How to Stay Safe as Silicon Valley Retail Cautiously Reopens

As California moves forward to Phase II of the state’s COVID-19 recovery, Santa Clara County extended its shelter-in-place order indefinitely and announced social-distancing protocols for businesses to reopen.

The latest order went into effect at the end of last week, continuing the ban on dine-in service at bars and restaurants and closure of barbers and beauty salons.

Retail establishments are now allowed to reopen, however, as long as they keep customers outside, offer curbside service only and post social distancing protocols about how they conform to county guidelines. The new precautionary measures are aimed at preventing the gathering of crowds and unnecessary person-to-person contact, as well as offering protections for employees and customers.

The order comes on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that counties that have met variance requirements and have received approval from the state may allow barbershops and hairdressers to open.

While some neighboring jurisdictions—in fact, 47 out of 58 California counties, including Santa Cruz—have met state criteria to apply for reopening, Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody has proceeded with more caution.

“The pace at which the state has made these modifications is concerning to me,” she told the county supervisors at their regular board meeting earlier this week.

Cody reminded the five-member Board of Supervisors that at least a full incubation period of two weeks—ideally 21 days—needs to pass for her to determine whether the county is safe enough to enter the next stage of reopening.

“The state modifications are being made without a real understanding of the consequences of what the last move has been,” Cody cautioned, “and with the possible serious effects for health and possible serious risks or an exponential growth in cases.”

The county health chief expressed the most alarm about Newsom’s decision to allow larger public gatherings, which Cody warned could overwhelm “our current ambitious and unprecedented effort” to test and trace the spread of the coronavirus.

Cody said she wants to get to the next stage as much as anyone—but only when it’s safe enough to take that measured risk. Dr. Cody, who oversees one of the nation’s first coronavirus hotspots, led the U.S. by imposing the first sweeping stay-home order to curb the spread of the virus. Since then, Los Angeles and some other SoCal counties have surpassed the case count in the South Bay, where the rate of new cases and COVID-19 deaths has slowed considerably in recent weeks.

“If our overall rate of transmission remains stable,” Cody assured, “we will be able to continue to ease our restrictions and safely reopen activities on a regular cadence with at least an incubation period between each phase.”

One of the concerns locally, at least, has been whether the county is spending enough on reaching that next stage of reopening.

According to emergency spending data released to this news outlet earlier this week, the county had only spent little more than $1 million on testing by May 19, even though robust testing is critical to protecting people as they get back to work.

Meanwhile, only 50 contact tracers out of a hoped-for 1,000 are on the job. That might owe to the county’s plan to rely on volunteers instead of paying some of the laid-off masses to do the epidemiological sleuthing.

Other Bay Area counties have outperformed the South Bay when it comes to contact tracing, inching ever closer to the 15 tracers-per-100,000 metric set by Gov. Newsom as a condition of easing public health restrictions. San Francisco surpassed the benchmark.

In Santa Clara County, however, there’s a long way to go.

In the meantime, customers venturing out to newly reopened businesses should be prepared for to make their own assessments about safety, local health officials say.

The guidelines are built around what is becoming a common incantation of epidemiologists: “Time, space, people, place.”

Time. Transactions with other people in public should last no more than a few seconds, to minimize risk. This is not the time to chit-chat with your bank teller.

Space. The 6-feet-apart rule still applies. Shoppers, who have already become pretty savvy to the idea, need to assess how businesses allow people to keep their distance.

People. Are employees respectful of risk management? Are they wearing masks? Health officials have consistently asserted that masks are most effective in protecting others, which means it is unwise to confront someone not wearing a mask. Interactions that involve a lot of speaking are likely to raise the risk of spreading the virus.

Place. Enclosed spaces without a lot of air flow are the most risky environment. This is an element that retail spaces have limited control over. Health watchers suggest that if a customer has to do business in a small, enclosed environment, even more attention should be paid to the other elements of safety.

The public can also look for signs that a business is complying with the county health order and safe practices: Are hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes readily available? Are employees behaving in a way consistent with safe practices?

The county’s latest social distancing protocol for reopened businesses are codifying many of these elements, mandating that establishments minimize the number of customers in their store at one time, for instance, as well as placing limits on amount of goods that can be sold to one person in order to avoid lines.

To read up on the current mandate, click here.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Gutless politicians sit on their hands while allowing an unelected Health Officer to continue to needlessly and recklessly destroy jobs and businesses. If Cody thinks Newsom, who has been one of the most gang ho lockdown Governors in the country, is moving too quickly in lifting restrictions, that tells you all need to know about Cody’s thought process and grasp of reality.

  2. > How to Stay Safe as Silicon Valley Retail Cautiously Reopens

    If “social distancing” does any good, than more social distancing is better than less.

    I suggest that County Health Regent Sara Cody modify the social distancing requirement for progressives to be 25 feet instead of 5 feet.

    Obviously, this would be a good thing because it would protect the lives and health of progressives MORE than it would protect the lives and health of Trump supporters, which is the way that the Democrat voting majority of Santa Clara County would want it anyway.

    And, if sixty percent of the population “distances” at 25 feet, there would be an overall improvement in community health.

    It’s science. Do the math.

