News of the week
The third winter with COVID brought concerns of not just a coronavirus surge, but the grim possibility of a COVID, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) triple threat packing hospitals and pushing personnel to their limits. Though all three illnesses certainly spiked during December, the current trends are encouraging across the board.
Locally, COVID cases have continued to decline. The county recorded 375 active cases as of Tuesday’s update from the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency. That’s 23 fewer than the county’s previous update, on Jan. 12. No new deaths were reported locally, keeping the county’s pandemic death toll at 276.
With COVID levels dropping, both flu and RSV cases are following suit as well, pointing to signs that the “tripledemic” that health care professionals feared earlier this winter could be subsiding.
County Health Officer Dr. Cal Gordon said that both flu and RSV wastewater data has shown a decline in community prevalence beginning in the new year. He added that hospital admissions for both are down as well, but that RSV is still the most common reason for people to be hospitalized — especially kids ages 5 and under. Meanwhile, the flu has packed a major punch earlier this winter.
COVID isn’t the only thing surging, as flu and RSV continue to make the rounds in Santa Cruz County. Those infections,...
Gordon said the county saw hospitalization rates for the flu second to only the 2017-18 winter. Now, he said, both flu hospitalizations and test positivity rate are on the decline, and that Santa Cruz County is likely past the flu season’s peak.
“We’re not through the tripledemic yet,” he said, “although I think, from what we can tell, we’re on the other side of the slope.”
That observation holds true within the walls of Dominican Hospital as well. Disaster Coordinator Paul Angelo said he can “confidently say” that COVID, flu and RSV numbers are all falling. He also said that COVID is presenting differently nowadays. When the pandemic started, Angelo said there was a high number of admissions to the intensive care unit, but now, even those admitted to the hospital with the virus are not as ill, and that the number of patients coming in with COVID are dropping consistently.
“About a week ago, we were seeing around 15 patients per day, and now we’re looking at about 10, and admitting far fewer than that,” he said.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties have joined Monterey County in the “substantial” tier of community COVID transmission as of Tuesday. Santa Clara and San Benito counties remained in the “high” tier as of Tuesday. “Substantial” transmission is 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 people, and “high” transmission is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people. As of Tuesday, Santa Cruz County counted 79 weekly cases per 100,000 people.
Still, that weekly case count was at 228 per 100,000 people as recently as the end of December. The decline in cases has been both welcome and consistent.
COVID, the seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus, which is particularly dangerous for young children, could cause...
Gordon said that, though the numbers show a decline, it’s difficult to gauge the true magnitude of said decline.
“We can’t hang our hat anymore on the positive PCR [polymerase chain reaction] tests, because people are just not coming in to get tested nearly to the degree they were,” he said, citing the usual culprits of at-home testing and COVID fatigue as the reasons for the lack of PCR testing. “We’ve really moved from having a common response to protect everyone to personal accountability.
Gordon considers it “fortunate” that the U.S. hasn’t seen a new variant that causes more severe illness, leading to more deaths. That said, he isn’t convinced that the new variants are weaker. Rather, increased immunity in the population from vaccines and exposure to the virus has provided a certain level of protection.
He added that available antivirals like Paxlovid continue to be effective in treating COVID infections, and that hospitalizations have stayed flat locally and statewide. However, bivalent booster uptake remains low.
According to the California Department of Public Health, only 31.1% of eligible Santa Cruz County residents have received the bivalent jab. That said, the county’s rate is above that of the state, which currently sits at 22.9%, and double the national rate of 15.9% for people ages 5 and older. Gordon said the good news is that the county’s most vulnerable population, those 65 and older, have the highest local bivalent booster uptake rate at 55.1% — well above the national rate of 39% for that same age group.
“That’s still not enough,” he said. “They’re often in a congregate setting, and are the ones who are likely to go to the hospital for COVID. It’s the exact group you want to get vaccinated.”
Gordon said that some semblance of population immunity, rather than a weaker variant, could be the reason for decreasing case counts and seemingly less severe infections. Angelo said he was less sure. He said that initially, boosted patients were clearly better off than their unboosted counterparts. Now, he’s seeing far fewer admissions across the board, regardless of how long it’s been since the patient’s most recent vaccine dose. Still, he said, most of these people have received at least their primary series.
“It’s made it hard to tell whether or not the bivalent vaccines made a big difference there, or if this variant is just not making people as sick,” said Angelo.
Still, even if that is the case, Angelo said that precautions in health care facilities aren’t going away anytime soon.
“Health care facilities are still going to expect you to socially distance and mask to protect the workers and population in the hospital, which can be immunocompromised and get sicker,” he said.
The updated, Omicron-targeting bivalent booster shot is now widely available at local drugstores and health care providers.
Walgreens is booked out about one week in advance at the Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz locations, but has openings at its Freedom location as soon as Tuesday. Safeway and CVS’ county locations now have immediate availability for people ages 5 and older who have received a primary series.
* * *
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 an 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.
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 Tuesday, there were 375 known 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.
No new deaths were reported, leaving the Santa Cruz County pandemic death toll at 276.
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.
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.
The sites below offer free PCR tests via LHI.care. Turnaround is typically 24 to 48 hours. Each location also has rapid COVID/flu tests and the COVID antiviral, Paxlovid.
The table below lists additional testing resources in Santa Cruz County. However, almost all require appointments.