A candle shrine to the Lady of Guadalupe at San Jose's Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. (Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church)

Santa Clara County community leaders are pleading with residents to observe the Lady of Guadalupe Celebration Day virtually or at home, as COVID-19 reaches a critical point in the county.

Mexican Americans and other Latinos cherish the Lady of Guadalupe, a patron saint whose presence is ubiquitous in Latinx culture, with colorful processions at Catholic churches and community gatherings every year on Dec. 12.

“I think anyone who has grown up in the Catholic church at some point was pulled out of bed at 4 in the morning by their mother,” San Jose councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said. “These are the memories that we hold very very dear…and I wish I could celebrate this year in the same manner.”

But with COVID-19 cases surging and hospital ICU beds reaching capacity, things must be done differently.

“Sacrificing today ensures the celebration of many many more years to come,” Carracso said.

Case numbers in the county have been breaking records every week, with 1700 new cases recorded recently in a single day and hospitalizations reaching more than 400.

And as cases rise, ICU and hospital capacity decreases. Already three hospitals — Regional Medical Center, O’Connor, and St. Louise — have reached full capacity and do not have any available ICU beds. The state predicts that by the new year, Bay Area hospitals would reach full ICU capacity.

This could pose serious dangers for those with COVID-19 especially as 10-12 percent require hospitalizations and of those, 25-35 percent require intensive care treatments, according to the county’s public health department.

This is even more threatening to the Latinx community, who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus, representing 55.4 percent of all cases when they make up only 25.8 percent of the population, according to the county’s dashboard.

The reason for COVID-19 surges across the county, the public health department says, is connected to community contact like gatherings with those who do not cohabitate and other activities involving crowds.

The Lady of Guadalupe Celebration Day, which draws more than 10,000 people to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Jose alone, is certainly a potential super-spreader event.

So instead, the church has created a drive through in its parking lot to allow parishioners to celebrate safely.

“We need to make sure that here in this zip code — which has some of the highest numbers in the county — we need to make sure that we do not exacerbate our capacity in ICU,” Carrasco said. “The other thing I think we are missing is we can’t continue to put under duress our frontline workers, those who are taking care of us.”

Santa Clara County is not alone in calling for small household or virtual Virgin de Guadalupe celebrations.

“In La Basilica where she appeared in Mexico City, they closed the gates for the first time in decades…millions of people descend upon La Basilica in Mexico City,” Carrasco said. “In Los Angeles, 40,000 people show up to the celebration. They made an announcement weeks ago that that was not going to happen.