SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) -- Once a local epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, Santa Clara County health officials announced Monday they were lifting the final order put into place to stem the tide of the deadly pandemic.
County health officer Dr. Sara Cody said the vaccination rate among county residents 12 years old and older has reached the pivotal milestone of 80 percent -- among the highest in a heavily populated area in the United States.
"We are here with some really great news," Cody told reporters at a morning news conference. "In light of the very high vaccination rates in our county, the low and stable rates of COVID, we are phasing out the last local health order that we've had here in Santa Clara County."
"We're excited that 80% of eligible people in the county received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine," said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, COVID-19 Vaccine Officer for the County of Santa Clara. "We're continuing to do critical outreach in communities that were hit hardest by the pandemic and have had barriers to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The county is taking vaccines into communities where people live."
More than 1.3 million Santa Clara County residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and over 71% have completed their vaccination.
It was quite a reversal from the conditions during the pandemic's darkest days. Hospital ICUs were filled nearly to capacity with patients, thousands of others were suffering from less serious infections. Since February 2020, there have been 119,682 confirmed COVID-19 cases within the county with 2,188 deaths.
"It (Santa Clara County currently) is a pretty safe place," Cody said.
She said now the county will focus on continuing to get local residents vaccinated, particularly within the ethic communities that were the hardest during the outbreak.
"Places where the vaccinated rates are not as high as they need to be," Cody said.
Monday's action was mostly symbolic since the final order targeted the workplace. By a 5-1 vote last week, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approved revised worksite pandemic rules, allowing fully vaccinated employees the same freedoms as when they are off the job, including ending most mask requirements.
Under the new work regulations, an employee is considered "fully vaccinated" if the employer has documentation reflecting that the employee has completed their COVID-19 vaccination series at least 14 days ago.
Local business owners said they were overjoyed the county lifted its last remaining public health order. They also expressed dismayed at still being in the unenviable position of having to ask employees about their vaccination status.
"The employer having to be the mask police is never a comfortable position to be in. Nor is it comfortable to be that employee who chooses not to be vaccinated for whatever reason and then to be singled out by having to wear a mask," says Mark Turner with the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce.
Cody, who was maskless for the first time at the news conference since the outbreak began, said she was thankful that she and other Bay Area public health officials had made the tough choices they did during the pandemic's darkest days.
"I feel very grateful today and I feel very hopeful today and that's because in Santa Clara County and the Bay Area region, our communities took COVID very seriously," she said. "People really stepped up when we asked them to shelter in their homes, socially distance, most people did. We have also had an amazing uptake of vaccinations. So those two things put us in really quite good shape here in Santa Clara County. I think our whole region is one of the safest in the U.S."
Nearly a week after the state's official reopening, many workers said they're ready to ditch their masks.
"Wearing a mask was a little bit of a virtue signal. A lot of my friends and colleagues were afraid not to wear a mask not because they felt unsafe but because they felt unsafe from judgement," said Elizabeth Haney who works in a high rise in downtown San Jose.
When asked about herd immunity given the county's high vaccination rate, Cody said: "Herd immunity in some ways is very localized. So there may be one community or neighborhood in our county where people are quite protected because even if you are unable to vaccinated most people who you do come in contact will be vaccinated."
"There are other communities in our county where that is not the case," Cody continued. "So people who are not vaccinated are not well protected as many of the people they will come into contact with are not vaccinated."
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