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Local governmental efforts

Santa Clara County Public Health and Sheriff Departments respond to COVID-19

April 10, 2020

M SNBC host Rachel Maddow read one of Santa Clara County’s press releases announcing a COVID-19 case, which she spoke about on “The Rachel Maddow Show” as being “admirably direct” and a model for how the coronavirus could be talked about in the nation.

For Health Department Public Information Officer Marianna Moles, who has been working in the  Santa Clara County COVID-19 Emergency Response group since late January with 11 to 12 hour workdays, this was an exciting moment.

“That was a huge compliment,” Moles said. “And when we heard that, as tired as we were, it was really cool and exciting to hear that she had called us out like that, because communications people often do not get public recognition like that.”

Moles describes that preventing the spread of COVID-19 involves a huge communication challenge with rapidly changing information. Initially, Santa Clara County began by prohibiting gatherings of 1000 people or more, then reduced the limit to 100. 

However, as health officer Sara Cody was looking at the data, she realized that more drastic action was required and she called all the Bay Area health officers together. They all agreed that ordering a shelter in place for a duration of time to slow the spread of the virus would be the right action. The order went into effect on March 17 and is scheduled until at least May 3.

The Santa Clara Public Health Department is also providing information on its website and social media channels, in addition to business and other community partners.

“[We want] to make sure that everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing and that they’re following the shelter in place order,” Moles said. “[The] Public Health [Department] is really positioned to help educate people about why shelter in place needs to be happening and why it’s important, and just how serious the spread of novel coronavirus is in our community.”

Different counties have their own jurisdictions as to how the shelter in place is enforced. However, violation of the order is a misdemeanor and is punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.

According to School Resource Officer Deputy Corey Chao, the Santa Clara County Sheriff Department is currently issuing warnings rather than citations — a notice to appear in court due to a minor offence — but he knows that other counties have issued citations for those who fail to comply with the order.

“You just kind of have to follow the rules of leaving the house because of essential purposes only: going to the doctor, getting food from the grocery store, getting gas, takeout food,” Chao said. “But it’s kind of difficult to even be out and about because everything is closed down now other than restaurants, supermarkets, grocery stores, hospitals and pharmacies … [But] you can go outside, you can walk and get exercise as long as you’re following the [rule of staying] six [feet away from] people.”

Santa Clara County is working to protect the health and safety of its people, while also trying to  ease the burden on the healthcare system.

“If I could put it into words, it’s gratifying, but it can also be very stressful,” Moles said. “It’s a new virus, so we don’t know as much about it as we would probably like to know, but we’re learning a lot still. We do know that it’s very serious, that it’s spreading. It has spread quickly across the globe. And so it’s exciting to be working in public health right now but it also can be overwhelming at times. But it’s really important work.”

Chao understands wanting to help the public. He has wanted to be a police officer since he was a young boy. He recalls seeing police officers on TV shows, admiring what they did and thinking it would be an exciting job.

“Ultimately, when I turned 23, the reason why I really wanted to become a police officer was because I’ve been here and living here all my life and I wanted to be able to give back to the community, help people out,” Chao said. “I [also] get to interact with a lot of people; I get to see a lot of different things that not everybody else gets to see.”

Moles feels that everybody in the Emergency Operations Center is dedicated and passionate about their work, and she is grateful to work with such a group during the COVID-19 response.

“I’ve seen this with my coworkers,” Moles said. “It’s a little bit of a personal passion. We’re really health minded. And I think anybody who works in public health and at the county, they have this need to serve the public in a different way than maybe you would in other sectors. So, for me, it’s about doing something for the community, and just making sure that people are informed with accurate information.”

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