Santa Clara County improves to red tier
Movie theaters, gyms and restaurants reopened in Santa Clara County Wednesday, after county officials announced that the region was returning to California's less-restrictive red tier.
The announcement came amid declining COVID-19 cases in the county and a significant drop in hospitalizations, turning a corner on an explosive increase in cases over the winter. Santa Clara is one of seven counties to join the red tier on March 3.
The change means that indoor dining can resume for the first time since November, and gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to operate indoors at 10% capacity. Movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums are all allowed to open at 25% capacity.
Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said it's been just a few days shy of one year since she issued her first public health orders in March 2020, and that the county has since endured a "devastating" winter surge that claimed the lives of too many county residents. But with case counts down and vaccinations providing a clear path to recovery, she said the county was prepared to ease public health restrictions.
"It's been an extraordinarily long year for everyone," she said. "We have and we will continue to do everything that we can to safeguard the health of everyone living and working in our county."
The last time Santa Clara County entered the red tier, many of the activities that were allowed under the state's framework remained banned in the county. Indoor dining, for example, was not allowed to resume until October.
That is not the case this time. Cody said the relaxed public health rules would be largely aligned with the state, though she cautioned residents against participating in risky activities.
"Please remember, just because the state's framework may allow an activity, that doesn't mean it's safe," she said.
What remains in place is the county's guidance that all activities should be moved outdoors whenever possible and that residents should keep wearing masks regardless of whether they're required. Residents also are asked to keep a safe social distance from people they do not live with and to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Illegal COVID-19 fees warning
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a warning to consumers Tuesday about some health care providers reportedly charging a COVID-19 fee that many people are not obligated to pay.
People enrolled in Medi-Cal, Denti-Cal and Medicare may not be charged this fee, which is purported to be for more frequent cleaning and disinfecting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Becerra asks that people who are charged a fee — and who are enrolled in Medi-Cal or Denti-Cal — to call 800-541-5555 to report it to the California Department of Health Care Services Medi-Cal Member and Provider Helpline.
Those enrolled in Medicare who are charged the fee should call Medicare at 800-MEDICARE to report it.
Becerra also urged anyone enrolled in any of those three programs who has been charged a COVID-19 fee to file a complaint online with his office at ?oag.ca.gov/report.
People with private insurance may be subject to the fee but have the right to ask providers why they are being charged such a fee and what it covers, as well as the right to ask insurers if the provider can charge the fee under insurance plan rules.
Becerra said those with private insurance should also alert the California Department of Managed Health Care at 888-466-2219 or visit its website at dmhc.ca.gov/fileacomplaint.aspx, or contact the California Department of Insurance at isurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/101-help/ or at 800-927-4357.
Patients enrolled in Tricare may not be charged a COVID-19 fee by in-network providers. It may only be appropriate to charge the fee when the patient does not inform the provider ahead of time that they have Tricare, and when the provider sends a written notice about a COVID fee to the patient before an appointment. For more information, people can visit tricare.mil/ContactUs/ReportFraudAbuse.
Comprehensive COVID-19 coverage
View interactive charts tracking the spread of the coronavirus in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties online at paloaltoonline.atavist.com/tracking-the-coronavirus. Find a comprehensive collection of coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by The Almanac and its sister publications, Palo Alto Online, and the Mountain View Voice, at tinyurl.com/c19-Almanac.
CalMatters and Bay City News Service contributed to this report.
This story contains 779 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.