An archive of Lookout’s daily COVID-19 updates

March 25

4 p.m.:

Santa Cruz County health officials gave their weekly COVID-19 update on Thursday, confirming that “all systems are go for orange tier next week,” as county Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel put it.

Newel said the county’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy metrics actually worsened slightly from last week in both case and positivity rates, but the numbers remained very small and firmly within the orange tier range. Deputy health officer Dr.David Ghilarducci added that models are no longer showing a significant surge this spring, but that we are in a “race” with the virus to keep it under control and get as many people vaccinated as possible before more transmissible variants spread and evolve.

“Despite continuing good news we can’t let our guard down over spring break,” Newel said, “and we need to minimize mixing, avoid crowds. There’s still a travel advisory in place for the state of California.”

The travel advisory recommends against nonessential travel of more than 120 miles from your home — and states that anyone who leaves the country or state needs to self quarantine for 10 days upon a return to California.

Health officials also discussed the details of California’s rapidly expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility. You can read more about that here.

To learn more about how to get vaccinated, click here.

Meanwhile, here’s Lookout’s daily report of key local COVID-19 metrics:

Cases and positivity: There were 200 active cases of COVID-19, which is two fewer than Wednesday. The 7-day average of new cases for March 24 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 1.4 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 0.7%. The most recent state positivity rate is 2.0%.

Hospitalizations: There were 3 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 Thursday, the same as yesterday, according to state data. One of those patients was in the ICU, the same as Tuesday. A total of 8 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, the same as 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 Tuesday, 139,164 doses had been distributed in Santa Cruz County.

March 24


6 p.m.: California has administered more than 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. That’s a lot. But in the nation’s most populous state, that’s still a fraction of the demand. And that means many who want to be vaccinated are still being turned away.

Meanwhile, as local COVID-19 metrics continued to improve, Santa Cruz County was handed a grim reminder of the pandemic: The number of deaths countywide hit 200 on Wednesday.

Statewide, vaccine eligibility lags

California is lagging behind some other states in expanding vaccine eligibility. Alaska, West Virginia and Mississippi are vaccinating everyone ages 16 and older. Georgia, Arizona and Texas are following suit this month. Everyone 50 and above is eligible in Florida and New York, and Indiana and Ohio are vaccinating residents in their 40s.

Nearly half of all Californians are already eligible for the vaccine. That includes 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. This list is not exhaustive, though, as the state continues to refine specifications for who qualifies under the various categories.

So when will that change?

Looking to May

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday he believes the state could make the shots available to everyone by early May. “We’re anticipating within 5½ weeks where we can eliminate all of the tiering, so to speak, and make available vaccines to everybody across the spectrum because supply will exponentially increase,” Newsom said.

The governor didn’t elaborate on the timeline, but it dovetails with previous federal guidance as to the expected availability of, and access to, the vaccines.

President Biden said last week that restrictions on who could make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment would be lifted nationwide by May 1, as supply is expected to be sufficient to meet demand.

Santa Cruz County health officer Gail Newel said on Thursday that she expects Santa Cruz County could expand age-based eligibility to residents between 50-64 years of age sometime around April 1.

County records 200th death

Here’s Lookout’s daily recap of the local COVID-19 numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 202 active cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, which is nine fewer than Tuesday. The 7-day average of new cases for March 24 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 1.3 per 100,000 people (this is a provisional number that could change as new cases are reported). The state average is 2.8 The current 7-day positivity rate is 0.7%. The most recent state positivity rate is 1.9%.

Hospitalizations: There were 3 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 Wednesday, one fewer than yesterday, according to state data. One of those patients is in the ICU, the same as Tuesday. A total of 8 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: One new death was reported Wednesday, bringing the total number of residents who have died from COVID-19 to 200. The person reported today was a white woman in her 50s who had at least one underlying condition.

Vaccinations: As of Tuesday, 136,175 doses had been distributed in Santa Cruz County.

-Mallory Pickett, Lookout Santa Cruz and Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times

March 23


The weekly update to California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy Data was released Tuesday, and, as expected, Santa Cruz County met orange tier criteria for the second week in a row. This puts the county on track to reopen under orange rules on Wednesday, March 31.

