In Case You Forgot What Government Did to Us for COVID...
Santa Clara County (SCC) residents earn the title for longest duration living under the strictest COVID rules in the nation. SCC's public health department (SCC DPH) director, Sara Cody, became the face of lockdown — the spokesperson to declare the nation's first Shelter-in-Place (SIP) order on March 16, 2020. SCC was first in the nation to enter lockdown, lowest for in-person schooling, highest in restrictions, highest in punitive fines, and last to ditch school mask mandates. While frequently lauded by her proponents for touting "safety first," she knew that "the efficacy of face masks and physical distancing hadn't been established yet." Instead, Cody used intrusive surveillance to "proactively" find and fine violators, followed by legal action to compel compliance.
When Calvary Chapel in San Jose's Pastor Mike McClure declared church "essential" in May 2020, he made himself a beacon for God's people seeking community and a target for SCC's compliance unit. He made headlines for accruing $2.8M in fines for "obeying God over men" (Acts 5:29) while protecting religious freedom and providing hope to congregants suffering isolation and anxiety. In response to churches' 1st Amendment lawsuit, SCC countersued Calvary Chapel and other churches for violating public health orders. While other churches settled with the county after accruing daily fines, Calvary requested legal dismissal. County lawyer WIlliams retaliated by pressuring Calvary's bank to issue a loan default based on the county's $2.8M fines. McClure sued Williams for unlawful retaliation, and their case is ongoing.
As a result of the back-and-forth lawsuits, we recently learned SCCs coercion and surveillance techniques. Starting August 2020, SCC deployed its 50-employee compliance team for stakeout at the adjacent church to log daily descriptions of unmasked attendants hugging unmasked congregants without proper distancing. Starting November 2020, officers were permitted by a judge to observe indoor weekly private Bible studies, youth events, and "Manna for Mamas," where they observed personal events to tally mask status of attendees, any distancing violations, and singing. Over a six-week period starting November 2020, compliance officers recorded 51 hours of on-site surveillance, for which each officer was paid $219 per hour.
SCC also monitored cellular mobility data combined with a virtual geographic boundary around Calvary Chapel to electronically count daily church visits. Although the SCC Board of Supervisors purchased SafeGraph data in early 2020 to evaluate general SIP compliance, SCC used Point-of-Interest (POI) precision to count daily visits to individual buildings on Calvary's property. The extrapolation of SafeGraph mobile phone visits to actual visits used a statistical model by Stanford Law School's Daniel Ho that cost taxpayers $800 per hour. His numbers matched those collected by the in-person surveillance team.
Cody's SCC was known to have the most punitive business fines and most aggressive restrictions in Silicon Valley. Although all seven Bay Area counties authorized public health with the power to levy fines for violating their orders, most relied on local law enforcement to cite violators. However, SCC wanted to weaponize churches, small businesses, and individual residents (via an anonymous COVID violator reporting hotline) to enforce their mandates, and sent their compliance officers for a "proactive" "enhanced Black Friday COVID-19 Business Compliance effort," where they slapped surprise fines worth $450K on 181 of 427 businesses visited that weekend. Restaurant inspectors measured distances between tables, checked receipts to confirm that alcohol was always served with food, and levied fines for playing "loud music with lyrics." After citing a violator, they visited frequently to verify compliance, potentially issue recurring fines, and concurrently served lawsuits against small businesses with unpaid fines. This contrasts with nearby counties favoring an "education and warning first approach."
That same November weekend, SCCDPH pushed restrictions more stringent than mandated by the state. This included SCC's mandatory home quarantine after traveling 150+ miles and 10% indoor capacity limits compared with California's 25% capacity. Williams cites travel to high–case load Los Angeles as the rationale for the 150-mile quarantine rule, as the Board of Supervisors confirmed that SafeGraph monitoring of the SCC border showed significant resident travel to Southern California during the Thanksgiving holiday. The real effect of imposing a 150-mile limit was restricting travel to low–case count Tahoe, and SCC schools required students to attest to no 150-mile travel prior to returning to school. Schoolchildren were heavily restricted with a contact sport ban, mandated pre-event extracurricular PCR testing, a close contact quarantine decision tree (which rewards mask-wearing and the "fully vaccinated" with shorter quarantines), and mandatory school masking.
Excessive, unjustified restrictions enacted by Cody were an assault on children, small businesses, and churches. Cody thought Supreme Court rulings don't apply to SCC, so the U.S. Supreme Court needed to order "Outlier" SCC to lift its ban on churches, making SCC dead last in the nation to stop blocking in-person church.
By her own testimony, Cody strictly enforced mandates on people of faith and most small businesses while exempting favored groups, and she "spent taxpayer money supervising 900 contact tracers and conducting a Contact Tracing Study and the efficacy of masking to stop transmission [in infected persons without including a control group]." Even one of the Board of Supervisors expressed "concern about the way [SCC] is addressing [this mandate] relative to the science."
Now that SCC is suing businesses for violating public health mandates for uncollected fines, Cody's SCCDPH will never admit that her draconian policies were wrong.
Image via Needpix.