'If we don't pause to see the impact, we're blind': Expert says CA's moving too quickly to reopen hair salons, explains Santa Clara's slow reopening

Santa Clara County's top public health official says she understands the economic and other frustrations residents are feeling throughout the prolonged shelter-in-place orders, but urges caution as the state reopens.
SANTA CLARA CO., Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Clara County's top public health official, Dr. Sara Cody, has a reputation for taking things slow. While the majority of California has moved into Phase 3 of reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, Santa Clara is one of 11 counties still lagging behind.

RELATED: These 11 CA counties are still not allowed to reopen hair salons, restaurants, schools

That means no hair salons, barbershops, churches, or in-store retailers have reopened in the county, and probably won't in the coming days.

"The pace at which the state has made these modifications is concerning to me," said Dr. Cody in a virtual Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. "We can't see the effects of any of these changes ... for at least 14 days of an incubation period. And 21 days is even better."

That incubation period is the key reason Santa Clara County is holding off on further reopening, Dr. Cody explained in an online community briefing Wednesday. If the county makes a modification, such as allowing for curbside retail pickup to resume, health officials are waiting a full two weeks to make sure we don't see a spike in new infections. If two weeks passes and case rates are stable, the county will gradually ease restrictions a bit more.

"We are going to suppress the levels of transmission to the lowest levels that we can with every ounce of our energy, and we're going to stay at it, we're going to go slow, and we're going to be safe, and we're going to protect the people who most need to be protected," said Dr. Cody.

RELATED: Gov. Newsom says guidelines for reopening California gyms, fitness centers coming in 'week or so'

But the state isn't following that slower, wait-and-see approach. Every week or so, Gov. Newsom has announced the reopening of new industries.

"The state modifications are being made without a real understanding of the consequences of what the last move has been," Dr. Cody said Tuesday.

"Yesterday's actions were particularly concerning," Dr. Cody said of the state's decision to allow for places of worship to resume in-person meetings at 25% capacity or with a maximum of 100 people, whichever number is smaller. That change hasn't taken effect in Santa Clara County (or much of the Bay Area), since there are stricter local guidelines in effect.

Dr. Cody said the modification to allow for somewhat large religious gatherings is particularly risky, as one infected person could rapidly infect other congregants and prompt a new outbreak.

RELATED: Here's what it will take to reopen the Bay Area

"COVID very much behaves like a fire in fire season. We have dry tinder everywhere and we do not want to have a large fire again," she said Wednesday. "We know that we are going to have little spot fires. ... But what we don't want is a fire burning out of control that we can't see. So that's why we're going to move slowly.

She adds, "If we don't pause to see the impact, we're blind."

VIDEO: Dr. Sara Cody explains slow approach to reopening Santa Clara County
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Santa Clara County's top public health official, Dr. Sara Cody, has a reputation for taking things slow. While the majority of California has moved into Phase 3 of reopening, Santa Clara is one of 11 counties still lagging behind.

Dr. Cody said she understands the economic and other frustrations Santa Clara County residents are feeling throughout the prolonged shelter-in-place orders.

"I live in this community. I too am exhausted. My family is tired of being at home. My kids are tired of being at home. We're all tired," she said. "I think what we're trying to do in our community is trying to find a path forward that is least harmful, that is most health protective. And it's a very difficult course to chart. We're doing our very, very, very best in a really, really tough time."

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"We know there's a lot of the virus in the community and we know that it's going to spread because people are relaxing shelter-in-place too fast," said county executive Jeff Smith.

On Wednesday, county officials echoed Dr. Cody's concerns while stressing the need for volunteers to help with the county's contact tracing program which can be done remotely. They say having a robust system in place could help the county reopen sooner.

"Here's what we're looking for: more testing, contact tracing, social distancing, wear your mask, wash your hands, don't touch your face. Let's just make sure we keep doing that here," said Cindy Chavez, president of the county board of supervisors.

A consequence of COVID-19 across the country has been a dramatic drop in emergency department utilization for heart attack and stroke. Visits for primary and preventive care have also gone down during the pandemic.

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"We get concerned that things are going to open so rapidly that people are going to forget paying attention to the essentials that kept us largely safe in Northern California from a big surge," said Dr. Robert Harrington, chairman of the department of medicine at Stanford University.

Dr. Harrington says Stanford Healthcare has implemented universal masking, social distancing, and extra hand washing stations throughout its facilities. The measures are meant to encourage people to come in for care now, which could help ease the system if another wave were to hit.

"We want to ensure you that we're creating a safe environment for you, for your family, and for us, as the clinicians working to take care of you," said Dr. Harrington.

Santa Clara County no longer holds the title for most known COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area. Alameda County recently surpassed them with 2,990 confirmed positives. Santa Clara County has 2,675 cases and 139 fatalities - still the highest death toll of the nine Bay Area counties.

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