Nurse Cherry Costales prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Nurse Cherry Costales prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at St. John’s Well Child & Family Center on Jan. 7. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

After third COVID-19 death in August, health officials point to combination of Delta, vaccination

Santa Cruz County officials announced Wednesday morning that an additional county resident died earlier this month due to COVID-19. This is the third COVID-19 related death in the county since June 1; all three residents were unvaccinated.

After not seeing a COVID-related death since June 1, the county has now tallied three in August.

The Santa Cruz County Public Health Department announced Wednesday morning that a man died earlier this month from COVID-related complications. Two others died on Aug. 2.

Santa Cruz County has totaled 210 COVID-19-related deaths.

The man, in his early 60s and with underlying health concerns, died on Aug. 15. He was unvaccinated; both individuals who passed on Aug. 2 were also unvaccinated.

“The Delta variant has contributed to a rapid increase in cases both locally and nationwide,” the county said in a statement. “Everyone is encouraged to get a free COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. Vaccines prevent serious illness and death.”

The Delta variant has led to higher case rates in the county and across the state over the last few weeks. This week, Santa Cruz Health has reported 763 active known cases, with an average of 40 new cases per day.

County Health Officer Gail Newel instituted a county mask mandate that began at midnight on Aug. 20, following other Bay Area counties instituting similar rules earlier in the month. Newel was previously hesitant to institute a mandate, but changed her mind after the county entered the red tier by CDC guidelines the week of Aug. 9.

“In moving around the community, I was talking with folks who weren’t wearing masks indoors and said they wouldn’t until there was an order,” she said in an earlier interview.

She further said that Delta’s infection rate — with all recent genomic sequencing returning as Delta variant cases — as an added need for the mandate.

“This is just such an infectious variant,” Newel said.

Newel said that while masking will help, the ultimate way to prevent serious illness and death is vaccination. As of today, 60.44% of the total county population is fully vaccinated, with 68.03% of residents receiving at least one dose.