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Tuesday, November 30, 2021
CoronavirusSanta Clara County needs to communicate better about COVID-19

Santa Clara County needs to communicate better about COVID-19

Like many Santa Clara County residents, I’m glued to the County’s COVID-19 dashboard, which provides invaluable information on case totals, death totals, demographic breakdowns, hospitalizations, and more. It’s an impeccable feat of communications, made all the more impressive by the high speed at which it was put online.

But it needs improvements.

Far be it from me to comprehend the pressures being faced by our County officials amid this historic crisis. I pen these words to not hurl insults or spur tempers, but to deepen awareness and encourage greater reflection.

The dashboard expanded after its initial launch to include per-zip-code case totals. What’s missing, however, are per-zip-code death totals. For example: The general public has no idea how many Milpitas residents have died from COVID-19. I have asked the County. My fellow residents have asked the County.

The County responds to our messages by sending links to the dashboard and recent public meetings.

No questions answered. No names signed at the bottoms of their emails. 

I sometimes wonder if there’s a robot on the other end.

More: The County dashboard offers no data about recovered patients. For example: The general public has no idea how many Milpitas residents have had COVID-19 yet recovered from it. Naturally, this form of data is sensitive, as it runs the risk of inciting undue relaxation—i.e., making people let their guards down when they should be up.

Regardless, we need that data—data on active vs. recovered patients—too.

This is an emergency. Emergencies call for leaders’ candidness and frankness. On the downside, on the upside. How many are dying in our town? How many are recovering in the meantime?

During plane crashes, pilots share what is happening. Plane crash survivors marvel over this detail. The crew doesn’t sugarcoat; the crew levels and humanizes. The crew says, essentially, “It’s bad. And here is how bad. And we share this because we know you deserve to know.”

And so do we.

It’s infantilizing to withhold such information from us. It sends the message that we cannot be trusted to absorb it. On the death end, the message is that we shouldn’t look too closely. On the survival end, the message is that we needn’t soothe ourselves with the possibility of encouraging outcomes.

But that’s the world we live in: dark mashes with light. No one here gets out alive, but some of us will be here longer than others—depending on the breaks. That’s reality. It courses at us now from all directions.

And the County of Santa Clara needn’t attempt to stem its flow.



Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He has won awards for journalism (CA Journalism Award) and screenwriting (Fade In Award), and has served as a ghostwriter, speechwriter, or script doctor for over 3,000 clients. His first novel is a dark political thriller called "Red Dennis" (2020). His first nonfiction book is a guide for helping writers be more productive called "Ass Plus Seat" (2020). He co-hosts the "House of Mystery Radio Show" on NBC News Radio. Eric's books can be purchased here.


  1. I agree deaths by city or zip should be on the county dashboard. Even more, I believe all data displays (what we see on TV, the State’s website, and the county dashboard) should indicate infection and death RATES. Seeing case counts, and body counts, is meaningless if we don’t scale those counts against the population pool from which they grow.

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