Foothills Park renamed Foothills Nature Preserve, city to implement annual passes

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

The Palo Alto City Council tonight voted unanimously to rename Foothills Park to Foothills Nature Preserve, implement annual passes and set the attendance cap to 300 visitors at a time, although the city manager may increase the cap up to a maximum of 650 visitors. 

The council set annual passes at $50 for Palo Alto residents and $65 for non-residents, exempting veterans, low-income visitors, student drivers and disabled visitors from the fee. Visitors can purchase passes online and by phone starting Feb. 27. 

These changes join a host of modifications — such as the preserve’s new $6 vehicle entry fee — made by the city after opening the park to the public in December brought on an influx of visitors

There remain a few loose ends, including when the entry fee will go into effect. The implementation of the changes is up to the Parks and Recreation Commission, which will discuss further details at their meeting tomorrow, such as whether or not to charge an entry fee for pedestrians and cyclists.

COVID-19 Updates

Tuesday, Feb. 23: San Mateo County falls to red tier, Santa Clara poised to follow suit

San Mateo County has fallen to the red tier of coronavirus restrictions, effective tomorrow, Feb. 24. Santa Clara County — whose adjusted case rate, test positivity rate and health equity quartile qualify for the red tier — will make a similar drop if numbers hold for two consecutive weeks.

In the red tier, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms may open indoors with capacity limits. Schools currently ineligible for in-person instruction may begin to reopen five days into the red tier; specific reopening plans are left up to individual school districts.

Both the Mountain View–Los Altos and Palo Alto Unified school districts are slated to make optional in-person returns once permitted.

Travel beyond 120 miles from the home as well as “non-essential” travel continues to be strongly discouraged in the red tier. All outdoor sports competition is allowed irrespective of coronavirus tier.

A full list of allowed operation in the red tier, via San Mateo County:

  • Restaurants indoors (max 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer)
  • All retail indoors (max 50% capacity)
  • Shopping centers, swap meets indoors (max 50% capacity, closed common areas, reduced capacity food courts)
  • Personal care services — hair and nail salons, barbershops (open with modifications)
  • Museums, zoos and aquariums (max 25% capacity)
  • Places of worship (max 25% capacity)
  • Movie theaters indoors (max 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer)
  • Gyms and fitness centers indoors (max 10% capacity)
  • Family entertainment centers (kart racing, mini-golf, batting cages) outdoors only with modifications

Amusement parks, bars without meal service, bowling alleys, indoor playgrounds, live theater, saunas and steam rooms, nightclubs and festivals are not permitted.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Wednesday, Feb. 17: Santa Clara County to expand vaccine eligibility to Phase 1B

Effective Feb. 28, Santa Clara County will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination tiers, which includes workers in education and childcare; food and agriculture; and emergency services.

County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said at a press conference today that now is the “optimal time” to expand vaccination eligibility, asserting that the county has enough capacity to serve more residents; she noted that nearly half of the county’s 65-and-up bracket has now been vaccinated.

“As everyone knows, the more people we can get vaccinated, the better off we all are,” Cody said. “This is our best estimation of the optimal timing to make that transition.”

When asked for an estimation of when the county will hit the red tier of coronavirus restrictions, Cody contended that it’s “difficult to know,” noting a decline in case rates since the first week of January but also the emergence of new, more easily transmissible COVID-19 strains.

“Everyone, when you do become eligible, please get vaccinated,” Cody said. “We’ve made great progress — and we want it to continue.”

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Friday, Feb. 12: New CDC guidance recommends Santa Clara County schools open for full in-person instruction 

New national guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today recommends that Santa Clara County schools open for full in-person instruction, although state restrictions would prohibit that from happening until hitting the red tier of coronavirus transmission.

The centerpiece of the CDC’s guidance is a colored tier system — which is separate from California’s criteria — that provides recommendations for school reopenings according to cases rates in the surrounding community.

The CDC’s tiered system (via the CDC)

At the moment, Santa Clara County sits in the yellow tier of the CDC’s system with 21.7 new cases per day for every 100,000 in the population as well as a 4% test positivity rate.

