Santa Clara County’s top health official laments ‘uncertainty,’ piecemeal reopening approach – The Mercury News

A fractured approach to reopening across the state and nation has created “much uncertainty” for Santa Clara County’s long-term coronavirus response, the top health official said Tuesday.

As the county reels from several weeks of reopening whiplash — and while cases and hospitalizations rise at a faster clip than ever before across California — the county’s path forward remains unclear without a unified regional response, Officer Dr. Sara Cody told the Board of Supervisors in an update.

“Given that in the United States we have not had a coordinated response, that will certainly extend the period for which we all need to be pivoting quickly between various strategies,” Cody said. “So I anticipate that our response is going to continue for many months.”

“Ideally what I’d love to see is a more regional or statewide response — that would help us tremendously since we’re all interconnected, but there’s much uncertainty ahead,” Cody added.

The comments came after a back-and-forth with the state that left residents, businesses and officials themselves baffled. In early July, the county applied for a variance to move ahead at a faster clip than the state and was first denied, then approved, within a three-day period. A week later, just as businesses celebrated reopening, the county was added to the state watch list again — prompting a fresh round of shutdowns.

While Bay Area counties once formed a united front to mandate shutdowns in the early days of the pandemic, they’ve since gone off on their own to create a patchwork of different rules that have left many confused and frustrated.

For its part, Santa Clara County — where officials weathered pointed criticism and threats for its slower reopening timeline — has managed to maintain a lower case rate than elsewhere in the Bay Area, Cody told supervisors Tuesday, even as local hospitalizations rise.

One hundred and sixty-seven people are hospitalized with coronavirus as of Tuesday, up from just 38 people in mid-June, according to county data. Hospitalizations have also become more widespread across all hospitals like Stanford and El Camino, said Dr. Ahmad Kamal of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center system. Valley Medical will renew planning efforts this week for a potential surge within the next two months.

“We remain concerned that if hospitalizations continue to increase, we may run out of capacity, so its very important that we redouble our efforts,” Kamal said.

Recent infections, meanwhile, are spreading the fastest among those under the age of 50 who then go on to pass COVID-19 to vulnerable populations, like elderly people, health officials said. Cases remain disproportionately clustered in eight zip codes in East San Jose and South County, with Latinx people making up about 44% of cases — and just 27% of the county’s population.

About 86% of the latest cases appear to stem from community transmission, meaning that it’s not clear where patients picked up the virus. As many Bay Area residents live and work across county borders, Cody praised Gov. Gavin Newsom for a recent shift toward a more “cohesive” approach with statewide orders to stop certain indoor activities and mandate online learning for many schools.

“Unfortunately I think we’re doing just about everything we can in Santa Clara County and our challenge going forward will be … a regional and statewide approach,” Cody said. “We will keep doing our part, and keep working to have others work alongside us.”

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