Santa Clara County ramps up spending of federal dollars

As of Dec. 17, Santa Clara County reported 52,414 confirmed coronavirus cases and 566 deaths. The county saw another massive spike — 1,201 new cases recorded in one day.

California had 1,723,362 positive cases and 21,860 deaths as of Dec. 16. However, health officials have warned recent figures have been underreported due to issues with the state database to input new test results.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an indefinite shelter in place order for the state but has eased some restrictions by allowing certain businesses to operate outdoors.

11:00 a.m. Dec. 18: Santa Clara County ramps up spending of federal dollars

Santa Clara County is racing to distribute $4.7 million of earmarked CARES Act funds to San Jose residents through its Isolation and Quarantine program before the end of the year. Those federal dollars threaten to expire if they go unused by Dec. 31.

The isolation program is designed to help low-income residents deal with the financial burden of quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. At the outset of the pandemic, Santa Clara County began paying for motel rooms for people who had nowhere else to safely isolate. 

As case numbers rose over the summer, the program expanded to include cash, rent and grocery assistance, among other services.

But Santa Clara County supervisors were concerned help wasn’t getting out fast enough. In the past couple of months, the county has beefed up the program by hiring 15 more full-time staff for a total of 31 full-time employees. Documentation requirements for income levels, landlord information and household size had been relaxed.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg is pictured in this file photo.

“Please know that my relentless push to make us make improvements to this program is not a criticism of the effort and commitment of (county) staff,” said Supervisor Susan Ellenberg. “We share the same goal of seeing as much support go out as quickly as possible to meet the tremendous need in our community, especially during the surge.”

Ellenberg said she’s interested in extending the program beyond the end of the year, when CARES Act funds expire, although no funding source has been identified. .

Over the course of the pandemic, the isolation and quarantine program has helped about 1,000 families obtain a motel room to quarantine. It has also provided services to help an additional 1,600 households quarantine at home. More than $1.2 million in rental assistance and cash payments have been distributed so far.

On Dec. 4, the county and San Jose agreed to partner and use $4.7 million in CARES Act funds together to help COVID-19 victims. That includes $1.7 million in financial aid and rent assistance. 

There are already more than 200 outstanding requests for aid from San Jose residents, according to County Executive Jeff Smith, and another 600 are expected over the next couple of weeks.

Residents directed to quarantine can call the county at (408) 808-7770 to access quarantine services.

3 p.m. Dec. 15: Santa Clara County reduces COVID-19 quarantine to 10 days for asymptomatic exposures

Under new guidance, quarantines in Santa Clara County are now 10 days for asymptomatic people exposed to COVID-19 or returning home from more than 150 miles of travel.

Health officials previously required people to quarantine for 14 days under the old rules.

“The reason for this change especially now amidst this surge we’re seeing – the largest surge we’ve ever had here in Santa Clara County – is that we constantly want to take into account all of the best science we have, and find the balance between the benefit to safety of quarantine and keeping people from getting sick, and the benefit of getting people back to work when it’s safe to do so or back to school when it’s safe to do so,” said Dr. Sarah Rudman, the county’s director of contact tracing.

County health officials said the revised rules will align with the California Public Health Department’s guidelines.

Rudman said asymptomatic people should take a test at least six days after exposure if they do not feel any symptoms and monitor themselves for illness at least 14 days.

If people take a test before day six of the quarantine, Rudman said they should take a second test toward the end of their quarantine.

Someone experiencing symptoms should take a test immediately and quarantine until they start to feel better.

4:30 p.m. Dec. 10: California’s new COVID-19 notification app goes live

Starting today, Californians will be able to see if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 from the palm of their hand.

On Dec. 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled “CA Notify,” a new app that will alert people statewide when they’ve been exposed to someone who has contracted COVID-19. The app — which uses Bluetooth technology for compatible iPhone and Android phones — will alert potential exposure to users without sharing location data or identities.

“This is not contact tracing; this is notification technology — it’s 100% private, 100% secure and 100% voluntary,” Newsom told reporters earlier this week. “You opt in. We value privacy.”

Prior to launching statewide, the app was piloted at the University of California, San Diego, beginning on Sept. 23, and University of California, San Francisco, on Sept. 30. The program was expanded to the other seven University of California campuses in mid-November.

