Silicon Valley’s health officer has no immediate plans to weaken its strict stay-at-home order in accordance with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s relaxation of the statewide mandate, saying she couldn’t take that step without increasing the risk to public safety.
The San Francisco Bay Area’s most populous county, Santa Clara County, was California’s original epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. And while levels of disease haven’t surged to catastrophic levels, they’ve remained steady, and even a small increase in disease transmission would heighten the risk to vulnerable communities, said Dr. Sara Cody, a key architect of the nation’s first regional shelter-in-place order.
“We’re not there yet,” Cody told the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
Cody said many people ask why Santa Clara County can’t start to weaken the stay-at-home order, taking actions Newsom has allowed, such as allow some retail businesses to open only for curbside pickup, which Los Angeles County implemented on Friday.
But Cody described Santa Clara County as being precariously balanced. The outbreak is steady — neither seeming to grow dramatically or reduce considerably. For every one person infected, that person on average infects one other person. If that number, known as the basic reproduction number, rose slightly to 1.1 or 1.2, that would cause a significant rise in deaths, Cody said.
Cody said she wanted to get that reproduction number to fall below 1 before easing stay-at-home orders.
“The conditions really haven’t changed in our county. … We don’t suddenly have a vaccine. We have exactly the same conditions we had in March,” Cody said. “If we did ease up, we would see a brisk return of cases, of hospitalizations, and a brisk return of deaths, to be quite blunt.”
Cody said she wants to reopen society for many reasons, “but we need to do so in a safe manner. So our goal, again, is to go slow, to make sure that it’s safe.”
The health officer pushed back against the idea that government officials must choose between public health and the economy.
“Trying to choose between health and the economy is really a false choice. Because unless we make our community safer, and reassure everyone that it really is safe, and they and their family members and customers are not at risk, I don’t think that we’re going to see the [economic] results that we like,” Cody said.
She also warned that the pandemic is disproportionately sickening and causing deaths among communities of color, particularly among Latinos in Santa Clara County. “The only tool that we have at this moment, to protect vulnerable communities, is to bring down community transmission across the board,” she said.
Cody’s comments come as California appears to be taking divergent paths in reopening.
Newsom on Tuesday said he would allow restaurants to reopen for dine-in service, as well as other limited types of businesses, like pet groomers and shopping centers for curbside pickup, in counties certified as meeting state benchmarks for addressing the pandemic. Butte and El Dorado counties in Northern California are the first two of California’s 58 counties to have met the state’s conditions for additional businesses to reopen.
Newsom expressed support for stricter measures pursued in large counties with a bigger coronavirus problem. For instance, Los Angeles County’s stay-at-home orders will “with all certainty” be extended for the next three months, the county’s director of public health, Barbara Ferrer, said Tuesday.
“The worst mistake we can make is to just throw those face coverings off and disabuse ourselves that this virus has gone away or taking the summer off or it’s on a deep sabbatical or vacation,” Newsom said. “It’s not. It’s still virulent. It’s still deeply, deeply deadly.”
Newsom said efforts at reopening society will become meaningless if the disease rapidly spreads and the public feels going out to eat and shop is life threatening. “None of this means anything if customers don’t feel safe. And none of this matters … if employees don’t feel safe and don’t want to come back to work,” Newsom said.
The San Francisco Bay Area has retained the state’s strictest stay-at-home orders, declining to relax the order as much as the governor has allowed. San Francisco is considering on Monday allowing some retail businesses, selling items like books, flowers, music, art supplies, toys and sewing equipment to open for curbside pickup.
Times staff writers Patrick McGreevy and Colleen Shalby contributed to this report.