The CDC recommends that schools in both the yellow and blue tiers open for full in-person instruction alongside sports and extracurricular activities; notably, guidance in those tiers suggests 6-foot social distancing “to the greatest extent possible,” as opposed to the “required” social distancing of the orange and red tiers. 

In all returns, the CDC recommends prioritizing in-person learning over extracurricular activities, including sports, citing social, emotional and mental health impacts.

California restrictions, however, prevent schools that had not offered in-person instruction for a full grade level prior to entering the purple tier in November from reopening until falling to the state’s red tier; that includes the Mountain View–Los Altos School District and Palo Alto Unified School District secondary schools, which both have plans to return in the red tier, although not for “full in-person instruction” as the CDC suggests.

Currently, Santa Clara County sits in the purple tier of the state’s system, needing to fall from 21.7 to 7 new daily cases per 100,000 in the population to qualify for the red tier.

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND TOMOKI CHIEN


Thursday, Feb. 4: County to vaccinate residents age 65 and up regardless of healthcare provider or insurance

Santa Clara County will now begin vaccinating all residents age 65 and up regardless of health care provider or insurance. 

This latest development comes after county officials just weeks ago expressed frustration with a “chaotic” distribution process, and as the county now approaches 1,500 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. Individuals over the age of 65 account for nearly 85% of the total deaths in the county, officials noted.

“We are willing and able to distribute the vaccines and we have the infrastructure,” said County Executive Officer Jeff Smith. “However, the big caveat is that we need to get enough vaccines, and the limiting factor is the manufacturing.”

The county is implementing a “no wrong door” approach that allows eligible residents to get vaccinated at any site, whether it be with a private partner such as the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, or a public site such as the recently opened vaccination center at the Mountain View community center. 

“We still have scarcity of this vaccine, we still have a limited supply, and frankly we still have a chaotic environment with changing state guidance almost daily,” said County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. 

Eligible residents can schedule an appointment at vax.sccgov.org.

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN AND GARV VIRGINKAR


Monday, Jan. 25: State lifts regional stay-at-home order

The California Department of Public Health has lifted stay-at-home orders across the state, following a rise in four-week ICU capacity projections above 15% in the three regions still under the order as of yesterday.

Counties will now revert back to the coronavirus tier system, in which restrictions are determined based on coronavirus cases and test positivity rates. A majority of Bay Area counties will continue to sit in the purple tier. 

The Bay Area’s ICU capacity is currently at 23.4%, with health officials noting that the four-week projection is also above the 15% threshold.

As during the stay-at-home order, non-essential businesses are still required to remain shuttered, while restaurants are able to open for outdoor dining only.

Hair salons, barber shops, retail stores, malls, outdoor museums, zoos and essential businesses may remain in operation with limited capacity.

Additionally, season one high school sports in the Santa Clara Valley Athletics League are now permitted to begin competition on Feb. 15.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND GARV VIRGINKAR


Friday, January 15: Through fractured distribution process, Santa Clara County officials blast vaccination protocol

County officials today expressed frustration with a scattered vaccine distribution process which gives the county limited oversight over distribution within its bounds.

Currently, all healthcare workers and residents over the age of 75 are eligible for vaccination. State guidance puts residents over age 65 in the eligible bracket, but as it stands, a majority of providers in the county do not have the resources to expand beyond the 75-and-up range.

The Kaiser Permanente system, however, is in fact vaccinating the age 65 bracket.

Further complicating matters, the CVS-Walgreens partnership — responsible for vaccinating older residents in long-term care facilities — receives doses directly from the federal government.

Multi-county entities like Kaiser and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation — which serve a vast majority of the county population — get their shipments through state allocation.

The county has no oversight over either distribution lane.

“We recognize we’re in an environment of changing federal and state information daily,” said County Counsel James Williams at a press conference. “It’s extraordinarily frustrating for us here locally.”

Williams bemoaned a “distracted” federal government, citing the Trump administration’s focus on bogus claims of election fraud, rather than the “raging” pandemic.

“We learned a few days ago that the federal government was going to release stockpiles of vaccines that were being held for second doses,” he said. “We learned this morning that no such stockpile exists.”