The orange tier is the second-least restrictive tier in the state’s four-tier reopening plan. The last time the county was in this tier was Nov. 9.

The move will allow increased capacity allowed in several indoor settings, including restaurants and movie theaters. Among them:

Places of worship can open at 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer.

Dine-in restaurants can open at 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer.

Gyms and fitness centers, including indoor pools can open at 25% capacity.

Meanwhile, here’s Lookout’s daily overview of key COVID-19 metrics in Santa Cruz County:

Cases and positivity: There were 211 active cases of COVID-19, which is 18 fewer than Monday. The 7-day average of new cases for March 22 (the most recent date for which data was available) is 1.4 per 100,000 people (this is a provisional number that could change as new cases are reported). The state average is 3.1 The current 7-day positivity rate is 0.7%. The most recent state positivity rate is 1.8%.

Hospitalizations: There were 4 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, one fewer than yesterday, according to state data. One of those patients is in the ICU, the same as Monday. A total of 9 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, three fewer than yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: Two new deaths were reported today, bringing the total number of Santa Cruz County residents who have died from COVID-19 to 199. Both victims were Latinx men in their forties, and both had underlying health conditions.

Vaccinations: As of Tuesday, 132,894 doses had been distributed in Santa Cruz County.

-Mallory Pickett

March 22


5:30 p.m.: The first cases of the “B.1.1.7 variant” have been detected in Santa Cruz County, according to county officials. This is the highly publicized variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, that was first detected in the United Kingdom and that scientists believe might be more transmissible.

“We expected these variants to arrive in our county eventually,” Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said in a statement. “Our case numbers look very good right now. However, we must not let down our guard, and need to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing while in public. A virus cannot mutate if it cannot replicate.”

The first confirmed B.1.1.7 case within the county was from a patient who tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 28, 2021. The second case was from a patient who tested positive on Feb. 28, 2021. The county’s statement said that “local residents should assume the B.1.1.7 variant is circulating in the community. “

Local health officials were notified of the variant detection by the California Department of Public Health, which is tracking variants of concern. One of the two B.1.1.7 cases was identified via ongoing sequencing efforts at the UCSC Genomics Institute, which is sequencing samples from some local COVID-19 tests.

Although today’s news reveals that B.1.1.7 cases have been here since at least late January, the county has continued to see the improving numbers, as Newel referenced. Here’s Lookout’s weekday look at them:

Cases and positivity: There were 229 active cases of COVID-19, which is 20 fewer than Thursday. The 7-day average of new cases for March 18 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 2.3 per 100,000 people (this is a provisional number that could change as new cases are reported). The state average is 3.4 The current 7-day positivity rate is 0.8%. The most recent state positivity rate is 1.8%.

Hospitalizations: There were 5 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, one more than yesterday, according to state data. One of those patients is in the ICU, the same as Friday. A total of 12 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, five more than 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 Santa Cruz residents who have died from COVID-19 remain at 197.

Vaccinations: As of Monday, 131,211 doses had been distributed in Santa Cruz County.

-Mallory Pickett

March 19


5:30 p.m.: County health officer Dr. Gail Newel shared information with Lookout today on why Santa Cruz joined most of the other California counties in refusing to sign an agreement with Blue Shield, the state’s new third party administrator for the COVID-19 vaccine — instead choosing to use them as a provider of vaccine but not a distributor. Read more about the controversy here.

Meanwhile, here’s Lookout’s daily look at local COVID-19 numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 251 active cases of COVID-19, which is 6 fewer than Wednesday and the same number as Thursday. The 7-day average of new cases for March 18 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 2.2 per 100,000 people (this is a provisional number that could change as new cases are reported). The state average is 2.9. The current 7-day positivity rate is 1.2%. The most recent state positivity rate is 2%.

Hospitalizations: There were 9 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, one more than yesterday, according to state data. One of those patients is in the ICU, the same as yesterday. A total of 7 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, three more 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 Santa Cruz residents who have died from COVID-19 remain at 197.

Vaccinations: As of Thursday, 123,592 doses had been distributed in Santa Cruz County.

