New COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Santa Clara County, according to county officials. (Photo via the Pennsylvania National Guard/Flickr)

Santa Clara County leaders worry that community spread of COVID-19 is on the rise again, following 358 new cases reported on Sunday.

“In the last week, we’ve seen a steep rise, more like a surge, and that concerns me and it concerns all of us because it could mean that we’re in for a large surge that will be difficult to control,” said Dr. Sara Cody, county health officer. “It’s different than the slow rise that we’ve seen over the month of October.”

The 358 new cases is nearly a record high in the county, second only to the 385 cases reported on July 15.

The most impacted population was 18- to 34-year-olds, likely because of Halloween gatherings, Cody said.

The county’s seven-day average of new cases last week was between 131 and 139, an upsurge to a slow climb that started mid-October. The county also saw a 10 percent increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“This surge in COVID-19 cases is not what we want to see going into the fall and winter holiday season,” Cody said.

Colder temperatures pose a greater threat to people because they will be more inclined to engage in indoor activities, increasing transmission risks.

That, along with “pandemic fatigue” and the new Oct. 13 reopenings could be a dangerous mix, requiring residents and businesses to be more vigilant and COVID-conscious, Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez said.

“We all need to be mindful that being in that tier doesn’t mean some activities do not come with certain risk, and that risk is greatly magnified if businesses and customers do not follow the rules in place to help keep them safe,” Chavez said.

Businesses are required to abide by COVID-19 safety protocols issued by the state and county and violations can be punishable by fines or cease operation orders.

However, county counsel James Williams said punitive measures come after education efforts and failed results.

“Most businesses we contact are very interested in doing their part to keep themselves and the community healthy,” said Williams. “However, we cannot ignore those that operate in an unsafe manner. These are not optional guidelines; they are mandatory measures to protect our entire community.”

Of the 1,658 violation complaints received from Aug. 30 to Oct. 26, 65 percent were resolved when businesses worked with the county to address health order violations.

However, the county has issued 79 notices of violations and $600,000 in fines to businesses ignoring COVID-19 orders, said Michael Balliet, director of the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health.

Health order fines start at $250 and increase to $5,000 for each violation and may double for multi-day violations. But the county offers a grace period of 24 to 72 hours to remedy the violation and annul the fine.

“These are by no means measures that we want to apply to any business, especially when so many are struggling to survive,” said Balliet. “But we also have a responsibility to take appropriate enforcement action, and we will do so for businesses that refuse to comply with public health directives and are putting the community at higher risk of COVID-19.”

Williams said the most complaints involved the food industry, which continues to be one of the highest-risk activities because face coverings are removed.

He also urged residents to act as the “eyes and ears” of the county and to report violations to