the global death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 3,500. Major events were getting canceled. After days of rest, drinking lots of water and avoiding a trip to the doctor for lack of insurance, it occurred to him that he should probably get tested.
Maybe what plagued him was the same wildly contagious respiratory disease that the whole world was talking about.
On March 12, he decided to call the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. Ponciano says it wasn’t really clear which phone number to use, so he reached out through the main administrative line.
When he finally reached an operator, she told him to try Valley Medical Center (VMC) instead. The VMC receptionist who picked up his call told Ponciano there were no tests available, but that he could come in for an assessment as long as he signed forms agreeing to pay all the charges incurred. With news reports circulating at the time putting the cost of testing at anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 or more, he says he had little choice but to decline the offer. And so, the receptionist wished him well.
“That was the end of that,” Ponciano recounts.
As someone who’s otherwise healthy, athletic and pretty well adapted to various flu strains his schoolteacher wife brings home, he felt lucky that his body withstood whatever it was that sickened him. But he felt uneasy about being a potential carrier for a virus that’s fatal to potentially 3 percent or more of the people who get it.
And as a longtime advocate of the homeless, Ponciano says he couldn’t help but imagine how devastating the illness would be among the unsheltered population scattered along local waterways, in roadside tents and city sidewalks.
“The people I know who have been recently housed or still live out on the streets, they don’t have as many lines of defense, left alone decent medical care,” he says. “I know so many folks out there who smoke, too, which makes them extremely susceptible to this.”
Already, the virus has claimed the life of one local homeless man, Ponciano notes. Imagine, he says, if an outbreak swept through one of San Jose’s clustered encampments.
“If there is a homeless-specific spread,” he says, “we might be in for a death rate that leaves everyone else’s in the dust.”
Five days ago, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield promised that all Americans, insured or not, can now get free coronavirus testing. But there’s another hurdle: a dearth of tests.
As we reported earlier today, Santa Clara County has been ramping up testing with drive-through clinics. But those are by appointment-only and still require a doctor’s referral. The challenge now is getting Americans accustomed to avoiding hospitals because of the cost to get help now that our collective public health depends on it.
9:30am: They’ve got a plan for that.
The Santa Clara County Office of Education put together a handy meal distribution plan, which includes information for every school providing free food during this potentially months-long shutdown. Click here to download the document.
8:56am: It’s gonna be a long, hard summer.
Brace yourselves, parents. It looks like school’s out ’til fall.
Gov. Gavin Newsom relayed the news in a presser Tuesday, saying it’s unlikely the 6.2 million students in California’s K-12 system will go back to class before mid-year recess.
“Don’t anticipate schools are going to open up in a week,” he said. “It’s unlikely that many of these schools—few if any—will open before the summer break. Boy, I hope I’m wrong, but I believe that to be the case.”
“This is a very sobering thing to say,” he added.“I don’t want to mislead you.”
Because of the impact the decision will have on low-income families, the governor said he hesitates to issue a state mandate enforcing the closures, which currently extend to 99 percent of California schools. But Newsom said he has reached out to the U.S. Department of Education to hold off on standardized testing.
The governor went off script to talk about how the coronavirus crisis has touched his own family—his wife and their four young children.
The night before, he said, one of his daughters couldn’t sleep because of the anxiety about skipping school and missing friends. She threw her stuffed bunny and pillows on the floor, Newsom said, and he spent the better part of an hour trying to comfort her.
“And I told her, ‘honey, I don’t think the schools are going to open again,’” he recounted to the roomful of reporters. “And if I can tell my daughter that, and not your daughter ... then I’m not being honest and true to people, to the state of California.”
Of course this comes as a huge blow to working families that now have to make childcare arrangements and juggle day jobs with homeschooling. At least students who rely on school meals can still count on it thanks to free breakfast and lunch pickups organized by local districts and the Santa Clara County Office of Education.
The governor acknowledged the difficulties ahead, but exhorted the public to do its part through social distancing and slowing COVID-19 through collective effort.
“We are not victims of fate,” Newsom said. “We’re victims only of bad decisions. W make better decisions, we can create conditions that are much more advantageous.”
Now that everyone’s a homeschooler, how do you plan to structure your day? I’d love to hear more about how this changes things for your family. Feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected] or in the comments below.
When Chesa Boudin took office earlier this year as San Francisco’s new DA, he immediately went about firing a slew of prosecutors whom he felt didn’t quite align with his progressive, anti-incarceration agenda.
Among them: gang unit managing attorney Ana Gonzalez and her counterpart in general felonies, Linda Allen. The latter was reportedly axed in part because the California Court of Appeals overturned her 2007 conviction of Jamal Truelove for murder after finding fault with some of her assertions in the case.
