By Barry Holtzclaw and Juan Reyes
Santa Clara County Public Health officials this week announced a mandatory three-week ban on public gatherings of 1,000 or more people in response to the accelerating spread of COVID-19 cases locally and throughout the state.
And while local school district officials had a brief coronavirus scare when it was learned that an employee at a school dance venue last weekend had been exposed to the virus, there are no plans to close any campuses in Morgan Hill.
“We have no confirmed cases within the Morgan Hill Unified School District of COVID-19,” said Lanae Bays, spokeswoman for MHUSD.
According to the school district’s website (www.mhusd.org/covid-19), the county’s public health department showed that no known pupils or community members within the district were infected with COVID-19. Other authorities, including the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, have not recommended any school closures.
However, the school district announced it suspended all school dance events as of now.
One of the schools within the district held a dance on Feb. 28 at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose. Later it was discovered that a museum worker may have been exposed to the virus and is awaiting test results.
Bays said the museum worker is not confirmed to have been exposed to or have COVID-19.
“And they were also not confirmed to have interacted with our students at all during the dance,” Bays said.
As a precautionary measure, the school last week received a deep cleaning of high touch surfaces such as desks, light switches and door handles.
“That was just purely precautionary,” she said.
The deep cleaning was done after news broke out about the museum worker. The museum at 180 Woz Way will reopen Tuesday.
In Santa Clara County areas outside of the school district, there have been reports of 45 confirmed people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
On Monday, March 9, county officials announced the ban on public gatherings of 1,000-plus people, following earlier news that day that a 60-year-old female Santa Clara County resident died of COVID-19. The death is the state’s second death attributed to the disease. County officials said the local patient had been hospitalized for several weeks with the COVID-19 illness.
And in Washington on Monday, President Donald Trump and CDC officials reported that the U.S. total COVID-19 cases had grown to 423 as of March 9, with 19 deaths, across 35 states. Worldwide, the World Health Organization reported 109,577 confirmed (3,993 new) cases, with 3,809 deaths (225 new) in 104 countries on all populated continents, with more than 25 percent now outside of China.
The Santa Clara County order, signed by county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, said, “In light of significantly increasing rates of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County, the County’s Public Health Department is taking further steps to protect the health of our community.”
“This is a critical moment in the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County. The strong measures we are taking today are designed to slow the spread of disease,” Cody said.
“Today’s order and new recommendations will reduce the number of people who develop severe illness and will help prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed,” she continued. “This is critically important for anyone with healthcare needs, not just those most vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19.”
Cody briefed the county Board of Supervisors about the expanding new coronavirus contagion at the March 10 board meeting in San Jose.
The order requires cancelation of “mass gatherings” in the county, through March 31.
This order is “based on evidence of increasing transmission of COVID-19 within the county, scientific evidence regarding the most effective approaches to slow the transmission of communicable diseases generally and COVID-19 specifically, as well as best practices as currently known and available to protect vulnerable members of the public from avoidable risk of serious illness or death resulting from exposure to COVID-19.”
“The age, condition and health of a significant portion of the population of the county places it at risk for serious health complications, including death, from COVID-19,” the order warned.
Symptoms of COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019 and is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2, can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms.
But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms including pneumonia, which can be fatal.
MHUSD claims that Public Health assured them that children 18 years old or younger are considered “low risk” for virus exposure.
Some precautionary measures by MHUSD include that all assemblies and performances such as plays or talent shows be suspended unless there is access to hand wash stations.
The activity has to be moved outdoors or the spectators must be limited to a number where seating allows them to be present at more than an arm’s length from one another.
In athletics, the Central Coast Section is not issuing an advisory but the same rule of limiting spectators in school events also applies.
Finally, school open house sessions will continue as scheduled but not without some modifications. The schools are encouraged to not have parents assemble indoors for introductions, presentations or performances during open house.
Instead, the school principals will think of ways to alleviate congested classrooms and hallways.
The heightened public anxiety about COVID-19 in the South County was demonstrated over the weekend. A middle-aged Gilroy man identified March 7 by Mayor Roland Velasco as testing positive for COVID-19 was confirmed as testing negative for the disease the next day by the CDC and county health officials.
In light of the initial negative test result, a Gilroy fire crew that had been placed under medical surveillance following the possible exposure to this patient was released from surveillance, according to a city spokesperson.
For the purposes of the county mass-gathering ban, a “mass gathering” is defined as “any event or convening that brings together 1,000) or more persons in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, cafeteria, theater or any other confined indoor or confined outdoor space.”
The definition “does not include normal operations at airports, shopping malls and centers, or other spaces where 1,000 or more persons may be in transit. It also does not include typical office environments or retail or grocery stores where large numbers of people are present, but it is unusual for them to be within arm’s length of one another.”
The county Sheriff’s Office and individual police departments are charged with enforcing the order.