With a surge in coronavirus cases approaching Silicon Valley’s peak numbers from July, local health officials today urged the public to step up prevention efforts by wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and staying home as much as possible.
Santa Clara County on Sunday reported 358 new Covid-19 diagnoses—a single-day case count second only to the record 385 tallied on July 15. Nearly all the new cases stemmed from test samples collected this past week, which coincided with what health officials called an alarming uptick in Covid-19 hospitalizations.
Calling the surge “a very worrisome sign,” especially heading into the holidays and flu season, county Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said it may require officials to impose greater restrictions—unless the trend reverses.
“It is not completely clear exactly what is driving the sharp surge that we’re seeing everywhere,” Cody told reporters, saying it might owe to heightened contact during Halloween or complacency from “pandemic fatigue.”
“But the key take-home message that I really want to get across is that what each of us do every day really matters,” Cody said. “And an increase in cases is both a risk for the health of our community as well as for the health of our economy.”
With colder weather pushing people inside where they’re at greater risk of spreading the virus, Cody said it’s urgent that people redouble efforts to slow the spread.
Though the county moved to a less-restrictive Orange Tier under the state’s reopening guidelines, that doesn’t mean people should let their guard down, Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez added.
“Everyone appreciates the additional options that come from being in a less-restrictive tier,” she said. “But we all need to be mindful that being in that tier doesn’t mean some activities do not come with certain risk, and that risk is greatly magnified if businesses and customers do not follow the rules in place to help keep them safe.”
Every business in the county must file a social distancing protocol, which the county makes available online for the public to view.
Of 1,658 complaints about public health violators fielded between the end of August and Oct. 26, the county’s pandemic enforcement team resolved 1,088 by bringing the subjects into compliance. About 80 businesses, however, have resisted outreach efforts, prompting the county to impose a combined $700,000 in penalties.
The highest-profile public health violator, netting more than $350,000 in fines, is the San Jose Calvary Chapel, which is battling the county in court. But officials say most of the complaints, by far, have involved the food-service industry because of the fact that patrons must remove their masks to eat.
To date, the county’s Business Engagement Team led by Environmental Health Director Michael Balliet, has made 10,000 educational visits, with a particular focus on parts of the South Bay hardest-hit by Covid—that is, Gilroy and San Jose’s East Side.
“Most businesses we contact are very interested in doing their part to keep themselves and the community healthy,” County Counsel James Williams said. “They readily accept their responsibility and operate accordingly. However, we cannot ignore those that operate in an unsafe manner. These are not optional guidelines; they are mandatory measures to protect our entire community.”
The steep upswing in Covid-19 infections plaguing Santa Clara County and the rest of the region comes as the nation surpasses the 10 million-case mark, sliding into what may become the worst chapter of the pandemic.
For the first time since Covid pushed the world into varying stages of lockdown, the U.S. is averaging upward of 10,000 cases a day. One in 441 Americans have tested positive for the virus in just the past week, with 29 states recording weekly case records.
Hospitalizations nationwide have doubled since mid-September, while deaths have resumed their upward trajectory.
The grim outlook prompted Bay Area health officials to issue recommendations for how to safely celebrate the upcoming holiday season. A joint advisory from Dr. Cody and her counterparts throughout the region directs the public to keep gatherings small, short and outdoors and to avoid all non-essential travel.
“When people who live in different houses or apartments are together at the same time in the same space, risk of Covid-19 spreading goes up, even when the people are relatives or friends,” Cody warned. “Please celebrate safely this year and protect yourself and your family by including masks, keeping a distance, and staying outdoors.”
The regional advisory coincides with a new study which showed how most Covid-19 infections stemmed from “superspreader” sites, such as full-service restaurants, gyms and cafes where people stayed in close quarters for long stretches of time.
Published today in the journal Nature, the research led by Stanford University computer scientist Jure Leskovec examined demographics, epidemiological estimates and anonymous cellphone data from 98 million people in 10 major metro area to calculate infection risks based on occupancy limitations.
“Based on all of this,” he explained in an interview with Stanford News Service, “we could predict the likelihood of new infections occurring at any given place or time.”
David Grusky, a Stanford sociology professor who co-authored the study, said the modeling offers new insights into the disproportionate spread of Covid-19 among certain groups. “Because the places that employ minority and low-income people are often smaller and more crowded, occupancy caps on reopened stores can lower the risks they face,” he told Stanford News. “We have a responsibility to build reopening plans that eliminate—or at least reduce—the disparities that current practices are creating.”