-Mallory Pickett

COLLEEN SHALBY

March 18


6 p.m.: In a sign that California’s uneven COVID-19 vaccine rollout is significantly ramping up, nearly 1 million Californians have gotten a shot in the past two days, data show.

The last four days have seen the four highest single-day totals of vaccines administered to date, according to data compiled by the LA Times, a Lookout content partner.

That record-setting run includes 464,249 doses reported Tuesday — an all-time high — and 400,360 on Wednesday, the second-largest daily total.

It took roughly 2½ months — from when the first vaccines arrived in mid-December until early March — for 10 million doses to be administered statewide. In the two-week period following that milestone, providers have given more than 3 million additional shots.

“The quicker we get to immunity, the quicker we will put this pandemic in the rearview mirror so we can enjoy more everyday activities without the concerns we’ve experienced in the past year,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, state public health officer and California Department of Public Health director, said in a statement Wednesday.

WORLD & NATIONHow Alaska achieved one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the U.S.
Despite the recent progress, however, California continues to lag behind many other states in its vaccination efforts.

To date, roughly 23% of Californians have received at least one vaccine dose — a proportion that ranks 33rd out of all states and U.S. territories, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, here’s our daily look at COVID-19 statistics in Santa Cruz County:

Cases and positivity: There were 251 active cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, which is 6 fewer than Wednesday. The 7-day average of new cases for March 17 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 2.2 per 100,000 people (this is a provisional number that could change as new cases are reported). The state average is 2.8. The current 7-day positivity rate is 1.3%. The most recent state positivity rate is 2.0%.

Hospitalizations: There were 8 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, one more than yesterday, according to state data. One of those patients is in the ICU, the same as yesterday. A total of 4 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported today

Vaccinations: As of Thursday, 119,879 doses had been distributed in Santa Cruz County.

-Mallory Pickett, Los Angeles Times contributing

March 17


5:30 p.m.: Kaiser Permanente is opening a new vaccination hub in the Kaiser Permanente Arena, in partnership with the Santa Cruz Warriors.

Beginning Thursday, March 18, the site will serve eligible Kaiser patients and others in the community, according to a statement released by health provider.

Dependent upon vaccine supply, the site is expected to operate seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Kaiser Permanente members and non-members can check eligibility and schedule an appointment by completing an e-visit at kp.org/covidvaccine.

Vaccinations are available by appointment only. For those eligible for a vaccination but not a Kaiser Permanente member, they can obtain an appointment, if available, and a medical record number by visiting kp.org/covidvaccine.

“We have been vaccinating both members and non-members through our clinics in Scotts Valley and Watsonville, in addition to our San Jose and Santa Clara Medical Centers,” said Sam Bajaj, Chief Operating Officer for Kaiser Permanente San Jose and Santa Cruz County in the statement. “As supply increases, the larger footprint of the arena will allow Kaiser Permanente to scale up its vaccination efforts and provide increased access to vaccines for residents.”

Meanwhile, Sutter Health/Palo Alto Medical Foundation, which has struggled with vaccine supply, is now beginning to open up some limited availability for patients to receive first shots.

A spokesperson for Sutter said today that Santa Cruz County Public Health Division is sharing some of their vaccine allocation with Sutter to help vaccinate their patients, to supplement Sutter’s own supply.

Here’s a closer look at the local numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 257 active cases of COVID-19, which is eight fewer than Wednesday. The seven-day average of new cases for March 16 (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 2.9. The current seven-day positivity rate is 1.4%. The most recent state positivity rate is 1.9%.

Hospitalizations: There were 7 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, according to state data (this is updated at different intervals than the data shared by Dr. Ghilarducci). One of those patients is in the ICU, the same as yesterday. A total of 9 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: One new death was reported today, bringing the total to 197. The person who died was a Latinx man in his 40s who did have at least one underlying health condition.

Vaccinations: As of Thursday, 116,433 doses had been distributed in Santa Cruz County.

Mallory Pickett

March 16


The state released this week’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data assessment today, and Santa Cruz County met the criteria for the orange tier in all three necessary categories. Counties must meet the tier criteria for three consecutive weeks before advancing to this less restrictive tier.

