What we learned from county health officers Thursday about Delta variant, vaccine rate, etc.
Compared to the novel coronavirus, the Delta variant has presented differently in those affected. County health officer Gail Newel cited sniffles, sore throat, and irritated eyes as signs of the variant, with sneezing being the most common symptom for fully vaccinated people with breakthrough cases.
Santa Cruz County health officers held a virtual news conference Thursday to discuss the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, and ways for community members to help combat the spread.
“The Delta variant is here, it’s time to be vaccinated,” county health officer Gail Newel said. “If you have not already been vaccinated, please do so.”
Newel was joined by deputy health officer David Ghilarducci, and director Mimi Hall and assistant director Jen Herrera of Santa Cruz Health Services to discuss the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases related to the more infectious Delta variant.
Compared to the novel coronavirus, the Delta variant has presented differently in those affected. Newel cited sniffles, sore throat, and irritated eyes as signs of the variant, with sneezing being the most common symptom for fully vaccinated people with breakthrough cases.
“Stay home until you know you’re not sick — we don’t want you out and about spreading disease,” she said.
Case numbers in the county are increasing, with the Delta variant creating a surge that could last through mid-October. Newel said county hospitals are now receiving approximately 30 new cases per day, compared to at most four cases daily in May, June and early July.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Thursday’s presser on a range of topics:
Should parents of young kids be extra concerned about the Delta variant?
Currently, the best thing that parents can do for their children is to be conscientious about mask-wearing.
“There is some evidence that Delta may be more dangerous in that it causes more disease in younger people,” Ghilarducci said. “We’re seeing the average age of people in hospitals going down.”
Echoing estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Newel noted that children between the ages of 5 and 11 could be eligible for vaccines by the end of September — though Ghilarducci cautioned it’s more likely toward the end of the year.
The least-vaccinated age group in the county might surprise you.
Ghilarducci said the least-vaccinated group in Santa Cruz County is between the ages of 25 and 50. For those under 35, only about 50% are vaccinated.
In the county, the least vaccinated zip codes are in Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond.
Newel explains why she doesn’t believe a mask mandate is a good idea.
While Newel encourages masking in some indoor settings and crowded outdoor settings for everyone, she doesn’t believe a mandate would be helpful at this point.
“We really want to stay focused on vaccinations and not on masking,” she said. “I don’t think that an order would necessarily change the behavior of our residents — I think the same folks that are not wearing a mask now probably wouldn’t wear a mask if I issued the order.”
What do they foresee as the potential of a booster shot becoming available?
Boosters likely will not become available for the general public, but health officials say they could be helpful for immunocompromised people, particularly those who have undergone an organ transplant.
“They have not had as good of antibody response as we’d like to see, so they would likely be the basis of our recommendation for the booster shot,” Ghilarducci said.
He further cited an update earlier Thursday from presidential adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci regarding the concerns about worldwide vaccine supply. Fauci said he believes the U.S. can do more to protect the immunosuppressed here and continue to administer vaccines worldwide. Once the FDA and CDC provide approval, local health officials will determine next steps.
The uptick of vaccination rate around the county — particularly improvements in South County.
As of Thursday, 66.5% of Santa Cruz County residents have received at least one vaccine, with 68% of eligible people 12 and over being fully vaccinated. As Ghilarducci mentioned, the Delta variant has “really raised the bar,” but community members have been more adamant in getting vaccinated over the past two weeks.
“Vaccination is the most important tool to ending this pandemic,” he said.
Based on findings thus far, Ghilarducci said being vaccinated means you’re six times less likely to get infected, 10 times less likely to get hospitalized, and 16 times less likely to die from the infection.
The county will not go back to updating case rates daily.
The county will continue updating case rates biweekly on Mondays and Thursdays, but officials don’t believe there is reason to update more than that.
“Updating our data dashboard on a daily basis won’t necessarily provide additional insight,” spokesman Jason Hoppin said. “Updating twice a week will allow us to see what all of the trends of COVID are looking like.”
The data dashboard also has a new tab to show the 14-day daily average, which helps to give a better sense of community trends.