Quick Take:

While Santa Cruz County public schools have taken on the burden of teaching students in person during a pandemic,...

As of Wednesday, 72.7% of Santa Cruz County residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a slight increase from the week prior. While above the statewide figure of 69%, Santa Cruz continues to have one of the lowest rates in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Neighboring Santa Clara and San Mateo counties had fully vaccinated rates of 83.5% and 81.9%, respectively; Monterey County stood at 69.3%, and San Benito County was 72.3% fully vaccinated. Marin County was at 85.1%, the highest in the state.

However, as Lookout reported on Dec. 10, a quirk in the state reporting figures could be artificially reducing Santa Cruz County’s number by as much as 5%.

While infections continue to increase substantially, there are signs that the rate is slowing down. On Dec. 29, county health officials put the 14-day change in the rate of new cases at 12%; by last week, that rate was 295%. The latest figures, which are scheduled to be published Thursday, are expected to be lower.

The number of hospitalizations, which have been seen to lag behind case rates by about two weeks, is also trending upward; state data Wednesday showed 41 Santa Cruz County residents hospitalized, up from 30 last week. The total number of COVID pandemic deaths in Santa Cruz County remained at 237 as of Monday, the county’s most recent update.

Health officials have said the slower increase in hospitalization rates could be because the Omicron variant is more contagious but less deadly, because so many more people are now vaccinated than during previous waves — or some combination of the two as well as factors yet to be discovered.

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 the winter 2021 surge. There were 6,677 active known cases as of Monday.

County health officials think the numbers could continue rising through the beginning of February and are emphasizing that people should 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 could be difficult to do.

Santa Cruz County officials stressed the importance of vaccines and boosters at a recent news conference, along with urging residents to upgrade from cloth masks to N95, KN95 or KF94 masks.

“This is going to continue to be a hard month, perhaps the hardest yet,” Dr. David Ghilarducci, Santa Cruz County’s deputy health officer, said. “But it will end soon.”

He also 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.

While cases are still rising, Ghilarducci said that the evidence of the vaccines working is becoming more and more obvious.

“There’s pretty strong evidence that the booster shot will reduce your chance of death by 90%,” he told Lookout earlier this month. “Especially if you’re older, have underlying conditions, and even if you consider yourself young and healthy, if you haven’t had your first shot, now is the time.”

Vaccines, boosters & wait times

The information below is accurate as of Wednesday, but availability and wait times can change quickly.

Though almost all of the providers below also offer vaccines for younger children, the supply for children between 5 and 11 is more limited and the wait time could be longer. Regardless of what type of insurance you have — or if you have any insurance at all — vaccines and boosters are free of charge.

In addition to those listed, additional options are available via MyTurn.ca.gov.

If you’d like us to track additional providers or other information, please send a note to news@lookoutlocal.com. Stay safe!

Health care providers

Typically, appointments made through health care providers for the initial two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have a shorter wait time than booster shots.

If you are looking to schedule a booster shot, see the pharmacies listed below if your health care provider has limited availability.

Kaiser Permanente
Multiple locations

You do not need to be a member to receive a vaccine or booster, which are offered to those 5 and older. However, if you’re not a member, you have to sign up for a Kaiser medical record number before making an appointment. This usually takes about 24 hours.

Vaccines are offered at facilities in Scotts Valley, Watsonville and San Jose. The current wait time is about two weeks.

Sutter/Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Multiple locations

Non-members will have to register to get a vaccine or booster, but do not need to be patients. This can be done either by phone or online. Wait times are typically about two weeks.

Dignity Health
Multiple locations

Only members of Dignity can schedule vaccine or booster appointments. Most locations in Santa Cruz County offer shots once or twice a week, but by appointment only. Specific wait times were not available.

626 Frederick St., Santa Cruz

CruzMedMo offers only walk-ins for vaccines and boosters, typically on Wednesdays and Fridays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Due to a shortage of COVID tests, CruzMedMo will be offering appointment-only testing this week. To schedule an appointment, text 831-718-0582 or email appointments@cruzmedmo.com. The company has moved locations and is now stationed at 626 Frederick St.

Emeline Health Center
1080 Emeline Ave., Santa Cruz

The Emeline Health Center offers free vaccines for all members of the public on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings. Appointments are usually available within the week of request. Call the number above to schedule.

Watsonville Vaccination Center
250 Main St., Watsonville

Offers vaccines Thursday to Sunday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Appointments can be made at https://myturn.ca.gov or by phone.

Pop-up vaccine/booster events

Vax the Valley
6191 Hwy. 9, Felton

This event sponsored by the Rotary Club of the San Lorenzo Valley is scheduled for 1-7 p.m. Wednesdays through at least the end of February. All three types of vaccines are available, as are booster shots for those who are eligible. Limited walk-ins are available, or make an appointment at https://myturn.ca.gov.

Boulder Creek Vax & Boost
13089 Hwy. 9, Boulder Creek

This event on Saturday, Jan. 29, is scheduled for 2-5 p.m. All three types of vaccines are available, as are booster shots for those who are eligible. Limited walk-ins are available, or make an appointment at https://myturn.ca.gov.

Vaccine clinic
A medical assistant helps a man to his chair before he receives the COVID-19 vaccine at Clinica Romero in Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times) Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Drugstores and supermarkets

Each of the drugstores and supermarkets below requires medical and contact information to get an appointment, but receiving a vaccine or booster is free. Dates listed are the earliest available appointments.