In 2019, the city of San Francisco paid $13.1 million to Trulove after a jury found that a couple of cops fabricated evidence and failed to disclose exculpatory material.
The new hires didn’t sit well with inmate advocates at Silicon Valley De-Bug, a social justice nonprofit that sees more eye-to-eye with Boudin than the local DA. “It’s a horrible disservice to justice and our community that Santa Clara County becomes a repository for disgraced prosecutors,” De-Bug founder Raj Jayadev told Fly, echoing criticism expressed by a number of criminal defense attorneys as well.
Truelove’s story illustrates the “horrors of a prosecutor obsessed with conviction rather than justice,” he said. Plus, San Francisco literally paid a fortune for the wrongful prosecution. “Santa Clara County can’t afford to pay a prosecutor millions of dollars to cage innocent people,” Jayadev said.
Rosen spokesman Sean Webby defended the integrity of the two S.F. hires.
“We carefully looked at this [Truelove] case,” he said. “It concerned us. We spoke with judges and prosecutors who have closely worked with Ms. Allen. The DA spoke directly with DA Chesa Boudin. We decided to hire her because we feel confident that Ms. Allen will bring her depth of experience and excellence to our team and will protect the people using the highest ethical values. And we believe in second chances.”
Eric Fleming, a San Francisco Superior Court judge who worked for years with Allen in felony court, affirmed the sentiment, saying Allen’s firing probably had more to do with Boudin’s own vision than her professional record.
“I don’t know if these prosecutors weren’t as progressive as he wanted,” he said. “But I do know all of the prosecutors that they fired and all of them are excellent.”
In a phone call from home, where she’s recovering from an ankle surgery, Sharon Woo—the chief assistant DA to Boundin’s predecessor, George Gascon—had nothing but praise for Gonazalez and Allen.
“I think it was a loss, really, for San Francisco to have that quality of individuals leave the office with that much experience,” she said. “And they are, they really carry excellent judgment and discretion and they have handled the most serious cases.”
If she did anything wrong, Woo quipped, she would not want either of those two to prosecute her. “Because,” she said, “I know they will be thorough and they will be tough.”
After seven years on disability, Chris Lierle’s new job at a South Bay financial institution marked the start of an exciting new chapter. “This was my big triumph in life,” he says.
The 52-year-old corporate trainer packed his belongings in a 16-foot Budget rental truck for the 1,900-mile trek from Texas to Palo Alto, stopping by taverns, diners and gas stations along the way. When the time he reached his destination on March 1, he didn’t feel quite right. “I wasn’t sure if I was even sick,” Lierle recalls in a recent interview. “I didn’t think much of it and went to my first day of work.”
That was March 2. As the day wore on, he came down with a fever. “They cut me loose at 3pm,” he says. “And the next day.”
March 4, he stayed home. The fever persisted and he developed a deep, throaty cough.
By then, California announced its first COVID-19-linked fatality, bringing the nationwide death toll to 11. Global cases from the novel coronavirus approached 93,000 as the disease spread to 81 countries and began to push Italy’s hospitals to the breaking point. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency as a Princess cruise ship exposed to the virus approached the San Francisco Bay.
Back on the Peninsula, Lierle figured that, given his history of cross-country travel, the responsible thing to do was to get tested and work the rest of the week from home. He reached out to his healthcare provider, Standard Health, which insisted on a telemedicine screening. Despite a clear mapping of COVID-19 symptoms, Lierle says they seemed to lack urgency and went by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s outdated standard of limiting tests to people who had traveled internationally.
By the end of that first week on the new job, Lierle’s boss got sick for about 12 hours before the symptoms subsided. So did Lierle’s immunocompromised girlfriend.
With anxiety mounting about having potentially subjected other people to a highly contagious respiratory disease, he called Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department for help getting tested through Stanford University, to no avail.
Next, he tried One Medical, a membership-based primary care practice, which initially denied him because of the same outdated CDC criteria before finally relenting after he pushed back.
Even so, another full week passed before the test transpired. On the day of his appointment, Lierle donned a Hawaiian shirt—because, he says, “when the going gets tough, the tough get tropical”—and left his self-imposed quarantine to drive to a private doctor’s office all the way up in San Francisco.
At the clinic, in a stripped-down room, a nurse dressed in head-to-toe protective gear—goggles and all—swabbed one of his nostrils for a flu sample and the other for COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Results from the flu test came through by the time he reached Palo Alto: negative.
As of today—18 days since he fell sick—Lierle has yet to hear back about the other diagnosis. He chalks up the long wait to “TDTS: Trump Delayed Testing Syndrome,” referring to President Donald Trump’s botched testing rollout, which caused the rapid spread of the pandemic by people with the disease who don’t even know they have it.
