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Bay Area Eases Shelter-in-Place Restrictions

Coronavirus Journal: restrictions are easing across the region and state

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Bay Area health officials have eased some restrictions in the latest shelter-in-place order that's at curbing the coronavirus outbreak.

The new mandate — which applies to Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, plus the City of Berkeley — will allow construction, real estate transactions and certain outdoor businesses to resume as long as they comply with safety and social distancing protocols. 

The order went into effect May 4 and is set to last through May 31. 

Nurseries, landscapers, gardeners and childcare programs for essential workers where there are less than 12 children will all be able to operate under the new order. Other recreational outdoor activities and facilities that were previously barred — like skate parks — also can reopen as long as the activity doesn't involve shared equipment or physical contact.

Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said the latest order is designed to "preserve the progress that we've made." She noted that on Feb. 4, Santa Clara County was an epicenter of the outbreak with two of 11 — or 18 percent — of the country's confirmed cases of Covid-19. Six weeks later, the county accounts for less than 5 percent of cases in the state and an even smaller fraction of the more than 1 million cases in the U.S. 

While the county is moving toward loosening restrictions, Cody warned that, "if we move too fast to ease restrictions, the potential for exponential spread could have grave impacts to the health and wellness of our residents, as well as to our economy." Bay Area health officials also have created a list of indicators to measure the progress of the containment of the coronavirus and make decisions about easing restrictions in the near future. 

The indicators include:

If the total number of cases is flat or decreasing.

If the number of hospitalizations is flat or decreasing.

If there is adequate hospital capacity to meet the need of the county's nearly 2 million residents.

If there is an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for health care workers.

If the county is conducing widespread testing, especially in vulnerable populations or those working in high-risk fields.

If health officials have the ability and capacity to conduct contact tracing, isolate new cases and quarantine individuals who might have been exposed.

"We don't have a date we can go back to our normal lives," Dr. Cody said. "What I can tell you is given the fact that we don't have a vaccine — a vaccine is a very long way off — given the fact that we know that our population in large is at risk, we are going to have protections in place for a very, very long time."


Hayward to give $500 to residents who lack unemployment

Hayward residents who are not able to access unemployment benefits can apply for a $500 grant from the city's relief fund.

The Hayward City Council approved the grants Tuesday night as part of a $400,000 total allocation to the Hayward Community Relief Fund, which was formed recently to aid residents and small businesses left increasingly vulnerable by the sudden economic downtown precipitated by Covid-19.

Hayward councilmembers voted to approve an allocation from the fund of $350,000 for the $500 grants, which will be administered by La Familia, a non-profit located in Hayward.

The Hayward City Council approved the grants as part of a $400,000 total allocation to the Hayward Community Relief Fund, which was formed recently to aid residents and small businesses left increasingly vulnerable by the sudden economic downtown precipitated by Covid-19.

The checks and pre-paid cash cards will be offered through an unspecified date or up to 1,200 applications, and awarded through a lottery system, the city said. Those unable to receive the cash grant during the first round of funding will be placed on a waiting list.

San Francisco-based Stupski Foundation donated $300,000 to the Hayward Community Relief Fund earlier this month. In addition, East Bay Community Energy added $126,500, along with a number of small donors.

Another $40,000 will be administered by the Hayward Rotary Club to help small businesses in the city, and $10,000 will fortify supplies for the Covid-19 testing center at Cal State East Bay that is supported by the Hayward Fire Department.


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Reagent Shortage Hinders Widespread Testing

Health officials uniformly list widespread testing for Covid-19 as an indicator to whether it's safe to start opening back up. But a global shortage of reagents is holding back efforts to ramp up diagnosis.

Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith broke the news at a recent Health and Hospital Subcommittee that the public health department has the capacity to analyze about 340 tests a day. About a month ago, the capacity was at no more than 100.

In the coming weeks, Smith said county health officials want to increase testing capacity to 1,300 a day. But they've hit a road block getting there.

"We're having problems with getting reagent," Smith explained. "We're hopeful that within the next two to three weeks we'll get sufficient reagent."

Reagents are the chemicals used to extract the RNA that's necessary to identify a virus. But a widespread shortage of the key testing ingredient for Covid-19 has made it more difficult to implement wide-spread testing in cities across the world.