2203 Mission St., Santa Cruz — Feb. 2-28
117 Morrissey Blvd., Santa Cruz — Jan. 29-31, Feb. 1-28
2720 41st Ave., Soquel — Jan. 26-28, Feb. 2-28
16 Rancho Del Mar, Aptos — Feb. 1-28

901 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz — Jan. 31, Feb. 1-28, Mar. 1-26
1475 41st Ave., Capitola — Jan. 30-31, Feb. 1-28, Mar. 1-26
80 Rancho Del Mar, Aptos — Jan. 31, Feb. 1-28, Mar. 1-26
6123 Hwy. 9, Felton — Jan. 28-31, Feb. 1-28, Mar. 1-26
1988 Freedom Blvd., Freedom — Feb. 1-28, Mar. 1-26

1700 Mission St., Santa Cruz — Jan. 26-31, Feb. 1-8
600 Front St., Santa Cruz — Jan. 26-31, Feb. 1-8
1750 41st Ave., Capitola — No availability
1825 41st Ave., Capitola — Jan. 26-29, 31, Feb. 1-8
257 Mount Hermon Rd., Scotts Valley — No availability
809 Bay Ave., Capitola — No availability
6247 Graham Hill Rd., Felton — No availability
783 Rio Del Mar Blvd., Ste. 3, Aptos — Jan. 26-31, Feb. 1-8
1415 Main St., Watsonville — No availability
1966 Main St., Watsonville — Jan. 27-31, Feb. 1-8
490 Rodriguez St., Watsonville — Jan. 26-31, Feb. 1-8

1718 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz — Jan. 27-31, Feb. 1-9
210 Mount Hermon Rd., Scotts Valley — Jan. 30-31, Feb. 1-9
1810 Freedom Blvd., Freedom — Jan. 30-31, Feb. 1-9

220 Sylvania Ave., Santa Cruz — Jan. 27-29, 31, Feb. 1-4, 5, 7

Horsnyder Pharmacy & Medical Supply
1226 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz

At this location, only walk-ins are offered. That happens Mondays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; patients need to bring identification, insurance card and vaccination card. Currently, Horsnyder is offering only Moderna and J&J.

Westside Pharmacy
1401 Mission St., Santa Cruz

This Horsnyder sister store offers walk-ins for J&J on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for Moderna and J&J.

A Los Angeles woman takes a free PCR COVID-19 test.
A Los Angeles woman takes a free PCR COVID-19 test. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

Getting tested

Santa Cruz County recently opened another testing site the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. Staffed by Inspire Diagnostics, the site at 2601 E. Lake Ave. in Watsonville is open to all community members; hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is required.

A mobile testing facility at Depot Park — 119 Center St., Santa Cruz — is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Appointments can be made through LHI.

The Ramsay Park site in Watsonville — 1301 Main St. — has doubled the number of appointments available daily. Appointments can be made through LHI.

The San Lorenzo Valley mobile testing site has returned to Mountain Community Resources, 6134 Highway 9 in Felton. The site is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Tuesday; appointments can be made through LHI.

The Santa Cruz County Office of Education is also sponsoring drive-through testing for students, parents and guardians and school staff Monday through Saturday, no appointment necessary, at:

  • Santa Cruz COE Annex parking lot, 399 Encinal St., Santa Cruz
  • Cabrillo College, Parking Lot K, 6500 Soquel Ave., Aptos
  • Pajaro Valley Unified School District office, 294 Green Valley Rd., Watsonville

Students, parents, guardians and school staff can register and find the most current testing hours here.

For those anticipating international travel, most airlines and countries accept antigen, NAAT (nucleic acid amplification test) or RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests. However, how soon the test results must be available prior to the flight can vary by airline and destination. Double-check that your test will be accepted within the required time frame, particularly if you have a lengthy flight.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes viral tests — ones that can determine a current infection — in this way:

“Viral tests use samples that come from your nose or mouth. Rapid tests can be performed in minutes and can include antigen and some NAATs. Laboratory tests can take days to complete and include RT-PCR and other types of NAATs. Some test results may need confirmatory testing.”

Antigen tests are considered the least accurate viral test, while RT-PCRs are the most accurate, with the latter having few, if any, false positives.

Another type of test is an antibody test, defined by the CDC as:

“An antibody test (also known as a serology test) can detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in your blood. Antibodies are proteins that your immune system makes to help fight infection and protect you from getting sick in the future. Antibody tests should not be used to diagnose a current infection, but may indicate if you had a past infection.”

Except for CruzMedMo, each of the below testing sites does not require out-of-pocket payment for the tests, though your insurance could be charged. CruzMedMo costs $80 for an antigen test and $225 for a PCR test. No appointments are necessary and the company says results are ready within an hour.

Lightspeed Testing, which had been offering free, no-appointment tests Wednesdays at the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market, Saturdays at the Westside farmers market and concurrent with select shows at Moe’s Alley, has suspended testing due to a severe shortage of tests.

The three sites below offer free PCR tests via LHI.Care. Turnaround is between three and five days.

In addition, many local drugstores offer at-home tests, which cost on average $25 — though tests have been selling out fast. Though these tests are quick and generally accurate, they are not accepted for travel purposes or by most facilities requiring a recent negative test.

The federal government is now offering each U.S. household four free at-home tests via COVIDTest.gov; they won’t arrive quickly, as tests won’t ship for seven to 12 days after ordering. Those living in multiple-family homes, with roommates and in student dormitories have hit snags, however, with some blocked from ordering after someone at the same address had already done so.

Finally, the table below lists additional testing resources in Santa Cruz County. Be sure to call ahead, however, as almost all require appointments.

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