“We had about three weeks to really pull the whole thing together,” Nicole May, project director at UC San Diego Health, told San José Spotlight.

Apple and Google were looking to utilize technology called EN Express, which allows states to readily pull this app together and distribute to residents.

“We had all of the public health and social distancing aspects in place, but also wanted to add this piece of technology so that we could have another layer of protection for the students,” May said.

May estimated that 30% to 50% of the campus population signed up for the pilot program, despite some wonky aspects including multiple steps to sign up.

“It’s very simple to use,” May said. “It’s just a much easier experience, which is kind of all because we troubleshooted the app back in September.”

To enable the app on iPhone, go to your phone’s settings, and scroll down to exposure notifications. Turn on exposure notifications, and select California from the menu options. For Android, download it from the Google Play store. For technical help, call (888) 421-9457.

2 p.m. Dec. 1: Bank of America provides more than 200,000 masks to underserved communities 

One of the best ways to prevent COVID-19’s spread is by wearing a mask, and Bank of America is ensuring that nonprofits across Silicon Valley are prepared.

As of Nov. 30, Bank of America has partnered with 14 nonprofits in the area to provide 206,000 masks and 250 cases of hand sanitizer bottles, part of a nationwide effort to distribute more than 15 million masks in connection with $1 billion, four-year commitment.

Silicon Valley market president Raquel González told San José Spotlight that the efforts showcase Bank of America’s dedication to the health and safety of their employees, clients and communities. Bank of America has also contributed nearly $3 million in virus relief grants to local nonprofits.

Since March, Bank of America has provided PPE to Samaritan House, African American Community Service Agency, People Assisting the Homeless, Gardner Health Services, Sacred Heart, LifeMoves, School of Arts & Culture, Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, StarVista, Health Trust, SOMOS Mayfair, Valley Medical Center and Sunnyvale Community Services.

Stefanie Bruggeman, director of corporate partnerships of Life Moves, told San José Spotlight her organization received 12,000 surgical masks in September. The organization has used 6,000 masks per month since the pandemic began and has seen a 20% increase in its shelters.

Communications Director LaDonn R. DuBois of Catholic Charities Santa Clara County said her organization needed 100,000 masks within the first two weeks of the pandemic for staff, volunteers and clients, and Bank of America was ready to help.

“They have been pivotal in (our PPE),” DuBois said.

Both organizations hope to continue increasing their PPE supplies, and hope that Silicon Valley donors will use Giving Tuesday to drive forward those donations.

3 p.m. Nov. 30: 49ers and SJSU look for stadiums following Santa Clara County sports ban

As Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 directives ban contact sports through at least Dec. 21, Bay Area football teams — both professional and collegiate — are looking for options to continue their seasons.

Santa Clara County announced the ban on Nov. 28, with Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody sharing the news as health officials tallied 760 new COVID-19 cases within a 24-hour period. With the new health order, all contact sports were temporarily prohibited for three weeks.

“We are in the midst of a severe surge. I want you to know that we don’t take these measures lightly. These are extraordinarily painful and difficult decisions,” Cody said.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan on Sunday expressed disappointment in the county’s decision after the team’s 23-20 win against the Los Angeles Rams.

“For us to be heading out here yesterday, and the relationship we have with them … to find that out while we’re getting on a plane and no one to tell us, it’s just extremely disappointing,” he said.

The 49ers announced Monday the team will play its next two games in Arizona.

The announcement led to an uptick in responses on Twitter under the tag “Santa Clara,” with 6,427 tweets at trending throughout the state.

While the move to Arizona eliminates the limitations for the team, COVID-19 case numbers there are also on an upward trajectory. As of Nov. 30, Maricopa County averaged 48.6 COVID-19 cases per 100,000; Santa Clara County averaged 26.8.

The 49ers aren’t the only team making tough decisions in the middle of the season. The ban also affects college football, namely the San Jose State University Spartans.

The team arrived in Boise on Nov. 27 to play the Boise State Broncos the following day; the Mountain West Conference canceled the game on Nov. 28 with no plans to reschedule.

San Jose State University Athletics Director Marie Tuite said while the last two home games cannot be played at CEFCU Stadium in San Jose, the team aims to find a location that would work for their games against University of Hawaii on Dec. 5 and University of Nevada, Reno on Dec. 11.

