Restaurants are now allowed max 25 percent capacity indoor dining

Photo by Marty Cheek Linda Clark, a resident of Wheeler Manor, receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot from a Gilroy firefighter at Gilroy Senior Center Feb. 17.

By Marty Cheek

Santa Clara County has met the requirements to move into the red tier of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, opening up businesses and more social activities effective Wednesday, March 3.

“We are pleased to see case counts declining, vaccination rates increasing, and a continued commitment by our residents to wearing masks, social distancing, and staying outdoors as much as possible when interacting with people outside their household,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health director. “This is a pivotal moment: if our community continues to be cautious and follow public health guidance, things will continue to improve. If people let down their guard and begin engaging in risky activities, we will likely see another surge in cases.”

Photo by Marty Cheek Linda Clark, a resident of Wheeler Manor, receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot from a Gilroy firefighter at Gilroy Senior Center Feb. 17.

The following changes are now effective in accordance with capacity limits and safety protocols set by the state:

Indoor dining at maximum 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer;

Retail stores at maximum 50 percent capacity;

Gyms and fitness centers at maximum 10 percent capacity;

Movie theaters at maximum 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer; and

Sector and activity-specific local directives will no longer be in effect as well as the directive on travel.

“Today we go back to the future,” said Morgan Hill City Councilmember John McKay in a Facebook post. “That future includes us dining indoors and sitting in a movie theater, which is starting to look a little like the future we all want and deserve … but there will be conditions. I don’t think our businesses and our mental well-being can survive another shut down. Please be safe and practice all of the safety protocols so we can continue moving in the right direction.”

Vaccinations for COVID-19 are now ramping up, helping the county and the rest of California to open up the economy and social activities as more people get inoculated. The county launched Feb. 28 a mobile vaccination clinic focused on frontline workers at Monterey Mushrooms in Morgan Hill, providing shots for about 1,000 farm workers. Workers receiving vaccinations will include employees of Monterey Mushrooms as well as other area farms.

“These workers are doing the most fundamental work, but have been incredibly vulnerable to COVID-19,” said United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero “Our collaboration with both the county and a motivated employer shows community vaccination programs must be a team effort.”

Under pop-up tents at the Gilroy Senior Center parking lot, the prick of a needle into the arm took less than a minute. At the mobile vaccination clinic Feb. 17, about 200 senior citizens gained a sense of relief after they received inoculation protection against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among them was Joanne Fierro. She is well aware the shots can be a matter of life and death for older residents who are at very high risk of severe illness if they catch COVID-19. The longtime Gilroy resident’s face beamed with joy when she finished the process of getting her inoculation along with Dolores and Leonard, a couple of her friends who accompanied her to the walk-in event.

“We came this morning and stood in line because we didn’t need an appointment and it went really fast,” she said.”

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department is partnering with various cities, including Gilroy and Morgan Hill, and local nonprofit organizations to provide the free vaccinations to seniors to make sure as many as possible are immunized.

To reach herd immunity, the county aims to vaccinate at least 85 percent of residents age 16 or older by Aug. 1. It is ensuring equitable access for those at greatest risk of serious illness and death and those at the greatest risk of exposure to COVID-19.

At the senior center’s mobile clinic, Gilroy City Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz described why it is important to provide a variety of locations for senior citizens to get a COVID-19 shot. Many lack the means or physical health to travel long distances to locations such as the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds or Levi’s Stadium where the vaccine has been distributed en masse in recent weeks.

“Latinos and seniors are the ones who are the hardest hit, the ones who are most likely to get infected and die of COVID-19,” Armendariz said. “So we have to go where they are.”

As of March 5, there have been 3,390 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Morgan Hill citizens, 7.7 percent of the population, and 49 have died from the disease. Gilroy has the highest cases per capita in the county, with 7,211 cases, or 13.2 percent of the population, and 90 deaths. The United States in early March has had more than 535,000 deaths.

Adding to the need to rush the roll-out of the vaccinations with senior citizens is the arrival and spread of more contagious strains of COVID-19, especially the South African variant. It is 50 percent more contagious than the original strain of the virus, which first appeared in the United States in January 2020.

“Based on the information we got from Dr. Cody, the vaccine should protect from that variant as well,” Armendariz said. “But the speed and the increased contagiousness of it is incredibly scary. So we have teams in Gilroy who are hitting the grounds.”

Claudia Rossi, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education and a registered nurse, has focused much of her time working with county public health employees on making sure senior citizens in the South Valley have easy access to the COVID-19 vaccinations. At the Gilroy Senior Center press conference, she expressed her mixed emotions on seeing the ramp-up of the inoculations for older residents.

“Gilroy has mourned many losses and it’s a wonderful thing to be among you to celebrate a day of joy and hope,” she said. “I think the message of today is that we are rebuilding together.”

Marty Cheek