Quick Take:

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The What: While Santa Cruz County’s COVID-19 positivity rate continues to rise, the rate has somewhat slowed. As of Thursday, the 14-day average was up 295%, below last week’s figure of 399%. The county registered five more deaths in the past week, bringing the pandemic total to 237.

According to county data, there were a total of 6,191 active COVID-19 cases, up more than 2,000 from late last week. Part of the reason for the jump could be increased testing by school districts following the end of the winter break.

Data as of Jan. 19
Data as of Jan. 19 Credit: Santa Cruz County public health

The So What: Local health leaders have cautioned that even amid skyrocketing positives, official numbers might be underestimating how steep the upward trend is because the results of many in-home tests never get reported.

The highly infectious Omicron variant is thought to be dominant in the ongoing surge; however, because county officials have not sequenced all known positive cases, a breakdown of cases by variant was unavailable.

How Santa Cruz County compares: The county is currently in the red tier, indicating the highest level of infectious spread. This level is the same as our neighbors in Northern and Central California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, the state as a whole is also currently in the red tier.

As of Thursday, 71.6% of Santa Cruz County residents were fully vaccinated, a minimal increase from the week prior and slightly lower than the statewide figure of 72.1%. However, as Lookout reported on Dec. 10, a quirk in the state reporting figures may be artificially reducing that number, increasing it by as much as 5%. This would put the county more in line with its neighbors.

Neighboring Santa Clara and San Mateo counties had a fully vaccinated rate of 82.6% and 80%, respectively; Monterey and San Benito counties stood at 66.2% and 61.9%, respectively. Marin County was at 85.5%, the highest rate in the state.

Current cases, hospitalizations and deaths: As of Thursday, Santa Cruz County had more than 2,100 active cases than it did a week ago. Hospitalizations, which health officials have said typically lag behind case rates by about two weeks, have begun to trend up, with 39 county residents reported hospitalized — up from 35 last week — and four in intensive care — up from three. There are three ICU beds available countywide.

“This is going to continue to be a hard month, perhaps the hardest yet,” Dr. David Ghilarducci, deputy health officer, said at a news conference last week. “But it will end soon.”

Ghilarducci said the county’s projection is that the case rate will probably peak in early February before declining. Still, he recommended that those with asymptomatic or mild cases of COVID-19 or other non-serious injuries or ailments avoid going to the emergency departments at Dominican Hospital or Watsonville Community Hospital.

“But if you do have a high fever, difficulty breathing, or other significant symptoms, you really should go the hospital right away,” he said.

Local COVID-19 patients are treated at either Dominican Hospital or Watsonville Community Hospital. Dominican spokesperson Kevin Kimbrough said Thursday that 30 patients at the facility were COVID positive, regardless of whether or not that was the reason for their hospitalization; information on ages and vaccination and booster status was unavailable with staff stretched thin amid the ongoing surge.

Updated information for Watsonville Community Hospital was not available at publication time; as of last Friday, the facility had nine COVID-positive patients, per a hospital representative, five of whom were unvaccinated. Six were female and three male, ranging in age from 27 to 85.

Overall COVID cases by region - Jan. 12
Credit: Santa Cruz County public health
Data as of Jan. 17
Credit: Santa Cruz County public health

Geographic breakdown: The city of Santa Cruz had more than 40% of the county’s overall cases as of Thursday — 2,416 — with Watsonville (1,384), Aptos (476) and Scotts Valley (377) all eclipsing 300 cases.

Since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago, South County has seen the highest number of cases among local regions. In particular, Watsonville has had 38.3% of the total number of cases despite comprising 18.3% of the overall population.

Given current overwhelming demand for COVID testing, a testing site run by Inspire Diagnostics has opened at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds and is available to the entire community. Inspire has been partnering with the County Office of Education to test county educators and students and their family members at several other sites across the county. Registration is required.

The fairgrounds testing site, at 2601 E. Lake Ave. in Watsonville, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Inspire fairgrounds site is in addition to the three run by the company in partnership with the COE — at Cabrillo College, the offices of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and at the COE offices in Santa Cruz — that are open only to county educators, students and their families.

The city of Santa Cruz has also expanded its testing capacity, and earlier this week closed a temporary encampment at Depot Park to make room for the testing site there.

Also changing amid the Omicron surge is official guidance on masking. At last week’s news conference, officials urged residents to ditch cloth masks upgrade to N95, KN95 or KF94 face masks — and continued to stress that residents should get vaccinated or boosters shots as soon as eligible.

As of Wednesday, appointments were available as soon that day at local pharmacies, where previously availability had been about two weeks out.

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