COVID TODAY: As we move back into orange Wednesday, county cautions that safety is still essential

People enjoy a ride at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
People enjoy a ride at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The news you need to know today about COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County, including deaths, hospitalizations, positivity rate and vaccine updates.

March 30


4:30 p.m.: Santa Cruz County entered the orange tier today as cases and positivity rates continue to decline. Still, a statement from county health officials announcing the move warned that though transmission rates locally are on a positive trend, “coronavirus cases are increasing globally and the B.1.1.7 variant has recently been found within Santa Cruz County,” so mask wearing, social distancing, and other mitigating measures remain important.

Here’s a closer look at the local numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 188 active cases of COVID-19, ten fewer than Monday. The 7-day average of new cases for March 29 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 2.7 per 100,000 people (this is a provisional number that could change as new cases are reported). The state average is 3.2. The current 7-day positivity rate is 1%. The most recent state positivity rate is 1.6%.

Hospitalizations: There were 3 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, the same as Monday, according to state data. One of those patients is in the ICU, the same as Monday. A total of 5 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, two fewer than Monday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported today, and the total number of residents who have died from COVID-19 remains at 200.

Vaccinations: As of Tuesday 150,893 doses had been distributed in Santa Cruz County.

-Mallory Pickett

March 29

California is days away from dramatically expanding who is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

But will there be enough doses to go around?

Not immediately. But officials are growing more optimistic that the scarcity that has caused so much frustration will soon morph into abundance — turbo-charging the inoculation campaign.

After months of constrained, and at times confusing, guidelines regarding who can roll up their sleeves and when, Californians who are at least 50 years old will be able to book appointments starting Thursday, and all residents age 16 and older will be eligible starting April 15.

The California Department of Finance, which monitors population data, projects that there are nearly 7.2 million people in the state between the ages of 50 and 64. Currently, only about 24% of Californians in that age group have received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared with 38% of people 18 to 49, likely due to occupation or health status.

Even without the impending expansion, nearly half of all Californians are already eligible for the vaccine — including adults 65 and older, health care workers, educators, people who are incarcerated or living in homeless shelters, essential workers such as those in the food industry or emergency services, public transit workers and janitors, and residents 16 and older who have disabilities or underlying health conditions.

Johnson & Johnson making a difference

While shortages of supply have stubbornly dogged the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in California, and across the nation, federal officials are expecting a major boost this week.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 million Johnson & Johnson doses are expected to be delivered nationwide, a huge number compared with what’s been shipped to date, according to Jeff Zients, coordinator of President Biden’s COVID-19 task force.

It’s unclear how many of those additional doses will flow to California, but any significant uptick has the potential to greatly accelerate the state’s vaccine rollout.

As of Monday morning, 623,400 Johnson & Johnson doses had been delivered to California and 330,419 had been administered, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hitting one milestone

Across a wide web of providers that includes local public health departments, pharmacies, care consortiums and other qualified health centers, California has now achieved its target of being able to administer 4 million doses a week, according to Blue Shield of California, which the state has retained to manage its vaccine network.

“We can handle more than that, frankly,” Blue Shield President Paul Markovich said in an interview Friday.

He said that capacity includes all of the providers who have signed contracts to be part of the statewide vaccine network.

“There’s another 3 million of capacity out there that may ultimately get contracted and brought on board,” he said. “So there’s a lot of capacity out there to administer the vaccine.”

As of Friday, 20 counties, including Santa Cruz, had agreed to be part of that statewide network, according to a spokesperson for the state public health department. And Markovich said “we are on track” to have the remaining counties sign on.

Santa Cruz County progress

Data from local public health officials, last updated on March 23, 2021, shows that about 16.6% of all county residents are fully vaccinated, and 29.8% are partially vaccinated, having had at least one dose of a two-dose regime.

-Los Angeles Times, with Mallory Pickett contributing

Here’s a closer look at the local numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 198 active cases of COVID-19, the same as Friday. The 7-day average of new cases for March 28 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 2.6 per 100,000 people (this is a provisional number that could change as new cases are reported). The state average is 3.3. The current 7-day positivity rate is 1%. The most recent state positivity rate is 1.7%.