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to boost the number of Covid-19 tests conducted in the state to 60,000 to 80,000 per day.


In Other Virus News ...

More than 4 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in California since mid-March, the East Bay Times reported. In addition, more then $7 billion in claims have been paid out. The U.S. gross domestic product dropped by 4.8 percent last month, the Associated Press reported. Unemployment numbers due next week could reach 20 percent, it warned. ... Meanwhile, massive layoffs hit the Bay Area tech sector: Lyft is laying off 982 employees and will furlough 288, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In addition, e-cigarette maker Juul is eliminating up to 950 jobs, TechCrunch reported. ... And when Bay Area hospitals canceled scheduled operations and procedures due to an expected influx of Covid-19 patients that did not materialize, hospitals were forced to layoff workers, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. ...

After topping out at more than 2,300 Covid-19 cases in California last Wednesday, the number has significantly decreased since, the East Bay Times reported. But how many people contracted the virus in the Bay Area and how many recovered, may never be known, the Chronicle noted. The number of Covid-19 patients in Intensive Care Units in the Bay Area has dropped by 30 percent in recent weeks, the Chronicle reported. That came as the number of confirmed cases statewide has increased. ... Alameda County's Sheriffs Department said last week that none of the 35 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin have been hospitalized. ...

University of California Chancellor Janet Napolitano said the system lost $600 million in revenues in March, mostly due to refunds for student housing and dining, and U.C. hospitals, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The U.C. system is unlikely to begin the fall semester on time, Napolitanto added, and will consist of online and in-person classes. $$

This may be a harbinger of things to come for many state and local ballot measures. A statewide initiative to increase the amount of damages in malpractice lawsuits is pulling back its efforts because of uncertainty about the November elections due to Covid-19, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Locally, Alameda expressed similar concerns about potential charter amendments for the November ballot. $$

Oakland Assmeblymember Rob Bonta's marquee legislation for this year, the "Green New Deal," appears to have been upended by Covid-19, Capital Public Radio reported. However, parts of the social equity and environmental package will move ahead.

An Alameda County judge ordered the release Derick Almena, the Ghost Ship defendant awaiting a re-trial for 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, because of possible exposure of Covid-19, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down beaches in Orange County, in what could be a warning to sunbathers across the state, SFGate reported. Scenes of packed beaches last weekend alarmed public health officials leading to early reports that Newsom was leaning toward closing all public beaches in the state. But the governor subsequently opened two Southern California beaches after presented with detailed plans for how to avoid overcrowding. ...

The City of Alameda begins a pilot program starting Thursday to encourage pedestrian and bike use by closing two streets to vehicle traffic. They are Pacific Avenue from Grand Street to Oak Street; Versailles Avenue from Central Avebue to Fernside Boulevard. ... Lyft is offering a 30-day membership to essential workers that allows free access to its bicycles and ebikes. ... Tesla now says it will not reopen its Fremont factory this week after the county's shelter in place was extended through May. ...

The Alameda County Community Food Bank on Monday will begin receiving 4,000 pounds of strawberries and 7,000 broccoli crowns as part of pilot program with UnitedAg member farms. ... San Leandro provided $15,000 in funding to nine food pantries in the city. ... Alameda County is looking to negotiate for the use of hotels in Hayward, Newark, Pleasanton, and Livermore to house the homeless. ...

Rep. Ro Khanna will add the "Essential Workers Bill of Rights" he authored with Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the next Covid-19 relief package. ... The state Legislature is due back in session this month, but some legislators in the Assembly are reticent about returning due to health concerns over Covid-19, in particular, for some older members, Politico reported. ...

It wasn't $100 bills strewn all over Interstate 880 on Thursday afternoon, but the next best thing these days. A man dumped boxes of medical masks on the freeway near the Whipple Road exit on northbound 880, SFGate reported. Some people risked their lives and stopped to pick up a few.

What is up with a few planning commissioners in the East Bay? An Antioch planning commissioner could be removed from his seat Friday for a social media post saying Covid-19 should be allowed to clear out the weak, the East Bay Times reported. Last week, a Vallejo planning commissioner threw his cat and took a swig of alcohol during a virtual meeting, and later resigned, ABC7 reported.

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