Good news, bad news from Newel: SC vax rate doubles, but so does Delta count
Health Officer Gail Newel said Tuesday that while Santa Cruz County officials are discussing whether to follow most of the Bay Area in returning to a mask mandate, the area has a lower case rate and better hospital capacity than neighboring counties. Still, she said that two recent deaths are likely COVID-related, the first such fatalities since March.
The bad news: Delta variant cases have doubled in Santa Cruz County. The good news: COVID-19 vaccination rates in the past two weeks have also doubled.
And with several nearby Bay Area counties including San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Francisco issuing mandates for indoor mask-wearing regardless of vaccination status, there has been growing concern Santa Cruz is next.
While Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel said Tuesday that such a move is under discussion, the area has a lower case rate and better hospital capacity than neighboring counties. Still, she said that two recent deaths are likely COVID-related, the first such fatalities since June.
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Masks remain a recommendation for Santa Cruzans and a necessity for unvaccinated persons, according to state guidelines. For Newel, masks are not the battle the county should be trying to win 一 it’s vaccines.
“We’ve had double vaccine rates in two weeks but it’s still much slower than where it should be,” she said, adding that a mask mandate wouldn’t change much because individuals refusing to wear one will likely continue to do so.
Currently, 76% of the county population aged 12 and over have at least one vaccine, she said. Children under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.
Based on a meeting with local hospital leaders earlier this week, Newel said any capacity concerns are more linked to staff burnout and absences than bed availability.
“What we’re trying to do is maintain health care access so when we need it it is there,” she said. “[We’re] really focusing on vaccination because it is very unlikely a fully vaccinated person will require hospitalization.”
As of Monday, 30 Delta variant cases have been reported in Santa Cruz County, more than double the previously reported amount. Newel, however, estimates the true number to be higher. Due to the cost of genetic sequencing necessary to test for the Delta, only about 10% of cases are tested for the variant. According to state data, approximately 84.4% of positive cases are likely to have the Delta variant, she said.
Several recent local outbreaks have been reported: in the San Lorenzo Valley at Felton Music Hall in Felton and Joe’s Bar in Boulder Creek. The upper valley has had slightly lower vaccination rates compared to the rest of the county.
“We try to act quickly enough to prevent further spread. It is sometimes harder to do,” she said, noting that some of the affected individuals have not been forthcoming with the information needed for accurate contract tracing.
The targeted goal range for herd immunity remains within 70 to 80% of the total vaccine-eligible population. Despite some distressing increases of late, the overall fatality rate has remained low. Newel said she remains optimistic about the vaccine rates and self-policing county residents and businesses have continued to display.
“I think, in general, the community in Santa Cruz has been wonderful and is doing their best to put their entire community first,” Newel said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the deaths were the first COVID-19 related deaths since March. The last reported COVID-19 related death in Santa Cruz County was on June 1.