Just this week, Santa Clara County surpassed the 1,000 death mark, currently sitting at 1,028 cumulative deaths since the pandemic arrived a year ago. And, in the midst of the full force of the holiday surge, the county has logged a 10.8% test positivity rate over the past 14 days, spurring an ever-dwindling ICU capacity.

County residents are encouraged to visit sccfreevax.org for more information regarding vaccine eligibility and distribution. 

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Saturday, January 9: Bay Area stay-at-home order extended as region’s ICU capacity continues to fall

After failing to reach an ICU capacity of 15% or higher, the Bay Area region — Santa Clara County included — is now under an extended stay-at-home order, set to be reassessed once the region’s four-week ICU capacity projection hits the 15% threshold.

As of now, the Bay Area’s capacity sits at 3%.

“With the current surge of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations, the County expects to be under the restrictions of this State order for some time,” reads a press release from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

Statewide, 29,233 Californians have died from the coronavirus since it first landed in January; Santa Clara County accounts for 815 of those deaths.

Just yesterday, Jan. 8, the state saw 695 new deaths, 16 of which came from Santa Clara County.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Wednesday, December 30: Newsom proposes to provide schools with $450 per student for in-person instruction

Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a revised school reopening plan this morning, the centerpiece of which is a $2-billion grant from the state government in order to aid schools in their transition to in-person instruction. 

If approved in January, the funds will provide districts that open for in-person instruction $450 dollars per student; the state will give priority aid to schools with large numbers of low-income students or English learners. 

The state is targeting mid to late spring as the timeframe for students’ return. 

The governor cited recent studies showing that schools which have implemented standard safety procedures such as mask wearing and social distance do not act as superspreader events. 

Under the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions — which much of the state is still under — schools that had not begun in-person instruction prior to the purple shift are prohibited from reopening for in-person instruction.

Teachers will be given priority for vaccination, and all staff and students will be given and required to wear personal protective equipment. A public database tracking infections and positive tests within schools will be launched in the near future. 

Newsom maintains that the priority for reopening is still to bring younger students, mainly those in grades TK–2 into the classroom first, citing lower rates of depression and both social and emotional development; older students will be phased in through the spring.

“[In-person learning] is especially important for our youngest kids, those with disabilities, those with limited access to technology at home and those who have struggled more than most with distance learning,” Newsom said. 

STORY BY GARV VIRGINKAR


Monday, December 28: COVID-19 is the projected third leading cause of death in Santa Clara County

The sobering toll of the pandemic comes nearly a year after the county’s first coronavirus case.

Since the first confirmed coronavirus case in late January — with the first death following just days after — the county has seen a total of 65,288 positive cases and 652 deaths; that makes COVID-19 this year’s projected third leading cause of death in the county, behind only cancer and heart disease. 

A reminder of some the County’s coronavirus restrictions:

  1. “Social bubbles” are prohibited given the stay-at-home order, which bars gatherings with members of other households.
  2. Travel is highly discouraged, with a mandatory 10-day quarantine for travel 150 miles outside of County boundaries.

Despite warnings from public health officials and a restrictive stay-at-home order, hospitals have seen a surge in coronavirus cases through the holiday season — likely due to family gatherings and travel. The daily death toll has nearly doubled since before Thanksgiving, going from three to almost six deaths per day.

via Santa Clara County Public Health Dept.

“If you have plans to travel, go home and cancel them,” County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a press conference last Wednesday, December 23. “Cancel your travel plans. Celebrate over the phone, over social media, over Zoom. Cook a meal in your home and enjoy it with just the people in your home. It can save a life. It will save a life and it’s very important to do. … If we have a surge on top of a surge, we will definitely break. We cannot afford that.”

Only 39 available ICU beds remain in the county, with eight hospitals having fewer than five available beds and three hospitals having fewer than 10. Remaining ICU capacity in the Bay Area region sits at 9.5 percent, with a similar 9.5 percent test positivity rate over the last 14 days.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND GARV VIRGINKAR


Friday, December 4: Bay Area falls under stay-at-home order, effective Sunday

The shelter-in-place — announced jointly by health officers from the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara as well as the City of Berkeley — is set to go in place in Santa Clara County this Sunday, December 6.

