SAN JOSÉ – After months of having some of the strictest COVID-19 closure rules in the state, Santa Clara County is abandoning its go-it-alone approach and moving closer to mainstream California, due to declining cases. of viruses and the increase in vaccines.
Public health officials said they are loosening restrictions on outdoor activities, including youth sports, as previously announced, starting Friday. And when the county moves to the state red level for the reopening, which is slated to happen Wednesday, they will allow the return of indoor meals and some gatherings, with capacity and distance limits.
The anticipated restart of indoor dining to 25 percent capacity was good news for Kostas Perakis, who runs the family-owned Tasso’s restaurant and bar on the Southwest Expressway in San Jose.
“We are going to open up and (return) to normal life. I love that, ”Perakis said Friday.
Like many restaurateurs, Perakis has been trying to stay afloat with takeout and some cookouts, but said spending on outdoor tents, heaters, and declining customer traffic still means business is slowing down. reduced by up to 70%. He added that there is no way to overstate the difference the indoor dining room makes for him.
“People like safety and they don’t like being outside in the cold,” he said.
The changes were announced amid broader implementation of vaccines, as well as declining case rates and hospitalizations. They also point to a shift with the county aligning closer to the state’s coronavirus guidelines: Critics have for months criticized county leaders and its health officer, Dr. Sara Cody, for implementing stricter rules than others. counties.
“Now that vaccines are reaching the community more widely, including more than half of those 65 and older, we are making significant progress in protecting the most vulnerable members of our community,” Cody said in a statement. “As things improve, it is still important that everyone continues to practice basic preventive measures: covering their faces, distancing themselves socially and being as active outdoors as possible.”
The county’s new guide to outdoor gatherings requires a person to wear a face cover only if they are within six feet of a person outside their home. Additionally, people can now sing in outdoor gatherings without covering their faces as long as they remain six feet away from others.
A statement from the county to this news organization added on Friday that officials “determined that the benefits of expanding permitted outdoor activities, where the risk of transmission is much lower, outweigh the risks.”
Most youth sports can also be resumed with the county repealing its rules in favor of state guidance issued late last week, which allows high-contact outdoor sports to be played in any county with a per-case rate. capita of less than 14 per 100,000. residents. Santa Clara County had announced Monday that it would follow the new state rules.
With 5,525 new cases reported Thursday, according to data compiled by this news organization, the California average for the past week fell to its lowest point since the first week of November, while the number of Californians hospitalized with COVID-19 fell. below 6,000 for the first time. time since before Thanksgiving.
Governor Gavin Newsom said at a news conference in Fresno on Friday that the state is now receiving about 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines each week from the Biden administration, and that as of Friday they had administered 8.24 million injections in California. .
He expects vaccination rates to continue to rise with advance approval of a Johnson and Johnson vaccine that represents a new flexibility in vaccines, given that it only consists of one injection (current vaccines require two doses spaced three to four weeks apart). and it does not need special refrigeration.
Still, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, continued to push diligence in light of the increase in the number of national cases in the past three days, which has made her suspicious of that progress in places like California may stagnate. if restrictions are eased and new, more contagious virus variants continue to spread.
“We may be done with the virus,” Walensky said at a news conference at the White House on Friday, “but clearly the virus is not done with us.”
Staff writers Evan Webeck, Laurence Miedema, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.