First to order COVID-19 lockdown, Santa Clara's Dr. Sara Cody reflects on pandemic

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ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
First to order COVID lockdown, Dr. Cody reflects on pandemic
She was the first in the nation to order a shelter-in-place. Here's what Dr. Sara Cody is focused on now that California is finally reopening.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KGO) -- While Californians celebrate the state's reopening, it's remarkable to look back at how far the state has come.

Fifteen months ago, Santa Clara County Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody, led the Bay Area in ordering a shelter-in-place - the first of its kind in the country.

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"We believe these actions are necessary to protect the well-being of our community during one of the most historic public health challenges of our time," said Dr. Cody on March 31, 2020.

Tuesday, Dr. Cody reflected back on the first months of the pandemic.

"We were having to move extremely fast and we were having to be front and center," which Cody explained was an unusual position to be in for a county health officer.

On January 31, 2020 Santa Clara County reported the first coronavirus case in the Bay Area. Months later Cody announced the first COVID-19 death in the U.S., which happened in February, 2020, was also in Santa Clara County.

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"In some ways I wasn't surprised at all. In fact, I was expecting that we would likely see some of the first cases," she said.

That's because Cody, an epidemiologist, was working at Santa Clara County's health department during the 2003 SARS outbreak, and knew travel patterns from Asia to the South Bay would bring coronavirus to the region.

On March 16, 2020 she set the pace for the pandemic response in the Bay Area and beyond, by ordering a shelter in place.

Kate Larsen: "What did that feel like, to be the person making that decision?"

Dr. Sara Cody: "Well, I have a pretty calm temperament, that was helpful. And I've never flown an airplane, but I imagine this must be a little it like what a pilot feels when an engine cuts out, or there's a lot of trouble, and you have to do your best. You have to make decisions quickly and you have to make them carefully, and you have to land the plane safely and so I think I was sort of in a mode like that."

When asked how she concluded a lockdown was the best course, Cody said it was a quick and measured decision.

"When I thought it through with my fellow health officers, we did understand that if we waited a few days we would have all the same social and economic harms and not nearly the benefit," she said. "In other words, if we're going to make the decision to act, we should just do it as fast as we could."

Kate Larsen: "Dr. Cody, as California reopens today, do you feel like you landed the plane safely?"

Dr. Sara Cody: "I do. I think it was a very, very, very bumpy landing. The interior of the plane is not as pristine as we like, but I think that we have made a safe landing."

Cody says she feels much safer now with Santa Clara County's high vaccination rates, but says, "we're not out of the woods yet." She plans to continue her work at Santa Clara County's Department of Public Health and encourage more people to get the COVID vaccinated.

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