Santa Clara County Faces Shortage of Contact Tracers

Santa Clara County says it's in dire need of more people to volunteer to work as contact tracers as the county begins to lift its shelter-in-place order.

County officials announced last week that they wanted 1,000 unpaid volunteers to help track people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. But only 50 people have currently signed up, according to County Executive Dr. Jeffrey Smith. That's in addition to county staff who have been redeployed as tracers.

At a press conference Wednesday, Supervisor Cindy Chavez said that's enough contact tracers for the average 15 to 30 people who test positive for coronavirus in the county every day. But as health orders are relaxed and people begin to socialize, officials are looking to fill another 800 positions by mid-July.

Smith said contact tracers will not have to come into direct contact with potential patients; they can communicate by phone and over the internet.

Volunteer here.

— Shannon Lin

California Plans to Release 8,000 People in State Prisons by August

Roughly 8,000 people incarcerated in state prisons in California could be eligible for early release by the end of August, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Friday.

The decision comes amid a devastating COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison and other facilities, with Gov. Gavin Newsom facing mounting pressure from advocates, lawmakers and federal judges to quickly reduce the prison population to enable physical distancing and quarantine efforts. The move would be in addition to the 10,000 incarcerated people who have already been released from California prisons since the start of the pandemic, according to CDCR.

"These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff," CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said in a statement. “We aim to implement these decompression measures in a way that aligns both public health and public safety."


Since May, when a group of prisoners was transferred to San Quentin from the California Institution for Men in Chino, more than 1,600 people incarcerated in the Marin County prison have tested positive for the virus, and at least seven have died. Across California, nearly 6,000 people incarcerated in state prisons have contracted the virus.

Those eligible for early release must have 180 days or less to serve on their sentences and be considered low-risk of violence, in what Newsom promised would be a "very methodical process." They also cannot currently be serving time for any violent crime, including domestic violence, or for an offense that requires registration as a sex offender.

As many as 4,800 incarcerated people — of the 8,000 target — could be eligible for release by the end of July, CDCR said.

"This is a positive step to address the COVID-19 humanitarian disaster unfolding in our prison system, and I’m appreciative that the Governor and prison officials are taking this horrific situation seriously," said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, in a statement. "With that said, more work remains. California’s prisons were overcrowded and in urgent need of reduction before the pandemic, and that need is now even more acute."

— Matthew Green (@MGreenKQED)

Giants Star Catcher Buster Posey Out This Year Over Coronavirus Concerns

Giants star catcher Buster Posey became the latest big-name player to skip this season because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Announcing his decision Friday, the six-time All-Star said his family finalized the adoption of identical twin girls this week. The babies were born prematurely, and Posey said after consultations with his wife and doctor he decided to opt out of the season.

Posey had already missed three practices in San Francisco while dealing with a personal issue.

The 2012 NL MVP and three-time World Series champion joined a growing list of other Major League Baseball players who have decided not to take part in this year's curtailed 60-game season, including Dodgers pitcher David Price, Washington first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Colorado's Ian Desmond, Arizona pitcher Mike Leake.

Posey, 33, said it was difficult to miss an entire season but that this was the best decision for his family.

"These babies, being as fragile as they are for the next four months minimum, this wasn't ultimately that difficult a decision for me," he said.

Posey hit .455 in exhibition games this year before spring training was halted March 12 because of the virus outbreak.

The Major League Baseball season is scheduled to start on July 23, with two games set for opening day, including a match-up between the Giants and the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

— Josh Dubow, Associated Press

SF to Help Homeless People in Hotels Pay for Permanent Apartments

San Francisco leaders announced plans Thursday to move roughly 200 homeless people living in COVID-19 emergency hotels into vacant apartments, seeking to help permanently house them by the end of the year.

The decision comes as city officials fear a tide of homeless people hitting the streets after they have to leave the temporary hotel accommodations that the city made available at the start of the pandemic. About 1,800 homeless people are currently staying in hotels, according to city data, an arrangement that is planned to sunset at the end of the city's declared emergency.

Mayor London Breed announced the new strategy, called a "flex pool"—  a joint effort between the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and philanthropic partners, like the Tipping Point Community, Dignity Health and others, to house tenants for their first 18 months of rent with philanthropic funding.

Tenants will contribute 30% of their income toward their rent, and also would be provided supportive services to help them stay housed.

"Even as we have implemented emergency responses to COVID-19, we have remained focused on long term solutions to homelessness, particularly more housing," Breed said in a statement, calling the program an "innovative and cost-effective way to get our unhoused residents out of temporary shelters, off the streets, and into permanent homes."


