Gail Newel speaks to the assembled media on Thursday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

When to mask up, whether to fear a shutdown: What we learned from Thursday’s chat with county health leaders

County public health officials and local medical leaders came together Thursday to discuss updates surrounding COVID-19 policies and procedures in light of the Delta variant’s growing prevalence across the state,.

At the news conference outside of Santa Cruz Health, county health officer Gail Newel began by easing the tensions surrounding the new variant, especially for community members who are fully vaccinated.

“You’ll notice that all of us are unmasked, and that’s because we’re outdoors and we’re all fully vaccinated,” Newell says. “That’s one of the benefits of being vaccinated — masks are not required for you in all settings.”

With COVID-19 cases rising in Santa Cruz County, as they are statewide and nationally, the county’s top health officials...

With that said, for the roughly 35% of the community that is not fully vaccinated, Newel and all assembled urged that the time has never been more urgent.

By recent Santa Cruz County Public Health statistics, between 65 to 68% of eligible county residents have been fully vaccinated — but medical leaders implore that more eligible persons make their appointments for vaccination as soon as possible, and complete both rounds of vaccinations if receiving the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

“The pandemic is not over, and I hope that that is not news for anybody,” Newel said. “I’ve been clear about that from the beginning … I was hoping we wouldn’t be impacted this early in the summer, but we are seeing rising case rates and rising positivity rates in our own community here.”

Throughout the state of California, the Delta variant has led to an increased seven-day positivity rate that is leading to a rapid increase in newly reported cases. As of July 21, the California Department of Public Health noted there were 4,723 newly reported cases from the start of the week, with a seven-day positivity rate at 4.2%.

From conversations with state health leaders, Newel says it’s estimated that 80% of California COVID-19 cases are because of the Delta variant. For the state, the Delta variant has presented in 10 of 10,000 cases for unvaccinated persons, and approximately two of 10,000 cases for vaccinated persons.

“The Delta variant is far more transmissible than the other variants, and it’s very rapidly overtaking all other variants that we’ve had in the state of California,” Newel said.

Currently, there are 11 documented cases of the Delta variant throughout the county, with few overall cases in Santa Cruz County and even fewer being sequenced. However, Newel says that we must assume that the Delta variant, like with most of California, is present in the majority of the COVID-19 cases.

Gail Newel speaks to the assembled media on Thursday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Other questions that got answered on Thursday ...

What are the new regulations to combat the spread?

Nothing new. Precautions are still mask-wearing in crowded indoor spaces, hand-washing, and physical distancing.

“Wear your masks in public spaces, all of us,” Newel said. “I’m recommending that even fully vaccinated people wear their masks in outdoor crowded spaces and indoor spaces.”

Of those hospitalized, are any vaccinated?

Of the 11 cases in Santa Cruz County, none was vaccinated, Newel said.

“My message to you today is that now is the time to be vaccinated, if you’re not already,” she said.

Newel said that there are some “breakthrough cases” among the fully vaccinated due to the Delta variant, but those cases are mild or often asymptomatic. In the state of California currently, approximately 2% of infections are in fully vaccinated persons, regardless of which vaccine.

Will employers require their staff to provide proof of vaccination?

There is no regulation in Santa Cruz County currently for employees to show their vaccination status to their employer — and that includes at Dominican Hospital and Watsonville Community Hospital. However, Newel shared that policy may change shortly.

“My understanding is, just prior to this press conference, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties released information stating that they would be asking their employers to require vaccinations for continued employment status,” Newel said. “Santa Cruz County is not going in that direction at this time — we hope to encourage employers to up their game.”

Additionally, for students hoping to return to college in the coming weeks, both UCSC and Cabrillo College are requiring vaccinations for in-person learning.

Medical leaders from around the county gathered on Thursday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

How is county health ensuring that essential workers are vaccinated?

There have been many efforts to vaccinate essential workers throughout the county, and the medical leaders have worked with the Agriculture Commissioner and the Farm Bureau to encourage more education surrounding the pandemic.

“We believe the vast majority of our migrant ag community have been offered vaccinations, and have been vaccinated,” Newel said.

What should individuals do if they are experiencing symptoms similar to COVID-19, but are fully vaccinated?

Regardless if you are fully vaccinated, you are not fully immune to the novel coronavirus.

According to Newel, if you are experiencing any symptoms you would associate with the common cold — sore throat, congestion, migraines — stay home until you feel better. You can also get a COVID-19 test to make sure that you are not a vector to other unvaccinated persons.

Could there be more shutdowns?

At this rate, no.

“I don’t see closures of the economy as a part of our future, unless things get very dire,” Newel said. “I don’t see it getting dire, as the vast majority of us are fully vaccinated, so when we do see a surge, it should be smaller — fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths and less impact on the economy.”

Where can I get a vaccine?

Vaccines are available throughout the county — including the county and Museum of Art & History’s tag-team effort on Friday — and vaccines are free to all. Visit Santa Cruz Health for more information on where you can find a vaccination near you.