“We’re at a coin flip here,” Lierle says. “If I can’t get a test result even in my situation, then how do we as a population have any idea what our sick people are sick with?”
The short answer? We don’t.
While other countries deploy massive testing operations, the United States lagged so far behind that it’s barely mapped out the scope of the problem.
South Korea has tested at least 274,000 people since the outbreak began by conducting massive drive-through operations that reached 10,000 people a day. The U.S. reported testing just 25,000 specimens, according to the latest figures from the CDC, which fails to specify how many specimens it tested per person. Crowdsourced data puts the actual figure for the U.S. total closer to 60,000 tests on as many patients, with about 6,000 positives. A problem with initial batches of tests and a delay in approving commercial kits set the nation back in controlling COVID-19.
Now, faced with uncertainty over the actual breadth of the pandemic, the only choice left is to try to slow its spread. That’s what’s driving the kinds of draconian shutdowns that so dramatically changed everyone’s way of life this past week.
California, with a population of about 40 million, initially received just 8,227 kits from the CDC but could only use a fraction of them because of missing compounds. Other states reported similar issues. Only 156 kits initially went to Santa Clara County—ground zero for the pandemic with more than one third of the state’s confirmed cases. As of this past weekend, the state had conducted 8,316 coronavirus tests, but Gov. Gavin Newsom said expansion of mobile testing will boost that to another 5,500 patients a day.
California has since been trying to transfer the missing test components to its 18 labs as officials try to ramp up testing capacity by other means. Quest Diagnostics, a commercial lab in San Juan Capistrano, has reportedly run 1,200 tests a day for the past several days and plans to open another two facilities by the month’s end.
Closer to home, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department said its lab can only run up to 40 tests a day. Stanford’s laboratory, up to 100. According to reporting by ProPublica, each kit can run anywhere from 700 to 1,000 specimens—but each patient may require two samples to get an accurate result.
It’s unclear how many patients Santa Clara County has tested based on the kits available and labs up and running. Last week, the county Board of Supervisors urged health officials to drum up some concrete numbers and a strategy to scale up testing to reach asymptomatic people who may be unwittingly exposing others to the virus.
Still, slowly but surely, it looks like testing capacity is increasing. Stanford University recently started offering drive-through tests for patients referred by a health care provider based on symptoms or exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Unlike the test taken by Lierle, Stanford promises results in just 24 hours.
“It’s really a much faster and safer solution,” Dr. Maja Artandi, medical director of the so-called Express Care clinics, said in Stanford’s announcement of the new service. “The patient is not going to expose anybody else. The clinic is not going to be exposed.”
On Tuesday, the county launched similar drive-through testing setups with help from Verily, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, which created an online triage questionnaire called Project Baseline.
“People must be screened and confirmed as high risk first,” county Supervisor Cindy Chavez explained in a Facebook post announcing the new test sites. “If people have severe symptoms they should call their doctors as these collection sites do not offer acute medical care. We have three sites in total in San Mateo, at Stanford University and at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. We hope for more sites and increased capacity soon.”
Earlier this week, federal officials said they would also set up more drive-through testing nationwide and pick up the pace by processing more samples in commercial labs. The CDC estimates that it there should be 1.9 million tests available by the end of the week.
That’s little help to Lierle, who’s coming up on three weeks since he first felt his symptoms. And anxiety about the results isn’t just personal. He wants to know whether he compromised anyone else on his road trip, at his new job or in his own house.
“I’ve been living in a small world just to keep everyone else safe,” he says. “At this point, my test results aren’t just for me—they’re for everyone at my office, for my boss and my girlfriend. That’s why early testing is so important. A test delayed is a test denied.”
#RampingUpTestingForCoronavirus A drive-through coronavirus pilot testing program is underway at the County of Santa...
In what seems now like another lifetime, in the birthplace of California wine production, Angie Sanchez was tasked with census outreach in the Bay Area. The Latino community organizer decided that standard presentations and handouts wouldn’t cut it. Instead, she reimagined Lotería, a Bingo-like game that’s a staple in many Latino households.
Her version, Censotería, received more than 300 Instagram likes and piqued the interest of census officials in Alabama, Illinois and Texas. The civic participation group that Sanchez works for, the La Luz, partnered with the Latino Community Foundation and printed about 500 copies and distributed them throughout the community. The Latino Community Foundation even made Sanchez’s game downloadable for free.
Now, for all of Sanchez’s creativity, it’s unclear whether this colorful game, which is part of the state’s $187.2 million census effort, will move the needle even slightly. As the coronavirus pandemic upends every aspect of life as Californians know it, it is far from clear what, if anything, will help motivate 11 million hard-to-reach Californians to respond to their questionnaires.
