Coronavirus Updates, March 18, 2020: Testing Ramps Up on 2nd Day of Regional Lockdown

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?

As the COVID-19 outbreak escalates,...

Posted by County of Santa Clara Public Health Department on Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Local health officials put out a useful explainer about what the experts mean when they talk about flattening the curve. Check it out!

3:10pm: San Jose can take the lead on paid sick leave.

I submitted a letter in support of the city of San Jose adopting a first-in-the-nation local paid sick leave proposal...

Posted by Ash Kalra on Wednesday, March 18, 2020

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.

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.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

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.

Grace Hase

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.

Grace Hase

12:14pm: We’re gonna need a lot more than that.

Source: BLS

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?

—Jennifer Wadsworth

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.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

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.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

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 Im 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.

—Jennifer Wadsworth

3 Comments

  1. > Today’s live blog is now up and running. Send me tips if there’s something you think we should cover: [email protected]

    REUSABLE SHOPPING BAGS!

    It’s like talking to sub-morons.

    Our “elected public officials” are clumped together like gutless herd animals, gazing off at the far horizon, thinking up profound policy statements — while people from diseased households who haven’t washed their reusable shopping bag since the NPR pledge drive twelve years ago snap their bags open in the checkout lane of the hoity toity food store.

    COVER THE FRICKING “single use bag ban” and WHY in the age of coronavirus pandemics it is a mammoth policy flop and a TOTAL DISCREDITING of “environmental activists”.

    An aggressive “investigative journalist” would be shoving a microphone in the face of Dave Cortese or Sam Liccardo and demanding to know:

    “ARE REUSABLE SHOPPING BAGS SPREADING CORONAVIRUS”? !

    “WHY HAVEN’T YOU SHUT DOWN USE OF REUSABLE SHOPPING BAGS?”

      • > and religous dedication to public transit

        How would being crammed into a metal box with three hundred other legal and illegal human beings of dubious hygiene possibly lead to the spread of coronavirus as long as everyone stood six feet apart and didn’t cough into anyone’s face?

        I think you’re being a worry wort.

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