COVID Dashboard: County health pivoting to wastewater data rather than case counts

The Watsonville wastewater treatment facility
The Watsonville wastewater treatment facility.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
An graphic image for the Lookout COVID Dashboard

News of the week

A Monday update of the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency’s COVID case count showed 338 cases, down by 56 from the previous Monday. No new deaths were reported locally, keeping the county’s pandemic death toll at 276.

Hospitalizations are down across the country according to the Centers for Disease Control. Local transmission, though, hasn’t changed. Santa Cruz and all of its neighboring counties of Santa Clara, San Benito, San Mateo and Monterey are once again all in the “substantial” tier of community transmission, which means that they are all recording more than 50 cases per 100,000 people. Currently, Santa Cruz County is seeing 61 cases per 100,000 people — down 22 from last week.

Case counts have long been unreliable, due to the prevalence of at-home rapid testing that has only grown in popularity over the past year. Because of this, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency will instead be putting most of its focus on keeping wastewater data up to date, spokesperson Corinne Hyland told Lookout on Monday.

Wastewater data does not correlate directly with the number of infections or active cases in a jurisdiction. However, it provides a robust look at the region’s trends and can even show the trajectory of the virus locally before people begin feeling ill, as most people are infected several days before experiencing symptoms. As state-sponsored testing sites shut down across California now that emergency declarations have ended, wastewater trends might be the best, most consistent way to track the status of the virus in a given community.

Locally, those trends have, stayed mostly low throughout the beginning of 2023. Though February saw generally higher levels than January, the prevalence remains much lower than that of December.

The updated, Omicron-targeting 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.

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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.

Masking rules

Neither the state of California nor Santa Cruz County currently requires indoor masking. For county public schools, as of March 11, 2022, masks are optional though highly recommended.

As of April 10, 2022, 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, 2022, 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 338 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.

Wastewater COVID tracking data as of Feb. 28.
(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, 2022, 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
Sutter/Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Dignity Health
Emeline Health Center

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.

Horsnyder Pharmacy & Medical Supply
Westside Pharmacy

Getting tested

Citing declining cases, health officials have closed a number of testing facilities around Santa Cruz County. The table below lists testing resources around the county; almost all require appointments.


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