“We’re one week in and expect to move to the orange tier in two weeks,” said county health spokesperson Corinne Hyland.

The orange tier is the second-least restrictive tier in the state’s four-tier reopening plan. The last time the county was in this tier was Nov. 9.

Among the liberties orange allows:

Places of worship can open at 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer.

Dine-in restaurants can open at 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer.

Gyms and fitness centers, including indoor pools can open at 25% capacity.

(A complete list of what’s open in this tier can be found at the end of this item.)

Meanwhile, vaccinations for people experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz County are well underway, and Lookout’s Kevin Painchaud visited a clinic run by the Homeless Person’s Health Project today.

“People are really happy to come in,” said health center manager Joe Crottogini. “We’ve had excellent show rates, we’ve had probably 99% show rates for our patients, probably better show rates than even our health care workers that have come in.”

Rox Roy, a singer originally from Jamaica who has been in Santa Cruz for about 38 years and is now staying in a shelter, was grateful to get his first shot from the Homeless Person’s Health Project Today.

“I love it,” he said.

With that, here’s a closer look at the local COVID-19 numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 265 active cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, which is 13 fewer than Monday. The 7-day average of new cases for March 15 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 3 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 1.2%. The most recent state positivity rate is 1.9%.

Hospitalizations: There were eight patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, according to state data (this is updated at different intervals than the data shared by Dr. Ghilarducci). Two of those patients are in the ICU, the same as yesterday. A total of nine ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported today.

Vaccinations: As of Thursday, 113,751 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents.

March 15


2:30 p.m.: Watsonville Community Hospital reported no COVID-19 patients today for the first time since November, according to county emergency services director Dr. David Ghilarducci.

Dominican Hospital has seven COVID-19 patients, Ghilarducci said, including an elderly couple who apparently had been eligible for vaccination. “We don’t know exactly who they are, what the barriers were to getting vaccinated,” he said, adding that the county has vaccinated about 84% of the 75 and older population.

Ghilarducci also shared that Pacific Coast Manor, a skilled nursing facility, recently experienced an outbreak of several COVID-19 infections among its residents. Fortunately, nearly all the residents at Pacific Coast Manor had been vaccinated, and none of the infected people displayed serious symptoms, or required any medical treatment. “They all felt fine,” Ghilarducci said. The vaccines “really seem to be working.”

Here’s a closer look at the local numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 278 active cases of COVID-19, which is 2 more than Friday. The state has changed what data is reported on a daily basis, apparently to align with the data used Blueprint tier framework. The 7-day average of new cases for March 14 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 3.8 per 100,000 people, up from 2.8 on Friday. The state average is 3.9. The current 7-day positivity rate is 1.2%. The state positivity rate is 2.0%.

Hospitalizations: There were 9 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, according to state data (this is updated at different intervals than the data shared by Dr. Ghilarducci). Two of those patients were in the ICU, the same as Friday. A total of 9 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: Three new deaths were reported today, bringing the total number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County to 193. Here’s an overview of everyone who’s died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County so far:

Vaccinations: As of Thursday, 110,238 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents.

March 12


6:30 p.m.: “Herd immunity,” also known as “population immunity,” is “the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection,” according to the World Health Organization.

Health officials can’t say for certain when it will happen in Santa Cruz County. But vaccination percentages can offer some clues.

Approximately 14% of all Santa Cruz County residents age 16 and up are now fully vaccinated, according to data provided by deputy health officer Dr. David Ghilarducci. Of residents 65 and older, 35% countywide are now fully vaccinated.

“Fully vaccinated” means a person has received two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one shot of the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
Ghilarducci said that preliminary results from a state of California model — which accounts for previous infection (and is still being tested) — predict Santa Cruz County could reach herd immunity by early to mid-July.

This would coincide with about 80% of residents 16 and older having received at least a first dose of vaccine, if the current pace continues. To put that in perspective, 29% of residents 16 and older are now partially vaccinated. Of county residents 65 and older, 76% have gotten one shot.

So are these numbers sure fire? Hit 80% and herd immunity is achieved?