In the next few weeks—between moments of panic—residents across the nation will be asked to respond to nine basic questions about their household as part of a decennial population count and respond largely online. State and community organizers are particularly concerned about this year’s survey. California faces powerful headwinds, not only from the mounting threat of COVID-19, the infection caused by the virus, but also from widespread distrust sowed by the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies, including a failed push to include a citizenship question on the census.
For California, the stakes have never been higher: A low turnout could jeopardize one of the state’s 53 congressional seats, along with billions in federal funding.
No one knows yet how much these developments will impact California’s count but they are widely expected to depress turnout. “It’s been a challenge because we have to take precautions on how we conduct outreach,” said Melissa Vergara from the San Mateo County Office of Community Affairs.
On the same day census notices began landing in people’s mailboxes, the governor clamped down on public gatherings in an effort to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak, disrupting months of planned outreach events and door-to-door appeals.
And allies have unintentionally sent mixed signals. Civil rights activists, who spent last year training immigrants to ignore federal agents knocking on their door during nationwide raids, are now encouraging people to open the door to census workers, who are an extension of the federal government.
The Public Policy Institute of California characterizes 29 million Californians at risk of being undercounted. These can be people who are hard to reach because they are homeless, rent, or live in nonstandard housing, such as garages and trailers. They can also be young men who may not respond or children who aren’t properly counted in a questionnaire. Many often lack a reliable internet connection.
Moreover, it’s race and ethnicity. California is a majority minority state. Nearly 39 percent of California’s population identifies as Latino or Hispanic and there’s concern that government distrust will reduce responses—even among residents with legal status. This year, Jacqueline Martinez Garcel with the Latino Community Foundation said it has been difficult to assure people that census information will be kept private.
“I think historically we’ve thought about non-citizens or unauthorized immigrants as particularly hard to count,” said Sarah Bohn of the Public Policy Institute of California. “But I think there is concern about whether this environment we’re in right now with regard to immigrants, is going to dissuade even legal immigrants from responding—just because of fear or distrust of the government.”
That’s why the state has allocated more than $106 million on census outreach efforts to fund efforts like Sanchez’s Censotería game, according to state census reports. Mercury Public Affairs LLC won a $46 million contract to lead a media campaign. Overall, California is spending more than any other state.
The state aims to make over 100 million “impressions” which will capture who is looking at the content and how they’re consuming it, whether that’s via mobile or desktop. It will assess its success by comparing targeted populations to live census returns. As completed forms come in, the state will allocate more funding to areas with low returns.
“It’s really critical to get it right,” said Bohn.
California residents benefit from dozens of federal programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, affordable housing and funding for roads, school lunches, early childhood education and foster care. Andrew Reamer, professor at George Washington University, estimates California receives $172 billion in federal money based on its population.
Vergara of San Mateo County said the county has changed its strategy in response to the coronavirus outbreak and organizers noticed low turnout at events even before the governor’s executive order. County and state organizers are now pivoting to social media and ramping up a digital ambassador program, a group of preselected online influencers including actor Danny Trejo, mixed martial artist Urijah Faber, and Sacramento Kings basketball player Harrison Barnes. Beyond celebrities, ambassadors include activists as well, such as Rian Buhacoff, who advocates for queer and disabled rights.
“We are encountering the first mainly digital census and we are also encountering groups that have a general fear of the government and of the federal government,” said Diana Crofts-Pelayo, spokeswoman for California Complete Count. “So for us, this is why we have really created this comprehensive outreach and communications approach to really address some of these unprecedented challenges.”
One digital ambassador, Rain Valdez, said she got involved in hopes of raising awareness that many in the LGBTQ community rely on safety net programs.
“I knew that with our history as trans people there’s a tendency to erase us from the count,” said the actress, filmmaker and transgender community advocate.
Still, California’s housing crisis and broadband connection remain obstacles. While 74 percent of all households had broadband internet in 2017, only 67 percent of African Americans and 66 percent of Latino households were connected at home, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. “Those are some of the groups that I’m most concerned about getting their responses,” Bohn said.
CalMatters.org is a nonprofit media venture explaining California policies and politics.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.’
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.
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.
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.
2:11pm: We feared this would happen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
10:59am: Need a job?
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.
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.”
Healthcare operations and essential infrastructure
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
Food cultivation, including farming, livestock, and fishing
Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals
Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services
Gas stations and auto-supply, auto-repair, and related facilities
Banks and related financial institutions
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
Businesses providing mailing and shipping services, including post office boxes;
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
Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers
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
Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home
Businesses that supply other essential businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate
Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences
Airlines, taxis, and other private transportation providing services necessary for essential activities and other purposes expressly authorized in this order
Home-based care for seniors, adults, or children
Residential facilities and shelters for seniors, adults, and children
Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities
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:
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).
Children shall not change from one group to another.
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.
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.