Santa Clara County to allow bigger gatherings; more businesses to reopen with new rules

Santa Clara County will allow various businesses to reopen and larger groups of people to gather starting later this month, officials said Thursday.

Beginning July 13th or when the state gives the thumbs-up, all businesses, except those explicitly listed as “high-risk” in the county’s new health order, may reopen with social distancing and mask requirements. Groups of up to 20 people may gather indoors, while groups of up to 60 may gather outside.

The potential changes acknowledge that the county has been sheltering in place for longer than expected, said Dr. Sara Cody, and hems around a “risk reduction” model rather than a blanket stay-at-home order.

“We’re at an inflection point,” Cody said. “It’s crystal clear that COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, so we need to adapt to a new way of living that keeps us all safe and allows us to do some of the things that we miss and cherish and find most meaningful.”

Businesses will be required to follow the same set of universal rules, including mandated reporting of any cases and more specific distancing requirements. Only one employee is allowed per 250 gross square feet, with one customer per 150 square feet of public space.

High-risk businesses that must remain closed include those that would inherently require removing a face covering such as indoor dining and swimming, smoking lounges, saunas, steam rooms, and heated exercise studios. Nightclubs, indoor bars, sports stadiums and arenas, amusement and theme parks, concert venues and indoor playgrounds must likewise remain closed.

“Except for those businesses or activities that are so problematic by their nature or the type of operation that they entail — except for those — all other activities and businesses are allowed to resume so long as they follow the protocols,” Deputy County Executive David Campos told this news organization.

Businesses that were allowed to resume operating prior to Thursday’s announcement will be required to submit new documents with social distancing protocols to the county on or before the effective date of the order to remain open.

Gatherings are meanwhile defined as any groupings of people from separate households — such as a religious service, a party or a conference — and are permitted only so long as social distancing is possible.

The county will apply for a variance with the state to allow the changes to go forth, but has also been on the state’s list for extra monitoring after a recent uptick in hospitalizations. When asked how the increase influenced her decision to issue a new health order, Cody said that hospitalizations went from “very low” to “low” — but that overall, cases per capita remain less alarming than across much of the surrounding region.

“We are acknowledging that there are parts of our lives that nourish us, that are important to us, that we want to do and we need to do,” she added.

County Counsel James Williams urged people to stay at home and follow social distancing protocols before the new rules take effect on July 13th or when the state approves the variance — whichever comes later.

“We want people to know — and that includes the 4th of July weekend — the current shelter-in-place remains in effect and unchanged,” Williams said.

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