Schools that have received waivers, critical infrastructure, retail at 20 percent capacity and restaurants with take-out and delivery may remain open. Businesses that will be temporarily closed include bars, wineries, personal services, hair salons and barbershops.

Bay Area health officers made the move despite not yet hitting the 15 percent ICU capacity threshold set by the State yesterday. This is the most aggressive action taken against the coronavirus since March.

Yesterday, Governor Gavin Newsom mandated stay-at-home orders for regions with ICU capacities under 15 percent; none of the five California regions have hit that threshold yet, but the vast majority of the state is expected to reach it in the next few days. 

Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody did note that the county’s ICU capacity is at 14 percent, but the region as a whole is still above the threshold.

The Bay Area region is projected to fall below 15 percent capacity by mid- to late December, but county health officers jointly agreed to put the order in effect preemptively, in an effort to stave off rising cases.

“We cannot wait until after we have driven off the cliff to pull the emergency brake,” Cody said. “We understand that the closures under the State order will have a profound impact on our local businesses. However, if we act quickly, we can both save lives and reduce the amount of time these restrictions have to stay in place, allowing businesses and activities to reopen sooner.” 

The order will remain in place until Monday, January 4.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Thursday, December 3: Governor Newsom announces stay-at-home order for regions with ICU capacity below 15 percent

Effective today, regions where ICU capacity falls below 15 percent will be subject to a three-week stay-at-home order; regions include the Bay Area, Northern California, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

via Office of the Governor

Under current trends, the State projects that the Bay Area will fall below the 15 percent threshold by mid- to late December and reach ICU capacity by early January. The other four regions are expected to fall below the threshold within the next few days.

Once under a stay-at-home order, schools that have received waivers, critical infrastructure, retail at 20 percent capacity and restaurants with take-out and delivery may remain open. Businesses that will be temporarily closed include bars, wineries, personal services, hair salons and barbershops.

The move today comes in an effort to protect against an anticipated rise of COVID-19 cases following the Thanksgiving weekend.

This is a temporary moment — this is not a permanent state,” Newsom said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. We are a few months away from truly seeing real progress with the vaccine … we do not anticipate having to do this once again but we really all need to step up.”

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Tuesday, December 1: CIF moves earliest start date to January, scraps season one regional and state championships

The California Interscholastic Federation announced today in a press release that the earliest start date for season one sports will be Friday, January 1.

Additionally, all season one state and regional competitions are canceled, and boys volleyball has been moved to season two. A modified season two calendar will be released in January.  

“By canceling regional and state championship events, more student-athletes will have the opportunity to participate in a longer season, rather than a truncated season with regional and state post-season play for a limited number of schools,” CIF’s press release reads.

The delay comes after Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement of tightened coronavirus restrictions on Monday, November 16, after which CIF announced that competition would be put on hold until further notice; today’s announcement solidifies that decision, giving coaches and athletes an earliest date of return.

“CIF is confident this decision is a necessary and reasonable action for our member schools, student-athletes, and school communities in light of the current statewide crisis,” CIF’s press release reads.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN AND OLIVIA HEWANG


Sunday, November 29: MVLA shutters sports cohorts

In emails to Mountain View–Los Altos School District coaches last night, athletic directors at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools announced the shutdown of all athletics cohorts until further notice; that decision comes following a rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in the county.

“Due to the increase of COVID cases in the county, we are postponing all athletic cohorts until further notice,” the email from Los Altos Athletic Director Michelle Noeth reads.

It is not immediately clear if the move is related to the County’s tightened restrictions set to go in effect tomorrow; at the time of publication, neither athletic director could be reached for comment.

“While we realize that these cohorts have been a great support to our students, at this time we feel that we need to be cautious when we return from Thanksgiving,” Noeth wrote, adding that the cohorts will not be reopened “until we hear differently from the County.”

The MVLA move follows decisions from Gunn and Paly, which shuttered their cohorts on Wednesday, November 18, after the county moved into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions; technically, existing cohorts are still allowed to train under the purple tier.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Saturday, November 28: Santa Clara County announces new COVID-19 restrictions, San Mateo County moves into purple tier

The revisions to the existing Santa Clara restrictions, effective at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, November 30, primarily include tighter limits on sports, business capacities and travel; the move comes as hospitals in the county risk running out of beds within the next few weeks. 

