Santa Clara Co. bans all mass gatherings through end of month, reports 1st COVID-19 related death

Santa Clara County's public health officer on Monday announced a legal order barring all mass gatherings through the end of the month in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) as the risk of community transmission appears to be increasing and as more widespread testing becomes available.  

As of Monday evening, with the addition of six new cases, there are 43 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara County. Dr. Sara Cody, the county's public health officer said 21 of these cases are not from travel and appear to be from community transmission. 

The legal order, impacting gatherings of 1,000 people or more, is enforceable by Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office and police departments. It goes into effect Wednesday, March 11 at 12 a.m. and lasts three weeks through the rest of March. The order is the first of its kind in the U.S. related to the coronavirus outbreak. 

"This is a big decision to issue an order such as this," Cody said at a Monday evening news conference. "“Today’s order and new recommendations will reduce the number of people who develop severe illness and will help prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. It’s time to issue the order."

Airports, grocery stores, retail shopping centers or other spaces where 1,000 or more people may be in transit are not included in the legal order. Neither are typical office environments. However, health officials urge businesses and employers to follow guidelines for increasing social distance as well as discouraging large gatherings of any type where people come into close contact to one another. 

Cody said there were no plans at this time for mass school closures in the county.

San Jose Sharks could continue to have games, but through the month of March, they would have to take place without spectators as seen with sporting events in other parts of the world.  

Earlier on Monday health officials confirmed the first death in the Bay Area tied from the coronavirus. 

The health department said the patient was a woman in her 60s who had been hospitalized for several weeks and was the third case reported in Santa Clara County. However, she was the first person in the county to have caught the virus without any known history of international travel or contact with an infected person, authorities said. 

The woman died at El Camino Hospital on Monday morning. 

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"This is a tragic development. The Public Health Department is taking necessary, carefully considered steps to slow down the spread of the disease and to protect those at greatest risk,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Health Officer for Santa Clara County. “We are facing a historic public health challenge and know this is a very difficult time. Our top priority continues to be protecting the health of our community.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo extended condolences to the woman's family after news of her passing. He said her death is, "more confirmation we need to redouble our efforts to test and prevent the spread."

Health experts said fatalities from the virus are expected, so people shouldn't panic. 

"I think we'll see a rise of cases, which is bound to happen. We have been expecting and preparing for that," said internal medicine specialist Dr. Runjhun Misra. "And yes, mortality will happen here and there, but that doesn't mean just because we've had our first mortality that what's yet to come."

Researchers at Stanford University announced last week that their coronavirus test was approved by the FDA. 

Experts have already begun testing people who are symptomatic and who've returned from an infectious area or came in close contact with someone who's already tested positive. 

The woman's death marks the second person in California to have died from the illness. On March 4, Placer County Public Health confirmed the death of a 71-year-old man who was likely exposed to the virus on board the Grand Princess cruise ship.