COVID Update: Hospitalizations slowly rise; officials put that into wider perspective

A man receives a COVID booster shot at a drive through clinic
(Irfan Khan / Los Angles Times)
An graphic image for the Lookout COVID Dashboard

News of the week

Now, as the Bay Area continues to see consistently high case rates, hospitalizations have begun to rise.

That’s not good news, but healthcare professionals at the frontlines contrast where we are collectively at in the pandemic with that of 2020 and 2021. The hospitalization increase has been much more gradual this time around, and the total numbers are far lower than the winter’s omicron surge and the ‘20-’21 winter surge.

The majority of severe cases seen are among familiar populations: people that are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, or older than 65.

Locally, cases have jumped a bit more than in previous weeks, with the county recording 2,120 active cases on Monday. That’s 80 more than last Monday.

But now, more than ever, people are opting for at-home tests, which often go unreported. The true number of active cases in Santa Cruz County — and the entire Bay Area for that matter — are likely much higher than recorded data shows.

Due to those uncertain — but definitively high — case rates, an indoor mask mandate in Los Angeles county is likely to make its return in the not-too-distant future, which could herald renewed masking elsewhere.

As all eye current numbers, much of the discussion now moves to what may happen this fall as new variants cause uncertainty and the race to produce and mass distribute a more target vaccine is in motion.

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Independent scientists and physicians told the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that an updated vaccine should be rolled out this fall to specifically target Omicron, its subvariants, and the original strain. A vaccine formula for the fall needs to be chosen soon, so the FDA is expected to make a final decision.

Santa Cruz County’s three test-to-treat locations are still up and running. Click here to find the closest location. Currently, Paxlovid is the available medication, showing a 89% reduction in hospitalization and death, and it must be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms to be effective.

Vaccinations and precautions are still strongly recommended.

The easiest way to schedule an appointment for second boosters is at local pharmacies including Rite-Aid, CVS and Walgreens.

Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health are still administering second boosters to eligible recipients.

Check our links below for quick access to the relevant websites.

Masking rules

Neither the state of California nor Santa Cruz County currently requires indoor masking. For county public schools, as of March 11, masks are optional though highly recommended.

As of April 10, masks are not required for most indoor settings at UC Santa Cruz facilities, though highly recommended. Masks will still be required for on-campus public transportation, in the Early Education Services centers, and in clinical settings.

On April 19, Santa Cruz Metro lifted its mask mandate for vaccinated passengers, following a federal judge’s ruling that mask mandates are not required on public transportation.

The latest numbers

How does Santa Cruz compare to California and the U.S. in vaccinations? Where are the most current COVID cases in the county, and how does that compare to population? Here is the most recent data.

As of Monday, there were 2,040 active cases logged by Santa Cruz County’s Health Services Agency. This does not include unreported rapid tests taken at home, so this number is not exact.

One new death was reported in the past week, raising the pandemic total at 267.

Wastewater Data as of Aug. 2
(Via California Department of Public Health)

Where can I find a vaccine?

At this point, vaccines are widely available across the county. They are free for everyone, whether insured or not.

As of March 31, second booster shots are available to people aged 50 and older as well as people 12 and older who are immunocompromised or who have received Johnson & Johnson as their primary series and booster doses.

Rite-Aid, CVS, Horsnyder Pharmacy, Westside Pharmacy and Walgreens are currently offering second boosters.

Those wanting to get the shot through their primary care provider should check the company’s website, as availability may vary.

Health care providers

You can schedule appointments for initial doses and booster shots. Below are the local health care providers that offer the vaccine.

Kaiser Permanente
866-454-8855
Sutter/Palo Alto Medical Foundation
844-987-6115
Dignity Health
831-288-6526
CruzMedMo
831-241-7501
Emeline Health Center
831-454-4100

Drugstores and supermarkets

Most pharmacies in the county have COVID-19 vaccines appointments available well into the future. Click the pharmacy of your choice to schedule an appointment.

Safeway
Rite-Aid
CVS
Walgreens
Costco
Horsnyder Pharmacy & Medical Supply
Westside Pharmacy

Getting tested

The sites below offer free PCR tests via LHI.care. Turnaround is typically three to five days.

Mountain Community Resources
6134 Hwy. 9, Felton
Depot Freight Building
119 Center St., Santa Cruz
Watsonville Testing Site
500 Westridge Dr., Watsonville

The table below lists additional testing resources in Santa Cruz County. However, almost all require appointments.