Not quite. The exact percentage is complicated by the fact that no one knows exactly how many people have already been infected with — and are immune to — COVID-19 (at least in the short-term).

But the progress to date is encouraging, especially if vaccine distribution can be sped up along the lines of what President Joe Biden proposed Thursday. Late spring might even be possible.

Meanwhile, a look at other COVID-19 statistics in Santa Cruz County Friday:

Cases and positivity: There were 276 active cases of COVID-19, which is 8 fewer than Thursday. The state has changed what data is reported on a daily basis, apparently to align with the data used Blueprint tier framework. The 7-day average of new cases for March 11 (the most recent date for which it’s available) is 2.8 per 100,000 people. The state average is 3.4.

Hospitalizations: There were 7 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 Friday, which is the same as Thursday. Two of those patients are in the ICU, the same as Wednesday. A total of 5 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: One new death was reported Friday, bringing the total number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County to 193. Today’s fatality was an Asian man in his 80s without underlying conditions who was not a resident of a nursing home or any other skilled nursing facility.

Vaccinations: As of Friday, 100,589 vaccine doses had been administered to Santa Cruz County residents.

March 11


6 p.m.: Santa Cruz County public health officials appeared positive at today’s COVID-19 press conference, where they shared a bevy of hopeful updates about the state of the pandemic, including a prediction that some form of herd immunity in California and locally could be possible by late spring or early summer.

Mimi Hall, the county health services director, also shared that officials do not expect the fact that Santa Cruz County has been left out of the state’s new equity plan to have a huge impact on local vaccine availability.

The program is only expected to continue for another week or two, and so far “we have not seen any temporary decrease of allocation to our county,” as a result of being omitted for the new program, Hall said.

Vaccine eligibility is also expanding. Beginning Monday, people with certain health conditions will be eligible to get vaccinated at the discretion of their doctor.

Additionally, as of today, Phase 1B has grown significantly as new occupations, including transit and janitorial workers, were added. This was somewhat surprising, as the California Department of Public Health had previously indicated it would move away from occupation-based eligibility and towards age-only criteria.

Here’s a closer look at the local COVID-19 numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 284 active cases of COVID-19, which is 8 fewer than Wednesday. The 14-day average positivity rate is 3.9%, up from 3.8% yesterday . The 14-day average of new cases reported each day stood at 23.7 cases, which is significantly lower than its peak of 203 cases per day in mid-January.

Hospitalizations: There were 7 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, which is three fewer than Wednesday. Two of those patients are in the ICU, the same as Wednesday. A total of 5 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: One new death was reported today, bringing the total number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County to 192. Today’s fatality was a man in his seventies who was of Latinx ethnicity and who had an underlying health condition.

Vaccinations: As of Thursday, 99,682 vaccine doses had been administered to Santa Cruz County residents.

— Mallory Pickett

March 10


5:30 p.m.: Four new COVID-19 deaths were reported by the county today, including one person in their 30s, a reminder that age is not a guaranteed protection against the disease. This person who died did have underlying health conditions, according to data from the county health agency.

Here’s a closer look at the local numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 292 active cases of COVID-19, which is two fewer than Tuesday. The 14-day average positivity rate is 3.8%, up from 3.4% yesterday. The 14-day average of new cases reported each day stood at 23.5 cases, which is significantly lower than its peak of 203 cases per day in mid-January.

Hospitalizations: There were 10 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, which is one more than Tuesday. Two of those patients are in the ICU, the same as Tuesday. A total of 4 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: Four new deaths were reported today. One of the victims was a person in their 30s. This person did have underlying health conditions, as did the other three people whose deaths were reported today. Two of the others were in their 80s, and one in their 70s. Three were Latinx, and one was white. No one was a resident of a nursing home or other congregate living facility.

Vaccinations: As of Monday, 98,155 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents.

— Mallory Pickett

March 9

3:30 p.m.: Big news today, as Santa Cruz County met the requirements for the red tier. New, lighter restrictions will go into effect tomorrow, with some of the new allowed activities including indoor gym use and indoor dining (both with reduced capacity).