The Santa Clara order states that all recreational activities involving “physical contact or close proximity” to people from other households — namely, all contact sports — are prohibited. 

The order affects professional, collegiate and youth sports, including teams like the San Francisco 49ers.

It is not immediately clear how that restriction will affect existing California Interscholastic Federation guidelines for high school sports, which allow training in cohorts so long as athletes are able to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another.

“People can continue to engage in outdoor athletics and recreation where social distancing can be maintained at all times,” the order specifies.

Tighter restrictions on Santa Clara County businesses include a 10 percent capacity limit on indoor stores and “other facilities” open to the public, and a 25 percent capacity limit on grocery stores, drug stores and pharmacies.

The order further states that non-essential travel is “strongly discouraged,” and puts in place a new mandatory 14-day quarantine for persons traveling from more than 150 miles away from Santa Clara County upon their return. Healthcare workers traveling to treat patients are exempt from the quarantine period.

The restrictions will remain in place until Monday, December 21, unless further extended.

Just to the north, San Mateo County is rolling back into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions, effective tomorrow, putting in place a stay-at-home order between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. as well as a host of other restrictions almost identical to those already in Santa Clara. 

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Thursday, November 19: Santa Clara County under curfew starting Saturday

Santa Clara County is under a limited curfew starting at 10 p.m. on Saturday, November 21, in an effort to combat the increased spread of coronavirus. 

The order, issued by the California Public Health Department, mandates that all “non-essential” work, movement and gatherings cease between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in counties currently sitting in the purple tier.

The order, however, specifies that any number of persons from the same household are allowed to leave their residence during the restricted hours so long as “they do not engage in any interaction with” members of other households; presumably, that would make activities like walking, running or any other same-household outdoor activities acceptable. 

“Activities conducted during 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. are often non-essential and more likely related to social activities and gatherings that have a higher likelihood of leading to reduced …  likelihood to adhere to COVID-19 preventive measures,” the order, signed by the Acting State Public Health Officer Erica Pan reads. 

It is currently unclear how — if at all — law enforcement would compel residents to follow the order. In March, when the State originally went under a lockdown, officials specified that police departments would not enforce the shelter-in-place, and rather, would rely on “social pressure.” 

The curfew is set to end at 5 a.m on Monday, December 21.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Monday, November 16: CIF competition postponed until further notice: December return may be in jeopardy

All California Interscholastic Federation sports competition is postponed until further notice, following Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement of tighter coronavirus restrictions today. 

For now, high school sports practices in Santa Clara County will look largely the same as they have since August, with small cohorts allowed to train under a range of safety restrictions. However, all competition, as well as more relaxed guidelines — such as allowing more contact in sports like football — may be kicked down the road.

Season one sports were originally slated to return to official practice and competition early next month, but that return is in jeopardy following today’s announcement. 

“Competitions are not allowed until new guidance is provided,” CIF said in a statement today.

Along with other restrictions to businesses and schools, Newsom disclosed today that the State will not release further guidance for youth sports until coronavirus rates drop; he did not offer a timeline or a metric for that release.

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN


Monday, November 16: Santa Clara County has moved back into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions

Santa Clara County has moved back into the purple tier of coronavirus restrictions, indicating widespread transmission. Here’s what you need to know.

Schools that are currently open — such as elementary schools in LASD and PAUSD — will be allowed to continue in-person instruction. However, schools that have not yet begun an in-person return — such as PAUSD and MVLA high schools, as well as MVWSD schools — may not open until the county remains in the red tier for at least two weeks. Schools not yet open can apply for a waiver from the County Health Department to bring back grades TK–6.

Under the purple tier, restaurants will have to return to strictly takeout or outdoor dining models. Bars and breweries that do not serve meals will remain closed.

Other operations that will continue to be allowed to operate, some with modifications, include hair salons and barber shops, retail stores and malls, outdoor museums and zoos and essential businesses.

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND NATALIE WEI