CORONAVIRUS

California County Health Officer Says State Is Reopening Too Soon

“The pace at which the state has made these modifications is concerning to me,” said Santa Clara County's top public health official.

The public health officer in one of California’s biggest counties warned this week that the state was relaxing reopening guidelines too quickly, heightening the risk of a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Santa Clara Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, whose county is home to Silicon Valley and was one of the first in the nation to institute a shelter-in-place order, voiced her concerns at a county Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday after California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that counties could allow protests and reopen places of worship, in-person retail and hair salons, with some capacity limitations. Hair salon reopenings are limited to 47 and the state’s 58 counties.

“The pace at which the state has made these modifications is concerning to me,” Cody said, noting that it takes anywhere from 14 to 21 days for officials to see whether previous steps toward reopening caused an uptick in COVID-19 cases. 

“The state modifications are being made without a real understanding of the consequences of what the last move has been,” risking “an exponential growth in cases, and therefore a risk to social and economic wellbeing,” she said. 

Dr. Sara Cody, director of the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department, is sounding the alarm on California's latest r
Dr. Sara Cody, director of the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department, is sounding the alarm on California's latest reopening guidelines.

Allowing counties to resume in-person worship and protests is “particularly concerning,” Cody said. Those gatherings are capped at 25% capacity with a maximum of 100 people, whichever is lower ― a much higher limit than New York’s 10-person and New Jersey’s 25-person limits, she noted. 

But health officials in other populous California counties have more confidence in the current plan, particularly since Newsom is allowing county leaders to impose stricter rules than his.

It’s “worth noting the Governor continues to reinforce local authority, recognizing the variation in disease activity across the state,” Neetu Balram, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Public Health Department, told HuffPost when reached for comment on Cody’s concerns. 

Alameda County, which includes Oakland, is seeing an increase in coronavirus cases after relaxing some rules on May 18, which Balram notes can probably be attributed to both increased social contact and increased testing. The county isn’t seeking to immediately reopen any of the businesses Newsom approved this week. 

“[W]e need to ensure we don’t let the rate escalate too quickly and overwhelm our healthcare system,” Balram said. “We are also closely monitoring the impacts seen in other jurisdictions that have loosened restrictions on earlier timelines.”

Sacramento County, home to the state capital, is among the 47 counties that are allowed to reopen hair salons, restaurant dining rooms and other higher-risk activities. Reached for comment on Cody’s concerns, Sacramento County health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye told HuffPost the county is “prepared to make adjustments as needed” as it evaluates the COVID-19 case load. 


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