Meanwhile, in other promising news, county communications manager Jason Hoppin said today that about 30,000 of the 96,921 vaccines administered countywide have been second doses, meaning more than 10% of the county is fully vaccinated.

A negative development, however, is that the county appears to be being left out of the state’s vaccine equity program, which is based on Zip Codes, not census tracts.

Disadvantaged areas in Santa Cruz County are effectively diluted by being included in the same zip code as wealthier neighborhoods. For example, the 95076 zip code includes both Watsonville and La Selva Beach.

Meanwhile, here’s our regular weekday look at today’s COVID-19 numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 294 active cases of COVID-19, which is 17 fewer than Monday. The 14-day average positivity rate is 3.4%, down from 4.2% a week ago . The 14-day average of new cases reported each day stood at 22.3 cases, which is significantly lower than its peak of 203 cases per day in mid-January.

Hospitalizations: There were 9 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, which is one less than Monday. Two of those patients are in the ICU, one less than Monday. A total of 5 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported today.

Vaccinations: As of Monday, 96,921 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents.

— Mallory Pickett

March 8


4:30 p.m.: The state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data will be updated tomorrow, and it is expected to contain good news for Santa Cruz County: a move from the purple tier into the less restrictive red tier.

Local trends in cases, hospitalizations, and positivity rate continue moving downwards, and the red tier would mean fewer restrictions on residents and businesses countywide. (See below for a complete list.)

Also Monday, new guidance for fully vaccinated people allowing them more liberties was released by the CDC. These new benchmarks stem from data showing that the vaccines help prevent the spread of infection.

Under the new guidance, fully vaccinated people can gather with other vaccinated people without masks — and can even gather with unvaccinated people from a single household, provided no members of that household are at increased risk of severe COVID-19.

Here’s a closer look at the local numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 311 active cases of COVID-19, which is 31 fewer than Friday. The 14-day average positivity rate is 3.6%, down from 3.9% a week ago. The 14-day average of new cases reported each day stood at 22.4 cases, which is significantly lower than its peak of 203 cases per day in mid-January.

Hospitalizations: There were 10 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, which is two less than Friday. Three of those patients are in the ICU, one more than on Friday. A total of seven ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported today.

Vaccinations: As of Monday, 96,520 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents. Assuming every county resident will require two doses, this means at least 17% of doses needed to vaccinate the entire population have been administered. However, the true progress toward “normality” is likely much higher because some residents will receive the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and because herd immunity can be reached with less than 100% of the population getting vaccinated.

According to Lookout content partner the Los Angeles Times, the county ranks seventh in the state in terms of number of people vaccinated per capita.

What red means: If Santa Cruz County meets the criteria to move into the red tier Tuesday, the switch would officially happen on Wednesday. The red tier is the third most restrictive of the four reopening tiers and includes the following rules:

• Indoor restaurant dining rooms and movie theaters can reopen at 25% capacity or up to 100 people, whichever is fewer. Gyms and dance and yoga studios can open at 10% capacity. Museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoor activities at 25% capacity.

• Houses of worship can open indoors at 25% capacity. Stores, indoor malls and libraries can open at 50% capacity. Indoor malls must keep common areas closed and reduce capacity at food courts.

• Wedding ceremonies, funerals and other cultural ceremonies can be held indoors at 25% capacity. Wedding receptions are banned.

• Higher-education institutions can allow for indoor lectures and student gatherings but are limited to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer; however, student activities should be held virtually when possible. Some courses in certain indoor settings, like labs and studio arts, may be open at regular capacity.

— Mallory Pickett

March 5


4:30 p.m.: State officials this week laid out a plan for getting vaccines to the most disadvantaged parts of California. Specifically, vaccine distribution will be targeted for people living in the roughly 400 ZIP codes which rank the lowest in the California Healthy Places Index, an index that measures several socioeconomic factors.

Some parts of Watsonville, Beach Flats and Live Oak, are included in the 400 targeted Zip Codes.

The implications of this change are still being worked out, but local health officials are welcoming it because they’ve been trying to vaccinate these areas all along.

“We have already been concentrating our earlier efforts at prevention and testing and other things in those Zip Codes,” said public health agency director Mimi Hall.