Hospitalizations: There were 3 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, the same as Friday, according to state data. One of those patients is in the ICU, the same as Friday. A total of 7 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, the same as Friday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported today, and the total number of residents who have died from COVID-19 remains at 200.

Vaccinations: As of Monday, 149,144 doses had been distributed in Santa Cruz County.

-Mallory Pickett

March 26


In the wake of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Thursday that vaccine eligibility is expanding in California, local public health officials in Santa Cruz County and elsewhere were still preaching caution that supply wouldn’t be able to meet demand.

That’s still an open question. But, on Friday, federal officials offered a clue as to what might enable the pace of vaccinations to speed. It comes in the form of two words: Johnson & Johnson.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 million Johnson & Johnson doses are expected to be delivered next week, a huge number compared with what’s been shipped to date, according to Jeff Zients, coordinator of President Biden’s COVID-19 task force.

COVID-19 vaccinations gaphic
(Los Angeles Times)

“The company has said they’ll deliver the 20 million [doses] by the end of March,” he said during a briefing Friday, referencing a public production target. “And, from our conversations with the company, they are on track to meet that goal with at least 11 million doses delivered next week.”

As soon as those doses become available to the federal government, he added, “we will, in turn, make them available for delivery to our state, local and federal partners.”

Johnson & Johnson, he pointed out, “is still in its earlier stages of manufacturing” compared to the other available vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, “and will achieve, across time, a more regular weekly cadence.”

It’s unclear how many of those additional doses would flow to California, but any significant uptick has the potential to greatly accelerate the state’s vaccine rollout. While the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both require two doses — administered three and four weeks apart, respectively — Johnson & Johnson entails only one.

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Despite the vaccine’s promise, its administration has been slowed so far by production issues. As of Friday morning, 589,300 Johnson & Johnson doses had been delivered to California and 279,788 had been administered, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

California officials foreshadowed the boost in supply Thursday in announcing an imminent and dramatic expansion of the state’s vaccine eligibility. Residents who are at least 50 years old can get vaccines starting Thursday, and all Californians 16 and older will be eligible starting April 15.

Recently, California has received only about 1.8 million total COVID-19 vaccine doses a week. But officials said the state expects to be allocated about 2.5 million doses per week over the first half of April — with that number growing to more than 3 million doses later in the month.

Even with shipments of that size, however, officials warn that it will likely take months to provide a vaccine to every Californian who wants one.

Receiving significantly more doses is one thing, but being able to handle them is another.

Across a wide web of providers that includes local public health departments, pharmacies, care consortiums and other qualified health centers, California has now achieved its target of being able to administer 4 million doses a week, according to Blue Shield of California, which the state has retained to manage its vaccine network.

“We can handle more than that, frankly,” Blue Shield President Paul Markovich said in an interview Friday.

The CEO of Blue Shield predicts it will take until the end of April to ease California’s backlog. “When you make...

He said that capacity includes all of the providers who have signed contracts to be part of the statewide vaccine network.

“There’s another 3 million of capacity out there that may ultimately get contracted and brought on board,” he said. “So there’s a lot of capacity out there to administer the vaccine.”

The numbers here

Here’s Lookout’s overview Santa Cruz County’s COVID-19 numbers as of Friday:

Cases and positivity: There were 198 active cases of COVID-19, which is two fewer than Thursday. The 7-day average of new cases for March 25 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 1.6 per 100,000 people (this is a provisional number that could change as new cases are reported). The state average is 2.6 The current 7-day positivity rate is 0.8%. The most recent state positivity rate is 2.0%.

Hospitalizations: There were 3 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, the same as yesterday, according to state data. One of those patients is in the ICU, the same as Thursday. A total of 7 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, one fewer than yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported today, and the total number of residents who have died from COVID-19 remains at 200.

Vaccinations: As of Friday, 142,047 doses had been distributed in Santa Cruz County.

-Luke Money, Los Angeles Times; Mallory Pickett, Lookout Santa Cruz

Read COVID Today updates from previous days in our archive here.

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