  3. A nurse at Good Sam reported a mother came to the hospital over the weekend for Gallbladder surgery. The young mother had to be at the hospital alone because of COVID-19. The hospital was in the process of considering staff layoffs and reported record vacancies in patient rooms. Nonetheless , the Gallbladder patient was placed in a room post op with a sick patient as other rooms remained open. A day later that sick patient tested positive for COVID-19. The young mother is now being forced to quarantine in a hotel due to the hospital’s reckless conduct. If this is happening in Silicon Valley with all of our education and resources, there is not much hope that staying 6 feet away from each other in the grocery store is going to be our county’s saving grace.

  4. since this started I’ve been trying to get a mental assessment of the Covid19 virus. according to the “news” we’ve had 100,000 deaths thus far. Of these, how many deaths came upon those already afflicted with fatal TB, cancer, pneumonia or such – and the Covid was something that just accelerated the inevitable? do we have numbers broken out for that?

    also every year we have 45- 65,000 deaths due to the flu – -and we have vaccines for that, right? so given the HUGE disruption to our society, economy and the heartless tearing out of people’s lives and livelihoods with the lockdown – – how can we truly assess the damage/cost ratios?

    and then ultimately these incredible life altering decisions affecting millions – are left to a few elected/appointed “officials” – as if that instills them with the wisdom of God. It’s like a herd of 100 cows and one has a cowbell around its neck and as it heads to the barn – the rest of the herd follows that one cow~ ~ ~ ~clang, clang ~ ~ ~ ~ ~clang, clang

  5. Cody, others like her, Newsom, Cuomo, etc. all suppress the number of people who die WITH
    COVID actually died OF COVID. Birx and the CDC have ordered that if a deceased person was diagnosed with COVID that must enlisted as a cause of death, even if the person really died of Stage 4 cancer, for instance. There is also a financial incentive—a hospital gets a larger reimbursement for a death listed as a COVID death.
    A study was recently release showing that 80% of the people on cruise ships who tested positive for COVID had NO symptoms. That alters all the data about the virulence of COVID. Also, the data have held steady that 98% of people who have tested positive for COVID have recovered with no medical intervention. They have just stayed home and successfully ridden it out. Those two data points make it clear that the percentage of people who have COVID who subsequently die is far lower than the “official” reported number.
    But Cody, Newsom, and their ilk don’t want us to know that, because if the public knew, they’d be at their doors with torches and pitchforks. The mainstream liberal media comply by knowingly suppressing all information that doesn’t fit the official narrative. So far, the only media outlet I have seen that reported the cruise ship study was Fox News.
    The political demagoguery spawned by COVID is unprecedented in US history.

  6. > As California moves forward to Phase II of the state’s COVID-19 recovery, Santa Clara County extended its shelter-in-place order indefinitely and announced social-distancing protocols for businesses to reopen.


    You mean, like, a year? Ten years? Ninety-nine years?

    Who said Sara Cody can do that?

    How do you get a job like Sara’s where you can just boss people around and order them to place themselves under house arrest.

    Isn’t there a Constitution? Or, civil rights? Or, habeas corpus, or something?

  7. > Santa Clara County extended its shelter-in-place order indefinitely

    Does “indefinitely” mean “until after the election””?

    Isn’t that “election meddling”?

    Does this mean that Trump supporters can’t go to a Trump rally?

    And Joe Biden supporters can’t go to a Joe Biden rally?

    Since no one seems to be much interested in going to a Joe Biden rally, this seems to be outrageously unfair treatment of Trump supporters.

    • > Can anyone sit on a beach or a bench with a burrito or will cops breathe down your neck?

      Shouldn’t be a problem as long as keep wearing your mask while you eat your burrito.

      Maybe you could use a straw or something.

      A paper straw, not a plastic straw.


  8. Jennifer, you indicated, ” Santa Clara County extended its shelter-in-place order indefinitely”. What does this mean?

    Are you saying that Dr. Cody does not plan to ever lift shelter-in-place, she has not disclosed her plan, or she just does not know this information at the moment?

  9. If you have a small business in San Jose then you are most likely done. Stop paying rent and hand the keys back to the Landlord.

    It’s over.

  10. Why hasn’t Dr. Cody banned valved masks, like they did in five other Bay Area counties on April 17? In the meantime, my advice to those reading this is, if you’re in the grocery store see someone wearing a valved mask, give them the same amount of space as you would give someone wearing no mask at all. Or, abandon your basket and immediately leave that store. Or, if you want to get the valved mask wearer’s attention, offer them a mask without a valve, for free. (You can get cellophane wrapped masks for $2 or less, near the cash register at most drug stores.)

    • It’s not about health but the government controlling your life. Small businesses are done in Santa Clara County.

    • > if you’re in the grocery store see someone wearing a valved mask, give them the same amount of space as you would give someone wearing no mask at all.

      Interesting idea!

      How much space SHOULD you give to a person in a grocery store NOT wearing a mask?

      Ten feet? Fifteen feet? Some number of feet? Whatever.

      Sara Cody should just go ahead and make that the NEW social distancing policy:

      — 6 feet from someone wearing a mask
      — 15 feet from someone NOT wearing a mask
      — 25 feet from a progressive, whether wearing a mask or not, just because they’re more fearful and easily triggered
      — 500 feet from a member of the Board of Supervisors, since they don’t want to be involved in or have anything to do with coronavirus or coronavirus healthcare policy.

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