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Reopening: Santa Clara Superior Court Extends Zero Bail Until September

SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) -- With new COVID-19 cases on the rise again, Santa Clara County court officials announced Wednesday they were extending the zero bail requirements for residents accused of lower level crimes to at least until Sept. 1.

Earlier this month, the Judicial Council of California voted to end the zero bail policy it established which set presumptive bail at $0 for people accused of lower-level crimes to curb the spread of COVID-19 in jails and surrounding communities.

State court officials said counties could now determine for themselves if the policy needed to remain on place.

"The Judicial Council's action better reflects the current needs of our state, which has different health concerns and restrictions county-to-county based on the threat posed by COVID-19," said Justice Marsha Slough, a Judicial Council member and chair of the Executive and Planning Committee.

Santa Clara County Presiding Judge Deborah A. Ryan had issued an interim order last week keeping zero bail in place. Wednesday's announcement officially extended that order to at least Sept. 1.

"Today, COVID-19 is an ever-present concern to the people of Santa Clara County, the Court, the jails, and persons held in custody," Ryan said in a release. "During this unique time in our county's history, our Court has been charged with balancing the people's health and safety in Santa Clara County. This is not a responsibility that the Court takes lightly. As such, our Bench believes that it is necessary to monitor and assess the issue of bail before September to determine the best course of action going forward at that time."

Law enforcement officials have been critical of the order, claiming they are re-arresting habitual criminals over and over. They arrest the suspect one day, he or she is released on zero bail, and then they arrest them again in the ensuing weeks and the cycle begin again.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Santa Clara health officials told county supervisors they were carefully monitoring a 'worrisome' number of new cases among local residents.

Their warning came on a day when the state Department of Public Health recorded more than 5,000 new cases, putting the total number of positive cases at more than 183,000. The state has seen more than 5,500 deaths related to COVID-19.

The record-setting numbers and warnings come as more businesses reopen statewide, spurred by antsy residents weary over stay-at-home and social distancing orders. San Francisco, which was part of the Bay Area's strict order in mid-March, plans to allow outdoor bars, nail and hair salons and tattoo shops to open next week.

Health officers say they always expected case numbers to creep up as the economy reopens, but they worry the trend may be getting out of hand.

"The question of how we're doing as a nation is: We're not doing so well. How are we doing as a state? Not doing so well. How are we doing as a region? Not doing so well," said Santa Clara County Executive Dr. Jeffrey Smith.

Smith told the Santa Clara County Board Of Supervisors that one widely cited model projects 15,000 Californians could die by October 1.

Santa Clara County recorded the earliest known coronavirus-related death in the country in February and served as an early virus hot spot.

The stay-home order flattened the curve of new infections, said Dr. Sara Cody, the county's public health officer, but "worrisome" signs indicate the increase is accelerating.

She said the county recorded its second-highest number of new daily cases to the state Tuesday, with more cases cropping up at workplaces, including construction sites and food processing centers.

"We've said before that COVID-19 is like a wildfire. If you contain it when it's small you can keep it under control, but once COVID transmissions begin to accelerate, it is very, very difficult to contain and to slow down and I think that's what we're seeing in many parts of the country," she said.

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