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COVID Purple Tier: Santa Clara County New COVID Cases Soar Over 800; Returning Travelers Face Quarantine

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- As the flights landed at Norman Y. Mineta International Airport Monday, passengers were greeted by tough new COVID-19 restrictions including a 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving to Santa Clara County from a trip of more than 150 miles.

The travel quarantine went into effect at midnight and was among several measures taken by county officials to slow a surge of new cases that could possibly overwhelm local hospitals by mid-December.

"We are putting measures in place to protest our county and our health system," said Santa Clara County Health Director Sara Cody during a CNN interview Monday. "Hospitals are starting to feel the pinch. Beds are filling up."

But Cody admitted there wasn't a hard enforcement in place for the travel ban on returning Thanksgiving revelers. She said limiting local hotel availability to only essential travelers would help.

"We can't enforce every action," she said. "We are relying on the public to do what's best."

"We are feeling the impact of additional COVID patients," said Dr. Paul Silka, who heads up the Emergency Department at Regional Medical Center in San Jose, which is already treating 64 COVID-19 patients as of Monday.

Silka said they are "getting close" to the numbers they saw during the early days of the pandemic back in March and April. He expects to start seeing an influx of sick patients who contracted the coronavirus at a Thanksgiving get-together.

"We're concerned. We are prepared for a very dark winter," Silka told KPIX 5.

Doctors at Regional Medical said they learned some valuable lessons during that time which are helping this time around, from how to best treat patients to keep them off ventilators, to bringing in additional staff to give doctors and nurses a much needed break.

"They're getting fatigued," Silka said, "but we are doing our best to make sure that everybody's getting the rest they need in between their shifts and their days off."

Appearing on CNN earlier Monday, County Executive James Williams said there was 801 new cases in the county -- an increase over the 760 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Saturday.

Williams used a now common analogy of an out-of-control train to describe the situation in the county.

"We need to slow this train down right now," he said.

Those same sentiments were echoed by Cody at Saturday's news conference.

"This pandemic is like a high-speed train," she warned. "Our projections tell us that we are on target to derail by around the third week of December if we don't apply brakes right now with all our collective might."

The new health order that went into effect Monday include:

  • Stores and other facilities open to the public will be limited to 10% capacity indoors.
  • Grocery stores, drug stores, and pharmacies will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity indoors to ensure adequate access to food and medicine
  • All facilities open to the public must post employees at the door to make sure the capacity limits are maintained
  • Gatherings continue to be allowed only outdoors, with a maximum of 100 people. The state limits such gatherings to First Amendment protected activities, such as religious services or protests
  • All recreational activities that involve physical contact or close proximity to persons outside one's household, including all contact sports, will be temporarily prohibited
  • Cardrooms are temporarily closed
  • Hotels and other lodging facilities will be open only for essential travel and for use to facilitate isolation or quarantine
  • A new mandatory directive on travel will require people to quarantine for 14 days upon return to the county from travel of more than 150 miles

"Although the County has enforcement teams and will be standing up additional enforcement resources, we will necessarily rely on every individual to comply with our orders and protect the health of the community," said a spokesperson for the county Public Health Department. "Like all health orders, which are legal mandates, individuals are subject to fines for violation of the travel quarantine … We expect and hope that individuals will recognize the seriousness of this surge and do their part."

The county is also requiring transit facilities, including airports, bus and train depots, to provide passengers with a copy of the notice.

Neomia Millan, a student who arrived at Mineta San Jose International Airport Monday, was surprised to see the push alert appear on her phone shortly after landing this morning. She said quarantining will be easy for her, but might be challenging for her peers.

"Most younger folks tend to like to go out, and they don't like being at home by themselves, or just in the room," said Millan.

Traveler Bill Solomon, departing the Bay Area today, said the order would be difficult to enforce and was an unnecessary restriction on anyone who is negative for COVID-19.

"But if you've been tested, you know, you should be able to travel without the quarantine," said Solomon.

Los Gatos resident John Brandon said he would self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home from Southern California Monday, and had a message for anyone complaining about the health order.

"Suck it up," said Brandon.

The new measure that has received the most national attention has been the ban on contact sports for at least three weeks. That has forced the San Francisco 49ers to move their next two home games to Arizona.

"The San Francisco 49ers have come to an agreement with the National Football League and Arizona Cardinals which allows the 49ers to host their Weeks 13 and 14 home games against the Buffalo Bills and Washington Football Team at State Farm Stadium in Arizona," the team said in a short statement. "The Cardinals organization, State Farm Stadium and League officials have been supportive and accommodating as we work through the many logistical issues involved in relocating NFL games. Information regarding the 49ers future practice arrangements will be shared at the appropriate time."

When asked on CNN about the contact sports ban, Williams was quick to point out that every Santa Clara County resident is suffering during the pandemic.

"It's hard for the whole county," he said. "There is no family that has not been touched by the pandemic."

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said the team would deal with the health order, but was angered by the way the plan was announced. He heard about it from a Twitter post while traveling with the team to Los Angeles for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams.

"They made that decision and we've got to deal with it," Shanahan told reporters after his team defeated the Rams. "But to find that out through a tweet or a press conference where I have an entire plane coming up to me, I have all wives, everyone's girlfriends, everyone's family members, kids, saying that what they heard there. Are we going to be gone for the entire month of December? Are we going to be quarantined for 14 days when we get back? That's all we could talk about for the last 18 hours because we got no answers from them. I was just very disappointed."

Kiet Do and Katie Nielsen contributed to this report.

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