“We will make decisions on team practices and when and where our contests are being played in conjunction with university administration and the Mountain West,” Tuite said.

11:30 a.m. Nov. 25: Santa Clara County hospitalizations rise to alarming levels before Thanksgiving

Hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases are surging in Santa Clara County.

County officials said 213 people are hospitalized for COVID-19, including a record-high 45 new hospitalizations on Nov. 25.

“We do not want to be in a place where we see the kinds of challenges in our hospitals that unfortunately some communities elsewhere in the United States and around the world have had to deal with,” County Counsel James Williams said during a briefing.

COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said health officials expect cases to continue rising this week.

“We are really, really concerned,” Fenstersheib said. “All of the metrics that we have been following that have done well in previous months have gone up very steeply.”

Fenstersheib said COVID-19 case rates are higher than ever, saying the county tallied a record 512 cases in just one day on Nov. 25.

During July, amid a previous surge, the highest case rate the county recorded was 385 cases in a single day.

The county is increasing business compliance staff, adding environmental health inspectors and fire department staff, to check that stores are maintaining reduced capacity rates indoors while open for Thanksgiving weekend shopping.

Businesses will face immediate fines — with no grace period — if found in violation of the county’s COVID-19 health order from Nov. 26 to Nov. 29.

Additionally, restaurants and nonessential retailers must follow the state’s curfew, county officials said.

4 p.m. Nov. 23: Newsom says state will distribute vaccines with or without federal funding

In quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19, Gov. Gavin Newsom slammed the federal government and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for providing only $28 million to fund vaccine distribution in California.

“$28 million is simply inadequate,” Newsom said. “The second round of funding needs to be substantially greater.”

The state has earmarked $16 million of the federal funding for vaccine distribution planning, which includes $6 million for distribution staff and $10 million to local health care providers.

Health care workers will be first on the list to access vaccines in the first phase of distribution, Newsom said, but Pfizer and Moderna will send their vaccines to health care providers and not the state government.

But the state government is working to purchase 16 ultra-low-temperature freezers, 11 transport containers and 61 smaller freezers to distribute statewide.

To pay for it all, Newsom said he’s prioritizing money for vaccines in the state budget that he will submit to the Legislature in January and drawing as much money as possible from federal stimulus funding.

However, the governor said whether or not California receives enough federal funding to distribute vaccines, the state will not allow any delays as the executive branch of the federal government transitions to President-elect Joe Biden.

“We’re not waiting for anything. We’ll be creative. We’ll find the resources,” Newsom said. “We obviously need more support from the federal government, particularly as we get into phase two and three.”

California had a 51.3% increase in its COVID-19 case rate from Nov. 1 to Nov. 7, more than 20% higher than a spike in June, according to state COVID-19 data.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services, said the state’s case rate has not peaked yet and is still on the rise.

“This doesn’t necessarily tell us where this will end,” Ghaly said. “Some states across the nation have seen this double in just a week.”

Ghaly said the rise in cases is tied to a variety of reasons.

“There is no single culprit,” Ghaly said. “It’s a combination of factors, certainly the colder weather, more mixing, which comes with more opening, not just of places indoors and places where you can mask, but places that are indoors that don’t have an easy time masking the whole time. And, of course, greater travel.”

Everyday activities are now higher risk, Ghaly said, and people must minimize social interactions to avoid COVID-19 infections.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a curfew for purple-tier counties, in which all non-essential businesses and gatherings must stop from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Nov. 21 and ending Dec. 21.

People can still go to the grocery store, walk their dogs and buy takeout during the hours of the curfew, Ghaly said.

He added that health officials are trying to avoid further restrictions.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Twitter a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for counties in the most restrictive purple reopening tier, which includes Santa Clara County. The curfew will take effect Nov. 21 through Dec. 21.

“Together — we can flatten the curve again,” Newsom said in the tweet.

All nonessential work and gatherings in purple-tier counties must stop from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., Newsom said.

Santa Clara County, like dozens of others across California, is experiencing a spike in its COVID-19 case rate that shifted the county to most restrictive purple tier for reopening on Nov. 17.

