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Santa Clara County, the Site of the Country’s First Coronavirus Death, Reopens Sit-Down Dining

For now, only members of the same household are allowed to share a table

Dr. Sara Cody, Health Officer and Director County of Santa Clara Public Health Department, says that as of June 5, the region’s restaurants can open for outdoor dining.
Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Santa Clara County, the Bay Area county that officials say was the site of the country’s first known death due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19), will begin to allow outdoor, sit-down dining Friday. The move comes nearly three months after a region-wide shelter-in-place order meant that all restaurants were relegated to takeout-only service, and less than a week after the county’s top health officer criticized California Gov. Gavin Newsom for the speed with which the state is reopening for business.

According to the county’s revised shelter-in-place order, which takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, June 5, businesses with “outdoor dining at restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food” can resume service, “subject to limitations/social distancing.”

Those limitations can be read in full here, and require that tables be limited to only six people, that all those seated together must be members of the same household, and that tables must be placed at least six feet apart. “Members of separate households or living units are not allowed to dine at the same table,” the order specifically states, though it does not provide guidance on how restaurants should enforce that rule.

According to the county order, alcohol will only be allowed to be served to outdoor diners with food orders, but “may not be sold independently,” and “bar areas must remain closed to customers.” Entertainment events such as live music are prohibited in outdoor dining spaces, and restaurants that open for outdoor dining must also “offer curbside pickup, takeaway, and/or delivery service alternatives.”

The L.A. Times reports that Santa Clara County “has the seventh-highest number of coronavirus cases among the state’s 58 counties and the sixth-most deaths,” with 2,805 confirmed cases and 142 fatalities as of June 1. According to an April report from the New York Times, Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara’s Health Officer and Director of its Public Health Department, confirmed that 57-year-old San Jose resident Patricia Dowd, a senior manager at Fremont-based semiconductor company Lam Research, was the first person in the U.S. to die as a result of coronavirus.

It was Cody who led the Bay Area’s seven-county shelter-in-place order on March 16, the first such order in the country and — as characterized by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo — the “strongest directive” made by a region in the early days of the coronavirus crisis. It’s also Cody who just last week spoke critically of California’s reopening plan, saying Tuesday at a meeting of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors that “the state modifications are being made without a real understanding of what the consequences of what the last move has been,” and that “making changes too frequently leaves us blind.”

In a press release sent late Monday to announce the reopening, Cody took a slightly different tone, saying that “Public Health is about ensuring health in every sense of the word: from diseases like COVID-19, and from social and economic impacts on health too. For all those reasons, we have chosen to be measured in how and when we reopen.”

Outdoor dining also resumed in the Bay Area’s Marin county on Monday, June 1, for all “restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, brewpubs, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries and wineries that provided sit-down food service prior to the first sheltering order that was issued March 16,” its health department announced Friday. Restaurants in Marin must also follow similar rules requiring only household members to share tables and a distance between tables of six feet. (The full list of rules can be read here.)

Of the other Bay Area counties closed in the region’s initial shelter in place, Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Mateo remain takeout only. Santa Cruz County was allowed to resume indoor and outdoor dining as of May 30, and San Francisco expects to open outdoor dining on June 15.