Soon, these so-called lowest quartile Zip Codes across all of California will be allocated 40% of all vaccine doses each week.

“[By] the state saying 40% of your allocation must go to these populations, it actually helps us achieve what we know by medicine, data and science, who the most vulnerable populations to reach are,” Hall said.

As for the county’s COVID-19 statistics, four new COVID-19 deaths were posted Thursday. The deaths occurred between Feb.11 and Feb. 18 and of the deceased, all had underlying conditions except for one Latinx man in his 70s. The decline in active cases also stopped today, with the number increasing for the first time since last week.

Cases and positivity: There were 342 active cases of COVID-19, which is two more than Thursday. The 14-day positivity rate and 14-day average were unavailable due to continued issues with the state data dashboard.

Hospitalizations: There are 12 patients hospitalized with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County, with two of them in the ICU. According to state data, eight ICU beds are available.

Deaths: Four new deaths were reported Thursday. Of the deceased, three were men, three were Latinx, and one was white. All had underlying conditions except for one Latinx man in his seventies. Two of the deceased were in their seventies, one in their sixties, and one in their nineties. Here’s the demographic information on who’s died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

Vaccinations: As of Friday, 91,251 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents.

— Mallory Pickett

March 3

4:30 p.m.: Confusion continues to surround Sutter/PAMF vaccinations after the announcement yesterday that the health system would cancel 90,000 or more second-dose vaccine appointments in Northern California, citing insufficient supply. Sutter Health has not been accepting new first-dose appointments since early February.

Lookout has made several attempts to reach Sutter Health today for further clarification and received no response.

Local COVID-19 metrics continued to show signs of improvement, though the steep decrease in the daily average of cases and positivity rate appears to have leveled, according to Wednesday’s data. Future data points will determine whether this is a trend:

Cases and positivity: There were 348 active cases of COVID-19, which is 21 fewer than Monday. The 14-day average positivity rate is 4.2%, up slightly from 3.9% yesterday. The 14-day average of new cases reported each day stood at 25.4 cases, which is significantly lower than its peak of 203 cases in mid-January.

Hospitalizations: There were 12 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today, which is two less than yesterday. Two of those patients are in the ICU, a number that has not changed since Friday. A total of six ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, two 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.

Vaccinations: As of Tuesday, 87,500 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents. According to the county, the county ranks sixth in the state in terms of number of people vaccinated per capita.

— Mallory Pickett

March 2

5:30 p.m.: Just how complicated are the rules behind the four tiers in California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy? On Tuesday, Santa Cruzans got a taste firsthand . . . in a good way.

Over the past several days, various government officials had been saying there would be a state-mandated two-week waiting period after Santa Cruz County’s COVID-19 metrics dropped low enough to move the county into the less-restrictive red tier.

On Tuesday morning came good news: the county hit its numbers, posting fewer than 7 new cases per 100,000 people for the first time in months.

But instead of a March 16 move from purple to red — as originally predicted — county officials now say the move is on pace to get OK’ed on March 9 and kick in on Wednesday, March 10.

So what gives?

It turns out the metrics released Tuesday are a week behind. So the benchmark hit Tuesday was actually for Feb. 23, placing the county one week into the two-week cycle.

Several other counties are expected to move into the red tier along with Santa Cruz county next week, too.

In the meantime, local COVID-19 benchmarks continued to show signs of improvement, according to Tuesday’s data:

Cases and positivity: There were 369 active cases of COVID-19 which is 17 fewer than Monday. The 14-day average positivity rate was at 3.9%, down from 4% on Monday. The 14-day average of new cases reported each day stood at 24 cases, which is significantly lower than its peak of 203 cases in mid-January.

Hospitalizations: There were 14 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today which is two less than Monday. Two of those patients are in the ICU, a number that has not changed since Friday. A total of 8 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, two 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.

Vaccinations: As of Tuesday, 86,547 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents.

— Lookout Santa Cruz Staff

March 1

5 p.m.: In a wide-ranging interview today, Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel shared updates with Lookout on vaccine availability, when the MyTurn vaccine notification system will become active, and how child care workers can sign up for vaccines here.

