SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Mayor San Liccardo took to national media Friday, questioning why San Jose was singled out in an assessment by one of the leaders of the White House COVID-19 task force.

On Wednesday, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx privately told a group of state and local health officials Wednesday about a concerning rise in coronavirus cases in 12 U.S. cities, including San Jose.

“There are cities that are lagging behind and we have new increases in Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Jose, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Baltimore, so we’re tracking this very closely. We’re working with the state officials to make sure we’re responding together, but when you first see that increased test positivity, that is when to start the mitigation efforts,” Birx said during the call according to audio obtained by journalism nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.

Her comments led Liccardo to refute the doctor’s statement, while allowing that the city still had room for improvement.

“I won’t speculate why the White House selected the cities that it did, as hundreds of US cities have higher rates of transmission, hospitalization, and death than does San Jose,” he said in a prepared statement. “Regardless, there’s no question that our County’s coronavirus indicators are rising, and we all need to double down on what our public health authorities know works: wearing masks, socially distancing, washing hands, and taking the precautions necessary to take care of each other.”

Liccardo echoed those sentiments on an appearance on CNN Friday morning while also questioning the Trump administration’s approach to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“What I would say, as we look around the world, is that we have seen more effective contact tracing and some shelter in place and all the things we need to do address the contagion. And in this country we haven’t implemented at that scale. That’s necessary to really defeat this virus,” said Liccardo. “We’re smarter than this virus is, but we need to be smart — far smarter and bring more resources to bear.”

By virtually every measure, the outbreak in Santa Clara County is worsening. The number of new cases has risen sharply in the past two weeks, up 26% from just under 7,000 two weeks ago to 8,533. The county is currently on California’s COVID-19 watchlist — prohibiting some businesses to reopen — as local cases continue to soar.

On Thursday, the county reported 216 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. There was one new death bringing the death toll to 181 and 32 new hospitalizations, which have climbed even more sharply in the past two weeks. There are currently 173 people with confirmed cases of coronavirus being treated in county hospitals.

“The reality is that this contagion is spreading with families at home and at social gatherings,” said Liccardo. “Really it’s not what’s happening at work, it’s what’s happening everywhere else.”

On Tuesday, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said a lack of a unified national response could mean the pandemic lasting for many months.

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“As the epidemic grows, it’s obviously impacting every single person in our county and every facet of our lives, we all need to pull together and dedicate ourselves to crushing it once again,” Cody told the County Board of Supervisors.

County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith told KPIX 5 that he projects a spike in COVID-19 cases alongside the flu in the fall and warned that the lingering effects could be felt for years.

“We’re not even near the end of the problem,” Smith said.

One silver lining from the sobering statistics is that the healthcare system as a whole has not yet been overtaxed, said Smith. Currently, 30% of hospital beds countywide remain open and available for new patients.

“Certainly, I am very concerned by what’s going on in Santa Clara County,” he said. “I do think we have an uptick that we’re very challenged by.”


Devin Fehely contributed to this report.

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