In a separate statement, Breed's office said it may actually be less expensive to lease apartments for homeless people than to pay nightly hotel rates.

The Mayor's Office said it would "build on the effort" to help other homeless people in the future.

Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, criticized the plan to end rental subsidies after just 18 months as arbitrary and said it would lead to many people going right back onto the streets.

"The only time the subsidies should be over is when they make enough income to pay rent on their own," she said.

— Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez (@FitztheReporter)

SF Mayor London Breed Tests Negative for COVID-19

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Thursday she has tested negative for COVID-19.

The test results came after Breed announced on Wednesday that she would limit public appearances after attending an event where someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 was also in attendance.

Breed said she would take another COVID-19 test next week to confirm she's not infected with the coronavirus.


The mayor also said she would continue to follow the guidance of city health officials, and in a Twitter thread implored others to do the same.

"Obviously going to events when you know you're COVID-positive is reckless," she said. "Don't be selfish. No one is immune from COVID-19."

This post has been updated.

— David Marks

Sonoma County Expands Antibody Testing to Include Essential Workers 

Sonoma County officials have now expanded testing for COVID-19 antibodies to residents who are or have been essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. This includes grocery store workers, in-home support services caregivers, construction workers, utility workers and child care providers.

The county is adding essential workers to a list of others for whom antibody tests are available: first responders, police and fire personnel, and health care workers. The tests are also available to residents who tested positive for COVID-19 at least three weeks ago, and their close contacts.

The blood test identifies if COVID-19 antibodies are present in the body, and indicates that an individual was at some point infected with the virus. Testing positive for antibodies does not mean someone is immune to the coronavirus.

Those who fall into the above categories and wish to schedule an antibody test should call (707) 565-4667.

— Laura Klivans (@lauraklivans)


Napa County COVID-19 Spike Brings State Scrutiny, Business Closures

California health officials added Napa County to the state's COVID-19 watchlist on Wednesday, after the coronavirus' spread there increased its pace in recent days and forced the closure of bars, wineries and indoor dining.

Napa joined a list of 26 counties, including Contra Costa, Solano and Marin, that have been flagged for having increased disease transmission or a rise in hospitalizations over three consecutive days. The list has grown longer in recent weeks, as the spread of the virus continues to rise in California.

Under the state's "targeted engagement" program, the California Department of Public Health will work with hot spot counties to develop disease mitigation plans, and provide technical assistance.

"A number of these counties didn’t come kicking and screaming, in fact [they] reached out to us in anticipation that they were likely to enter onto the list," said Gov. Gavin Newsom, at a Wednesday press briefing. "We are very proactively working with them, and engaging them on making sure that we are all working together on the technical assistance and helping them support and prepare for the modifications in their counties."

In Napa County, modifications to the restaurant and retail sectors are already underway.


On Tuesday, the county announced it was ordering the closure of bars, along with indoor service at businesses including restaurants, wineries and movie theaters.

Those businesses must close by 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, and stay shuttered until at least July 30.

The rise in Napa County cases can be attributed to "family and community gatherings, increased community transmission, increased transmission among the Latino population within crowded household settings, and disproportionate impact on agricultural workers," according to the state Department of Public Health.

Increased COVID-19 transmission has led to a daily average of 122 new cases per 100,000 residents in Napa County over the past two weeks — above the state's target of 100 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents.

- Guy Marzorati (@GuyMarzorati)

Santa Clara Gets State OK to Continue Outdoor Dining Service

Santa Clara County received state approval Tuesday for a variance allowing some business sectors to reopen and restaurants to continue outdoor dining service.

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department worked closely with the state over the weekend after the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control gave notices to restaurants in Morgan Hill, Gilroy and San Jose to cease outdoor dining.

The notices left many city and county officials confused because they thought outdoor dining was allowed. The county Public Health Department submitted the variance application Monday night.

"The state's rapid response will save thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses at risk of permanently closing during this unprecedented health and economic crisis," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a news release. "This variance will allow more families to support themselves while businesses comply with strict safety guidelines — saving livelihoods and lives."

The approved variance application also means the new local health order announced by the Santa Clara County public health officer last week will go into effect on July 13.

The new order allows businesses to reopen if they can adhere to strict and consistent guidelines. The first guideline requires businesses to fill out the new version of the social distancing protocol through the county's online web portal before July 13.

The plan also sets capacity limits, requiring no more than one worker for every 250 square feet of space and no more than one customer for every 150 square feet of space open to the public. It also requires employers to report COVID-19 positive cases at work sites.

— Bay City News