Quick Take:

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The What: Santa Cruz County’s COVID-19 positivity rate has flattened for the second week in a row, signaling a slow-down in the increase of cases. Santa Cruz County’s total death toll increased by one, to 226.

The So What: Officials continue to urge caution as temperatures begin to drop in Santa Cruz County and the holidays approach. They warn the Omicron variant is likely to cause a significant increase in cases. However, as of Dec. 17, county spokesperson Jason Hoppin said there are no known cases of the variant locally.

How Santa Cruz County compares: The county is currently in the orange tier, indicating a substantial level of infectious spread. This level is the same as most of its neighbors in Northern and Central California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though better than neighboring Monterey County, which is in the red tier. The state as a whole is also currently in the red tier.

In terms of gender, slightly more females have tested positive for COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County than males overall, a trend in keeping with the statewide average. The death rate in Santa Cruz County is nearly 50-50 by gender, though nearly 20% more males have died than females statewide.

Santa Cruz Deputy Health Officer Cal Gordon has said previously that the statewide trend in male to female deaths aligns with vaccination statuses on the state and local level. More than 83% of the eligible female population in Santa Cruz has been vaccinated compared to 51.9% statewide. Among eligible males, 78.61% have been vaccinated in Santa Cruz County and 47.8% statewide.

Current cases, hospitalizations and deaths: As of Monday, the most recent information available, Santa Cruz County has 596 active COVID-19 cases, an increase of nine from the prior week.

“Fortunately our hospitalization rates haven’t really increased,” Gordon said. “And, I think that’s that’s reflective of the fact that we have a highly immunized population here in our county.”

A total of 14 people are currently hospitalized, one more than a week ago. A total of 226 county residents have died of COVID-19 or related complications since the start of the pandemic, up by one from a week ago.

COVID-19 patients are treated at either Dominican Hospital or Watsonville Community Hospital. Kevin Kimbrough, spokesperson for Dominican, said of the 10 patients at the facility, five were unvaccinated, five had received the single Johnson & Johnson shot or two of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and two had received a booster shot.

He added that both patients who had received a booster were 71 years old or older.

At Watsonville Community Hospital, two patients were unvaccinated, two received the initial vaccination course of shots and none had received a booster.

Change in rate of infections: When the mask mandate was reestablished on Sept. 29 — after being removed in August — county health officials said the turnaround was due to a surge in local cases and hospitalizations. That trend has since flattened, but officials say the trend could be fleeting as the weather is getting colder.

Health officials track whether the case rate is increasing or decreasing by looking at a 14-rolling average. Over the past four weeks, this figure increased and then flattened over the past two weeks, with a current rate of 4%, the same as the previous week.

Santa Cruz County spokesperson Corinne Hyland said the current 4% increase is specific to the Delta variant. She said that with temperatures dropping and holiday gatherings increasing, the county is likely to see an increase in delta cases. With the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, Hyland said the county is likely to see a significant uptick in cases this winter.

Data from Dec. 15, 2021
Data from Dec. 15, 2021 Credit: Source: Santa Cruz County public health
Overall COVID cases by region - Dec. 16
Data as of Dec. 16, 2021 Credit: Source: Santa Cruz County public health

Geographic breakdown: Overall, South County has seen a high number of cases compared to other regions. In particular, Watsonville has had 43.63% of the total number of cases despite comprising 18.3% of the overall population, going a long way toward explaining why the region has seen more than half of the county’s total cases.

When looking at the current cases, while the caseload in Watsonville is similar to the one in Santa Cruz — a bit more than 30% — despite Santa Cruz having the larger population.

Active cases by region - Dec. 16
Data as of Dec. 16, 2021 Credit: Source: Santa Cruz County public health

Last week, Gordon said he believed the unincorporated, but named, communities may have their populations underestimated in the data while the jurisdiction termed “unincorporated” may be overestimated.

County staff have since updated the data showing Davenport, Corralitos, La Selva Beach, Rio Del Mar and Zayante make up only 1.85% of active cases in Santa Cruz County under the “unincorporated” category.

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