San Mateo County Says More Closures Likely After Addition to COVID Monitoring List

A medical worker guides a car that is going through a coronavirus drive-thru test clinic at the San Mateo County Event Center on March 16, 2020, in San Mateo, California.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

After weeks of indecision, California health officials Wednesday added San Mateo to a watchlist of counties experiencing troubling coronavirus transmission.

If a county is on the watchlist for three days or longer, the state can order the shuttering of businesses while the county works with health officials to lower the numbers below watchlist thresholds.

The county "will be in involved in active engagement with the state while the case rate is closely monitored" over the next three days, the county said in an update.

But it acknowledged that health officials believe the case rate will not decrease in time to prevent more business closures and disruptions. The county advised gyms, salons, malls, places of worship and other businesses to prepare to operate outside or through customer pickup by Saturday morning.

Businesses like tattoo parlors that are not allowed to operate outside must temporarily close.

Schools in counties on the state’s monitoring list are not allowed to hold in-class instruction, though elementary schools can request a waiver from the county.

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More Coronavirus Cases

The state will add a county to the watchlist if it detects a surge in coronavirus cases or hospitalizations; if ICU bed and ventilator capacity are stretched too thin; or if not enough tests are given.

Currently, county data shows an average case rate of 110.4 per 100,000 people — higher than the state benchmark of 100.

"San Mateo County is experiencing an elevated case rate that exceeds the State threshold,” the California Department of Public Health explains on its  County Data Monitoring webpage. “The County sees roots of community transmission related to social gatherings without sufficient physical distancing and wearing of facial coverings, as well as higher exposure for residents performing work that involves person-to-person contact and crowded housing conditions that make home isolation difficult.”

The state is asking the county to expand testing and contact tracing, find more places for those infected with the coronavirus to quarantine away from their families, and prepare its hospital systems for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients.

San Mateo County, the last of nine Bay Area counties to escape monitoring status, has teetered on the edge of getting listed since mid-July, when monitoring of its coronavirus data registered a spike in cases.

 

Open ... For Now

Staying off the list has meant businesses like Physique Magnifique Fitness Training Academy can keep their doors open while those in watchlist counties have been forced to mostly shut down after a brief period of activity.

Physique Magnifique is operating with modifications. Staffers take the temperatures of members at the door, sanitize shoe bottoms, and wipe down the equipment once an hour, said Futaba Takashima, co-owner of the bodybuilding gym with her husband.

Over the past weeks, as the county’s numbers crossed over into the red zone, her anticipation mounted that the state would drop the hammer.

“We expect it,” Takashima said last week. "The first time we got shut down, we didn’t think it would go on for so long. But we were shut down for three-and-a-half-months, which was not good.”

Mike Callagy, county manager, said in a statement it's clear that COVID-19 is spreading in the Bay Area.

“It’s vital that we all do everything we can — wearing face coverings, washing our hands, and avoiding gatherings — to slow and eventually stop the spread," he said. "These individual actions can make a huge difference.”

Jon Brooks contributed to this report.