Quick Take:

Over the last several days, Santa Cruz County has reported more daily cases than at any other time during the pandemic and public health experts predict it will continue increasing for the next several weeks.

On the day the state passed 6 million cumulative COVID-19 cases, Santa Cruz County reported almost double the number of active cases as it had during the January 2021 surge, making the current caseload the largest since the beginning of the pandemic.

“This is the highest number we’ve seen as a county,” said Deputy Health Officer Dr. Cal Gordon on Monday.

County health officials think the numbers will continue rising for the next several weeks and are emphasizing people continue to get vaccinated and boosted, get tested, wear masks and stay home when feeling sick.

And, they say, the true number of cases is likely far higher due to the increased prevalence of at-home tests — if you can find one — since it relies on people to self-report the results, which may be difficult to do.

On Jan. 4, the county reported a total of 527 daily known cases while exactly a year prior, it was 300 — the high point of last winter’s surge. There are currently 3,324 active known cases.

Gordon said public health experts estimate that based on what is understood about Omicron, cases are likely to peak locally over the next two to three weeks and the variant causes less severe symptoms than the Delta variant.

“The only good part is looking at South Africa, England and some other sites, that appears to be a rapid up and then hopefully rapid down, so they’re hopeful that that may be the case,” he said.

As for hospitalizations, he said the county currently has about 30 people hospitalized.

“But so far, I think the bigger impact with all these positive cases is for our hospitals, staff, there are being impacted,” he said. “And so we have a significant percentage of important personnel at both Dominican Hospital and Watsonville Community Hospital that are positive or that have been exposed so that impacts our ability to provide care so that will be an additional challenge I think even more so this year.”

He estimates that each hospital has about 30 healthcare workers that are out because of illness or exposure to someone with COVID-19.

After three years of reporting on public safety in Iowa, Hillary joins Lookout Santa Cruz with a curious eye toward the county’s education beat. At the Iowa City Press-Citizen, she focused on how local...