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Unvaccinated young adults, public spaces a concerning combo, Santa Cruz County health officials say

If you’re treating the Omicron moment as you did Delta or pre-Delta, “you’re virtually guaranteed to get infected,” the county’s deputy health officer says. Since young adults became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year, they’ve continued to lag in receiving the shots, nationally and in Santa Cruz County, a topic of concern for public health officials.

Although Santa Cruz County appears to be avoiding an increase in hospitalizations seen in other parts of the country due to Omicron, officials are still concerned about unvaccinated people — particularly young adults — driving community spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant.

Of particular concern is the 20-to-35 age group in Santa Cruz County, which continues to lag behind other vaccine-eligible age groups in getting the shot.

“This group, we think, is a major part of transmission in the county,” said Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer David Ghilarducci. “They also happen to be the highest number of cases per capita, and the least vaccinated. And I think those two go together.”

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The 25-to-34 age group currently accounts for almost 22% of the county’s active cases, according to the county’s online COVID-19 database.

“The other thing is, we’re seeing cases that are popping up in bars, in yoga and jiu-jitsu classes,” said Ghilarducci. “So this is a really infectious variant. And, again, if you got away with doing these kinds of things back during Delta or pre-Delta, that’s not going to happen with Omicron. You’re virtually guaranteed to get infected.”

David Ghilarducci
(Courtesy County of Santa Cruz)

If you got away with doing these kinds of things back during Delta or pre-Delta, that’s not going to happen with Omicron. You’re virtually guaranteed to get infected.

— Dr. David Ghilarducci

For the past two weeks or so, he said, Santa Cruz County has had an average of between 13 to 14 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, while other parts of the country have seen higher numbers not recorded in months. In the state, there were 4,001 coronavirus patients hospitalized Sunday — California’s highest single-day total since Oct. 9 and a nearly 14% increase from last week.

While Ghilarducci isn’t entirely sure why the younger adult group is choosing not to get vaccinated, he said it could be that they feel less vulnerable to serious effects from COVID-19.

Public health officials continue to emphasize that people should wear a mask while indoors, get vaccinated and boosted and to stay home when sick. Federal officials have announced they are working to step up mitigation efforts, such as increasing testing capabilities nationwide. At the same time, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is loosening isolation and quarantine restrictions.

New CDC guidelines

On Monday, the CDC announced that the isolation period, or time you need to stay away from others after testing positive for COVID, will be reduced from 10 days to five days if you are asymptomatic. After those five days of isolation, you must wear a mask for the following five days when around others.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after,” a press release from the CDC reads.

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Public health officials have also acknowledged that the updated guidance is a way to improve staffing shortages in industries struggling to maintain a healthy workforce, such as in health care and airlines–a move that has been met with consternation from a number of experts.

“I think the reason for this [change] is twofold. One is, we’re showing evidence that the viral loads of viral shedding tends to drop off a lot faster than the old guidance accounted for,” said Ghilarducci. “And secondly, we’re having a real staffing issue in hospitals.”

The new quarantine guidelines require that when someone who is unvaccinated or is more than six months from their second mRNA dose is exposed to COVID and has not yet received a booster, they must quarantine for five days, then wear a mask for the following five days.

The CDC also now recommends that individuals who have received a booster don’t need to quarantine after an exposure but should wear a mask when around others for the 10 days following an exposure.

K-12 and college students returning to school

Schools have announced a variety of measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 amid the holiday season and the Omicron surge. UC Santa Cruz announced earlier this month it would start the year with two weeks of remote instruction, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state will be providing schools with one to two test kits for each student prior to the return to school.

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In the meantime, officials are still encouraging that guardians sign their children up for the vaccine once they are eligible, as some regions are seeing rising pediatric hospitalizations.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday that he’s concerned about serious illness among unvaccinated individuals, including children.

Fauci said medical officials in South Africa also are reporting more hospitalizations among children infected with the coronavirus, echoing data out of New York, which is seeing a jump in pediatric hospitalizations, most among children who aren’t fully vaccinated.

“That’s one of the reasons why we say … if you have a child from 5 to 11, to please get that child vaccinated to prevent them from getting anything that even resembles a serious illness,” Fauci said.

Ghilarducci said there were no pediatric hospitalizations in Santa Cruz County as of Tuesday.

How to sign children up for the vaccine

In addition to signing up through the County Office of Education for the vaccine, parents and caregivers have several additional options: get children the vaccine through their pediatrician’s office, checking or calling 833-422-4255, searching the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s VaccineFinder.

MyTurn and VaccineFinder will direct users to sign up for open appointments at sites such as local CVS, Safeway, Walgreens and other locations offering the vaccine.

For additional questions, call the County Office of Education Vaccine Support Line at 831-466-5906.

The Los Angeles Times contributed reporting to this story.