Santa Cruz County health officials panel
Santa Cruz County health officials (bottom left, clockwise) David Ghilarducci, Mimi Hall and Jen Herrera answer media questions via moderator Jason Hoppin about COVID-19 and vaccination on Thursday, Feb. 11.

County officials laud ‘remarkable’ progress but warn we’re a long way from leaving purple tier

Here’s what we learned on the state of COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination efforts in Santa Cruz County from Thursday’s briefing by county health officials:

Good news

Santa Cruz County joins the downward trend: County health officer Dr. Gail Newel began her comments by saying it “feels like a long time since we’ve had good news,” but now finally there appears to be some.

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“It appears Santa Cruz County has joined the state of California in the downward side of our holiday surge,” Newel said. In the latest data report from the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” program, the case rate had decreased: from 71 new cases per one hundred thousand people per day, to about 47.

“That’s a remarkable decrease,” Newel said, and added that this is reflected in other numbers — the number of confirmed cases per day, for example, is now usually between 120 and 150, whereas just a few weeks ago it was over 300.

Not-so-good news

Get used to purple, and in-person classes for older kids unlikely this school year: Newel wore a purple scarf to celebrate the county’s emergence from the stay-at-home order into the purple tier. But as much as the purple tier feels liberating after the stay-at-home order, Newel cautioned that the county will remain in the purple for for “a long time to come.”

She said it may be late spring or early summer until we move into the red tier, as this would require case rates to drop to below seven new cases per 100,000 per day (we’re currently at 47.9).

The long stay in the purple tier will have impacts for Santa Cruz County Schools. Classes for children in transitional kindergarten up to grade six can reopen when the case rate drops to 25 per 100,000 people per day. But under current guidelines in-person classes for older children can’t resume until the county moves to the red tier.

Vaccination progress still rocky, but there are signs of hope locally: Mimi Hall, the director of county health services, shared that the county expects to"saturate the 75 and older population next week” and will soon move on to vaccinating those between 65 and 75.

Hall emphasized again that the county is just one of many lanes through which residents can obtain a vaccine, and that they have a relatively narrow focus on those who are uninsured, undocumented, or receive insurance through MediCal.

But Hall added that based on what the county is hearing from the multi-county health entities locally (Sutter/PAMF, Kaiser, and Dignity/Dominican) their timelines for vaccinating the older population is similar.

Newel added that not everyone who has been offered the vaccine accepts, saying that they are seeing that somewhere between 50-80% of the population taking the doses offered to them. But she expressed hope that people from earlier phases will continue to come forward to be vaccinated, likening it to boarding an airplane.

“If you don’t board in your boarding zone, you’re still allowed to [board later],” she said, adding that they are hoping for a 70% uptake in the 75 and older population.

Thinly veiled frustration with Sacramento: Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week that the state would be partnering with Blue Shield of California as well as Kaiser Permanente to help organize a unified, statewide distribution effort.

"[The] governor went to great lengths to point out that these are both California based not-for-profits,” Newel said, but added that, “those of us who’ve worked in the health care system for any amount of time have a little bit of trepidation about this.” Still, she said she was hopeful it will be a good move, acknowledging this will lead to a more unified system across the state.

Hall also shared that the county continues to wait for a statewide registration and scheduling system to help county patients schedule vaccination appointments.

“The state told us this would be active a month ago,” Hall said. “Its coming but it’s not here yet.”

Without this system, the county had to partner with Safeway to provide scheduling for its fairgrounds drive-thru clinic, but Safeway did not have a Spanish-language option, “which was a serious issue,” Hall said.

Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county director of emergency medical services, said that they are also still waiting for Sacramento to fix issues with the California immunization database that would allow them to see the exact number of residents who have been vaccinated locally.

Without this access, county officials do not have information on how many vaccines have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents through the multi-county health systems or the Federal Pharmacy Partnership — which are the routes through which the majority of people will get vaccinated.

Watch the full press briefing here

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