Santa Clara County Offers Closer Look at $97M in COVID Costs

Santa Clara County released the most detailed look yet at its pandemic-related spending.

In a memo issued Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors, county Finance Director Alan Minato said he identified 2,300 expenditures from at least seven different departments. All told, they amount to nearly $97.5 million budgeted as of May 19 to address the crisis.

Of the $28 million spent on payroll by that time, the vast majority—upward of $9 million—went to Valley Med. Another $6.5 million covered employees assigned to the Emergency Operations Center while $3 million went to the Public Health Department and $2.3 million to the Sheriff’s Office.

Source: Santa Clara County Department of Finance

Minato noted that payroll costs are “significantly understated,” and that the figures presented reflect the best estimates so far. “An effort is underway to account for further costs and work with departments to ensure that payroll is tracked appropriately,” he explained in the written summary.

Meanwhile, the county spent about $480,000 on clothing, helmets, goggles, masks and other equipment designed to shield frontline workers from disease. Additional personal protective gear came from the state at no cost to the county.

About $1.6 million has paid for motels, inns and hotels and $1.1 million on labs, testing sites and diagnostic equipment. Some $1.6 million went to contract nursing, $274,000 to daycare for essential workers, $182,000 to transporting patients and clients, $138,000 to consultants and $130,000 to janitorial services.

More than $2 million funded donations to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Destination: Home and an unnamed behavioral health organization.

Information technology gobbled up $3.5 million, medical and plastic supplies $351,000, renovations at DePaul Health Center $200,000 and meals $127,000.

Pharmaceutical costs veered up to $10 million.

Roughly $49 million is spoken for in yet-to-be-paid purchase orders.

The financial disclosures come three months after the county declared a state of emergency, which expanded the administration’s authority to fight the crisis, and weeks after the board allocated $175 million for COVID-related spending.

As weeks turned into months, however, demands for transparency began to escalate. They culminated with a referral by supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Dave Cortese for the county to create a public web portal showing exactly where the money went.

Their joint proposal—which directs the county to create the data hub “as quickly as possible”—won unanimous approval today from the five-member board.

Ellenberg and Cortese held up dashboards launched by St. Louis and New York City as models. The referral directs the county to publish a breakdown of all emergency expenses by date, type, vendor, department and eligibility for federal or state reimbursement.

They said the portal should also list how much the county spends on meeting the key benchmarks it must meet to ease shelter-in-place restrictions. Metrics such as hospital capacity, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and isolation and maintaining a month’s supply of protective equipment for healthcare workers.

In a statement emailed to San Jose Inside after the vote, Ellenberg applauded her cohorts for advancing the measure.

“With the enormous sacrifice our residents are being asked to make to fight the COVID virus, we owe them in return the greatest level of transparency in our effort to contain the virus and move us away from a shelter-in-place order,” she said. “Today’s approval ... is expected to present information in a manner that will be clear and easily digestible for the public. I look forward to seeing this dashboard online as soon as possible.”

In a phone call Tuesday evening, Cortese echoed his colleague.

“I think this is extremely important to maintain the confidence of the public, including by showing them what it’s costing, how much taxpayer money is being invested to address this crisis,” he told San Jose Inside during few-minute break from the board meeting.

Normally, the county’s emergency spending powers have a distinct end date. But the protracted nature of the pandemic presents new, ongoing challenges, County Executive Jeff Smith reminded the board today. “COVID is not going away any time soon,” he said, adding, “we have no immunization on the horizon, no specific treatment and no other approach that’s proven effective except shelter in place.”

Below is a transcript of Minato’s memo. 

Total County Costs and Encumbrances through May 19, 2020, Related to COVID-19 

Background: On May 12, 2020, the Board of Supervisors appropriated an initial $175,099,960 into a new COVID-19 fund in order to better track revenues and expenditures related to the county’s efforts in fighting the COVID-19 virus. During this meeting, Supervisor Ellenberg requested that staff return with an off-agenda report to the board with a breakout of costs by the following categories: EOC Personnel, Testing, Personal Protective Equipment, Specific Services related to COVID-19, and Housing Support.

Analysis: As of May 19, 2020, the county has expended $49,345,210 for COVID-19 related activities (payroll and services and supplies). Please note that this information (2,300 lines of cost information) was extracted from at least seven different county databases that collect financial information and was quickly analyzed and categorized by numerous finance agency and department staff members. The amounts presented have not been audited by the finance agency or department managers as there was limited time available before this report was due. As we move forward towards claiming relating to reimbursement, amounts will be thoroughly reviewed by supervisory staff as well as by a consulting firm with detailed knowledge of FEMA and CARES Act reimbursement requirements.

Please note that the $49,345,210 only accounts for those funds that have been expended, meaning that payment has been processed and sent to the vendor. This amount does not include encumbrances, which are commitments to pay. These encumbrances result from the time lag between time of purchase (e.g., contract and purchase order) and time of payment. Encumbrances for services and supplies amount to an additional $48,095,954 for a total cost as of May 19, 2020 of $97,441,164.

Payroll costs of $26,874,672 were tracked by coding recorded on individual employee time sheets and activity logs completed by staff assigned to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The county departments with significant costs include Valley Medical Center ($9,085,682) for treatment of COVID-19 patients, the EOC ($6,548,832), the Public Health Department ($2,963,199) for detection, training, outreach and oversight of the pandemic, and the Office of the Sheriff ($2,281,780) to mitigate risk and exposure of the virus to staff, contact tracing analysis and investigation of inmates and staff to COVID-19 exposure and to provide security services.

