“Welcome to Silicon Valley” came with an asterisk Monday after a new quarantine order kicked in overnight requiring many visitors and residents to Santa Clara County to isolate 14 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
At Mineta San Jose International Airport on Monday morning, some travelers were understanding and changed their plans while others scoffed at the new mandate, which affects those who travel more than 150 miles and goes further than the state’s travel advisory and rules in neighboring Bay Area counties.
“I have mixed feelings,” said Ricky Salazar, 38, a long-haul trucker who knew he was taking a chance visiting relatives in San Diego for the holiday weekend but didn’t expect to pay the price of having to miss work to isolate for two weeks.
“To be safe, I get it,” Salazar said. “But I don’t feel I should have to give up my work.”
As the implications started to become clear, the new rules — from tighter restrictions on retailers and public gatherings to stay-at-home orders on travelers — raised a new round of questions on Monday, especially on how Santa Clara County would possibly enforce the rigorous mandates.
Rex Hurley, 54, who arrived from Long Beach on business, called the new county rule “a joke” and said he’s “absolutely not” going to isolate himself for two weeks even though he’s high-risk for COVID-19, having had open heart surgery recently.
“We shouldn’t be shutting down the country for people like me,” said Hurley, pulling down his mask to smoke a pipe outside the Southwest Airlines terminal. “What am I going to tell my company — ‘I’m going to hang out here?’ No, I would find it pretty comical to do that.”
His defiance aside, his work installing medical equipment could potentially qualify as essential, warranting a quarantine exemption.
Kaitlyn Leahy, 19, who flew in from Connecticut on her way to visit the majestic redwoods along California’s northernmost shores, had considered spending Monday night in San Jose but changed her plans to head directly north out of the county.
“I was aware of the 14-day quarantine,” said Leahy, who was outfitted in mask, face shield and gloves. “That’s why I’m not staying in Santa Clara County.”
Neither are the San Francisco 49ers who arrived from a Sunday game in Los Angeles against the Rams only to turn around for Arizona, where they will play their next two scheduled home games to escape county restrictions that also prohibit all contact sports.
For many travelers returning from Thanksgiving trips from Southern California, a cell phone alert Monday morning as they gathered in the baggage claim area was the first time they learned of the new rules, which also require lodging facilities to be open only for essential travel and quarantine. The order also further restricts indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Santa Clara announced the changes over the weekend as the county — along with San Francisco and San Mateo counties — recorded the highest number of new coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic at the beginning of the year. San Francisco and San Mateo also joined the rest of the Bay Area except for Marin County in the state’s most restrictive purple reopening tier for widespread outbreaks.
Other Bay Area counties signaled support for Santa Clara County’s quarantine rule and suggested it may soon be adopted region-wide, but they have held off for now saying they “haven’t reached the same critical point” yet.
Santa Clara County officials reached out to Mineta San Jose International Airport and other transit hubs to ensure that they are aware of the new requirements, and that all arriving travelers at the airport are given notice. All arriving flights originate more than 150 miles from Santa Clara County, meaning every flier with a San Jose destination is affected.
At the airport, spokesman Scott Wintner said the airport is handing notices to all passengers as they exit the secure area beyond passenger screening.
“That’s a central point where all arriving passengers have to funnel through, so we think it’s the most effective spot to reach them,” Wintner said.
County officials said they were prepared to police compliance, noting that they plan on expanding their existing enforcement teams — which spent the Thanksgiving holiday issuing fines to retailers for violations of social distancing protocols. They said in a statement Monday that they will be “working with local hotels to ensure that they are complying with the mandatory directive limiting hotel stays to essential travel and isolation/quarantine for COVID-19.”
But the county also said it “will necessarily rely on every individual to comply with our orders and protect the health of the community,” noting that violators are subject to penalties.
“Like all health orders, which are legal mandates, individuals are subject to fines for violation of the travel quarantine,” the county statement said. “We expect and hope that individuals will recognize the seriousness of this surge and do their part.”
Craig Harris, general manager at San Jose’s Hotel De Anza, said it can be difficult to update guests — especially ones who book through third-party travel sites, about all the latest rules. He said hotel staff can’t be expected to query their guests about whether their travel is really essential.
“Our responsibility is to pass that information along and to ensure people are safe,” Harris said. “Most people acknowledge and said thanks for the heads-up. But it’s going to be everyone’s own individual decision, everyone who’s traveling.”
Even some of those whose plans were upended took it in stride. After all, it’s still 2020.
Sarah Clark, holding her 19-month-old daughter, Emilia, and pulling a suitcase at San Jose International, was planning on staying for five days with her sister in San Jose before heading to Seattle, where her husband is being relocated by the Navy from San Diego. She now figures she’ll have to stay two weeks.
“If it’s for the good of everybody,” Clark said, “I’d be happy to do it.”
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Author: John Woolfolk, Julia Prodis Sulek