Case rates are surging statewide and 41 counties with 94% of California’s population have regressed to the purple tier.

People need to avoid gathering with others outside of their household to prevent COVID-19 transmission, county representatives said during a news briefing Nov. 18.

“Right now as we continue to move into the holiday season, we know that we as humans like to connect with others, we like to be and interact with one another,” county spokesperson Ricardo Romero-Morales said. “If we want to continue to do that next year this is the year where we have to protect each other.”

For Thanksgiving and other holidays, families should celebrate with members of their own household.

If families choose to meet with members outside of their household despite the county’s recommendations, Romero-Morales said that the gatherings should take place outside, require masks and social distancing and be limited to three households.

Although the county is asking essential workers to get tested for COVID-19 at least once a month, Romero-Morales said it is not a preventative measure against COVID-19 infections while traveling.

“We just want to remind people that testing is not a ticket for you to travel since we don’t know the people you’re going to be interacting with at your destination,” Romero-Morales said. “In the timeframe that you got tested from the point that you received your result you might be in contact with other people that you don’t know their status.”

The Santa Clara County Office of Education will offer free routine testing to its staff, according to a news release.

“While we have adopted regular behaviors and practices that minimize the spread of this disease, as of yesterday, we have moved back into Purple or Widespread Tier as defined in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which is a sign that we still need to remain vigilant,” said Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan in a news release. “Implementing the safety measures, like routine testing for staff, is necessary for the gradual reopening of schools to in-person instruction within the coming months, and it demonstrates our dedication to providing staff and students with a safe and healthy learning environment.”

Santa Clara County district staff will also have access to free routine testing from the office of education.

The office of education said the routine testing can reduce the spread of COVID-19 by identifying asymptomatic people carrying coronavirus and provide a more accurate picture of positive cases in the county.

The county is testing more than 9,000 people per day for COVID-19 and plans to increase testing capacity in response to the spiked case rate reported in mid-November, said County Testing Officer Marty Fenstersheib.

The highest testing positivity rates – the percentage of all COVID-19 tests reported positive – are in East San Jose and Gilroy, according to county data.

San José Spotlight recently published a series highlighting the areas in San Jose with the highest COVID-19 cases per capita, including the East San Jose and downtown ZIP codes of 95122, 95113 and 95116.

“East Side positivity rates has been have been fairly stable during October,” Fenstersheib said. “But now, as we’ve said before, it has been increasing. We are moving from around 3.5%, which I reported last time, to now nearly 6%. South County is also seeing an increase in positivity reported 2.5% at the last report, and now nearly 5%.”

The Santa Clara County Fairgrounds offers COVID-19 tests. File photo.

Fenstersheib said the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds will increase its COVID-19 testing capacity from 2,500 to 3,000 tests per day and private health care providers such as Stanford Health Care and Kaiser Permanente have also increased their testing.

By mid-December, the county plans to increase testing at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds to 5,000 tests per day.

Fenstersheib said despite the testing increases, the surge in the county’s case rate plunged it into the state’s most restrictive purple reopening tier.

“We know that testing has previously enabled us to be adjusted out of a more restrictive to a less restrictive zone,” Fenstersheib said. “But because our rates are going up so quickly and are so high and the state average of testing is going up, we were not able to adjust our rate to allow us to move anywhere out of purple.”

Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 case rate briefly bottomed out in October, but within a week in mid-November county data showed numbers rising faster than previous surges, health officials said.

“The rate of rise has been steeper and faster than any other wave we’ve experienced either here or elsewhere in this state,” County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said.

Cody said she and other health officials predict increased hospitalizations and cases will result in more deaths.

The health officer added that case rates are disproportionately higher in East San Jose and Gilroy. Case rates are higher for Latinx and African American people in the county, Cody said.

The increased case rate is not a result of increased testing, Cody clarified, adding that it’s a “true increase in the incidence of this disease.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said case rates are increasing statewide and 41 counties with 94% of the state’s population are in the state’s purple reopening tier, which means counties have widespread COVID-19 transmissions and the most restrictions.

“The increase we’re seeing here is mirrored across the state and the region. We’re not an island so we have to workin collaboration with others,” Cody said. “The Bay Area in general had been able to keep the case rates lower andlonger than in other regions.”

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