PPE costs of $480,119 include protective clothing, helmets, goggles, face masks or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer’s body from injury or infection. The significant amount of PPE provided to the county via the state mutual aid system is provided at no county cost.

Housing Support of $1,586,190 includes motels, inns and hotels.

Testing costs of $1,089,312 include labs, testing locations, testing equipment, checkpoint testing and nasal swabs.

Specific Services of $2,572,833 include many different contracts and services related to COVID-19. The top categories include $1,633,521 for medical staffing (mainly contract nursing), $273,907 for daycare provided to children of essential workers, $182,267 for transporting patients and clients, $137,786 for consulting services, and $129,198 for janitorial services at testing sites and other locations.

Medical costs of $9,926,700 consist mainly of medicine and drug costs.

Donations of $2,042,600 were for donations to Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Destination: Home, and a behavioral health community-based organization as approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Other costs of $4,772,784 are composed of about two dozen expense categories. It includes $3,544,711 for IT equipment and services, $351,453 for medical and plastic supplies, $201,293 from the County’s Facilities and Fleet department for renovations made to the DePaul Medical Center and interior modifications made to fleet vehicles, and $126,550 for meals and food provided to County clients and community members as well as to EOC staff.

Encumbrances of $48,095,954 are services and supplies that are in the purchase order stage. This means that the county has procured the items or services but has not yet expended funds on them. Because of this, the information is more difficult to access and will require review of detailed order information. The analysis of the encumbrances will be shared in a future report.

Please note that the finance agency believes that payroll cost amounts are significantly understated. An effort is underway to account for further costs and work with departments to ensure that payroll is tracked appropriately.

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


  1. It’s not the “protracted nature of the pandemic” that’s driving up costs, it’s the protracted nature of the ridiculous response to the pandemic.

  2. I would like to know what is the unnamed Behavioral Health Department. In this county, it is known these governmental employees spend more money in meetings and training preparation than the services they actually delivered. It is important to know how these two million were spent. People had a hard time receiving testing from county while their being highly infected. What are the services behavioral health was providing? Why is the department unnamed? We need details on this. I appreciate this information being made public. This should be the role to county budget not an exception. This is an important step to deterrent financial theft by talented white collar county employees.

  3. It is intertersting but not surprising to note that Supe Ellenberg requested that this report be given to the BOS “off-agenda”. No point in letting the taxpayers (your bosses, who you consider your vassals) see the report in advance of the board meeting to give them time to analyze and question the numbers at the meeting when it was released, right?
    The employee costs are suspect in many cases. There are few new employees noted, so, many if not most, were probably just shifted from doing other things. So, no new money was actually spent for them, just a reallocation of resources, such as the $26,874,672 “coded” to (existing staff)
    “(re) assigned” to the EOC. Most, if not all, of these folks were already employed by the county, doing other things. This is typical government fianancial sleight of hand.
    So, now much if not all those $26+million was spent on reassigned employees to work at EOC, which is not their regular job and for which they probably have little training, AND, they are not doing their regular jobs. I’ll bet Mr. Minato did not deduct all those salaries from the regular departments in which they worked.
    $274,000 for daycare for the children of “essential county workers”. HUH? All the essential workers in grocery stores, hardware stores, Home Depot, Costco, etc. have to pay for daycare out of their own pockets. Oh, I almost forgot, those folks are just vassals of the elite government employee class. So, who paid for child daycare for these “essential county employees” before COVID? Have the taxpayers been stuck with that bill all along, and this is just a reallocation to a different code?
    Why is the county donating $2 million of taxpayer money to NGO’s.If we wanted to fund them, that is our choice, not yours with our money; but the county confiscates our money and spends it on things they don’t tell us about.
    Then there’s is $48 million or so for “encumbrances”. That’s what the private sector calls accounts payable. And there is no specificity at all on that category, which is half of the entire amount left hidden from the taxpayers.
    I’m not going to dig into all of the other categories. That’s a job for an investigative reporter. So please Jenn, tell us all,that you are not going to leave it at just regurgitating Mr. Minato’s numbers and allocations of alleged COVID costs; but that you are going to don your investigative reporter’s hat and provide us with your findings fairly soon.
    So, we’re supposedly going to get a new dashboard. I hope it isn’t as deficient and misleading as the COVID medical dashboard, which leaves out all the important data that doesn’t conform to Dr. Cody’s narrative.
    Our encomomy is being destroyed, our Constitutional rights abrogated, all by thousands of tin pot demagogues called health directors, mayors, county supervisors, and governors across this once great republic, each with different fiats for their little fiefdoms. We are being turned into tribal Afghanistan.

  4. “Minato noted that payroll costs are “significantly understated,” and that the figures presented reflect the best estimates so far. “An effort is underway to account for further costs and work with departments to ensure that payroll is tracked appropriately,” he explained in the written summary.”

    Understated because Alan’s flunkies lack communication skills and can’t write a readable sentence.

  5. The County spent $10 million on pharmaceutical costs for Covid 19? How can this be, there is no cure yet for Covid 19 and presumably no prescription drugs. Sounds like some tricky accounting.

  6. Deficits mean future tax increases, pure and simple. Deficit spending should be viewed as a tax on future generations, and politicians who create deficits should be exposed as tax hikers. — Ron Paul

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