'We were in trouble': Dr. Cody reflects on tough decisions during COVID-19, response to pandemic

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- One year ago Tuesday, Santa Clara County public health officer Dr. Sara Cody led her colleagues from across the Bay Area in issuing the first shelter-in-place order in the country. Critics initially blasted the move, but she says it has turned out to be one of the easiest choices she has made since the start of the pandemic.

"We had enough signals that we were in trouble and not enough tools to address it," said Dr. Cody. "The shelter-in-place was the one thing we knew we could do to protect people. I don't think we ever, ever imagined that we would be sheltering for as long as we did."

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ABC7 News sat down with Dr. Cody Tuesday afternoon as she offered some insight into what has been the most challenging year of her career. The pandemic response in the United States has mostly been a state by state, county by county process, and one that she says was troubled from the beginning due to the federal government's initial inability to handle the crisis.

"The public was getting very inconsistent messages," said Cody. "They were very, very mixed and the core things that we needed the federal government to do: scale testing, mass-produce personal protective equipment, get resources out to communities so that we had a way to make people whole when they needed to isolate or quarantine, they were all things that the federal government should do, and didn't."

Santa Clara County pressed on by issuing health orders that were unpopular with some but generally supported by the public. Dr. Cody also says she realized early on how fortunate she was to have the backing of the county administration.

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"Our department has had the support of the whole county, everyone in the county of Santa Clara is now a public health worker. Our priority is COVID, our priority is vaccination, and so that support, just to feel that support, has been phenomenal," said Dr. Cody.

As public health officer of the Bay Area's largest county, Dr. Cody has played an instrumental role in reaching out to some of the region's hardest-hit communities, including East San Jose, Gilroy, and Morgan Hill.

"There have been so many lessons, but one of them is that we're not an island," said Dr. Cody. "What we have tried to do correctively is to protect the public, to protect everyone's health and safety, and throughout, it's been a series of very difficult decisions with really unattractive options, but at the end of the day, we are not going to get our economy and our society back on its feet if the pandemic is raging."

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To illustrate the danger she continues to face, Dr. Cody and her family have dealt with multiple threats over the past year and remain under the protection of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. Despite it all, she's remains hopeful for the future.

"Things are beginning to ease as we get more people vaccinated. Our case numbers are coming down. To me, it feels like much of the economy is open. I desperately hope that our kids all get back in school, and see their teachers in-person. So, I hope that that sort of threat will subside," said Dr. Cody. "I really hope that everything we have learned from this pandemic we don't lose and that we have the fortitude to hold those lessons, and to ensure that we use them as we plan for the next pandemic."

Watch ABC7's full interview with Dr. Cody streaming now on the ABC7 Bay Area app through Roku, Fire Stick, Google TV, Apple TV and Android TV.


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