She also discussed the findings of the first tests for COVID-19 variants here, which were consistent with other parts of California.

You can read Lookout reports on both of these developments here:

Newel spoke with Lookout the day before residents will learn if the county can begin moving back to the less restrictive red tier under California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The county was at 8.6 active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people last week and needs to get under 7 by Tuesday to trigger a two-week timetable that would put the county back in red by March 16.

Meanwhile, local metrics continued to improve. A look at the numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 386 active cases of COVID-19 which is 61 fewer than Friday. The 14-day average positivity rate was at 4.0%, down from 4.4% on Friday. The 14-day average of new cases reported each day stood at 24.7 cases, which is significantly lower than its peak of 203 cases in mid-January.

Hospitalizations: There were 16 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today which is two less than Friday. Two of those patients are in the ICU, a number that has not changed since Friday. A total of 10 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, which is also unchanged from 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.

Vaccinations: As of today, 84,809 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents.

Here’s a deeper look at the racial, age and gender breakdowns of who has received the life-saving shot so far:

— Mallory Pickett

Feb. 26

After days of plummeting COVID-19 cases in Santa Cruz County, the trend was finally broken today when the count increased — but just by one case. And COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU bed availability continue to improve.

A look at the numbers:

Cases and positivity: There were 447 active cases of COVID-19 which is up one case since yesterday. The 14-day average positivity rate was at 4.4%, down from 4.9% yesterday and 3.3% down from the previous fortnight. The 14-day average of new cases reported each day stood at 32.2 cases, which is significantly lower than its peak of 203 cases in mid-January.

Hospitalizations: There were 18 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today which is three less than yesterday. Two of those patients are in the ICU, a number that has not changed. A total of 10 ICU beds were available in Santa Cruz County hospitals today, which is four more 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.

Vaccinations: As of today, 76,298 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents. County health officials announced yesterday that 63% of residents who are 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far and 17% of that group has received both doses.

However, there are clear imbalances in the equitable distribution of the vaccine. People of Hispanic/Latino descent make up 33.49% of the county’s population but account for 54.46% of the COVID-19 cases. However, so far, only 17.7% of the doses administered in the county went to people of that group.

Dr. David Ghilarducci, the Santa Cruz County EMS Medical Director explained that this division was a result of Phase 1a that prioritized healthcare workers and nursing home residents and did not take into account the racial background of the person. As the county expands eligibility, health officials say they expect these numbers to improve.

Here’s a deeper look at the racial, age and gender breakdowns of who has received the life-saving shot so far:

— Tulsi Kamath

Feb. 25

5:30 p.m.: County health officials shared positive news on COVID-19 transmission and vaccinations Thursday during a news conference, including predictions that life here could return to some version of “normalcy” by mid-August, or even sooner.

Here’s how things look:

Vaccinations: 72,921 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far. According to Lookout content partner the LA Times, thecounty ranks eighth in the state for vaccine administration per capita.

Cases and positivity rate: There are 446 active cases of COVID-19 in the county, which is 39 fewer than yesterday. This continues a weeks-long trend of decreasing active cases. The latest 14-day average of positive cases confirmed per day in Santa Cruz County is 32.2, about the same as it was in early November, and continues to show an overall improvement after an all-time high of more than 200 in early January. The 14-day average positivity rate has decreased to 4.9% from 5.1% on Wednesday.

Hospitalizations: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today is 21, three fewer than Wednesday. Of those hospitalized, two people are in the ICU, one fewer than Wednesday. There are six ICU beds available, which is six more than yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity can change rapidly and are dependent on staffing.

Nursing homes: The most significant outbreaks at nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities have been contained. Driftwood Healthcare and Pacific Coast Manor both have at least one active case among residents and Pacific Coast Manor and Watsonville Post Acute Center each have at least one case among their staff members.

Deaths: Two new COVID-19 deaths were reported today, bringing the county’s COVID-19 death toll to 183. Here’s a demographic overview of who has died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

6:45 a.m.: California has surpassed 50,000 COVID-19 deaths — a count that comes as daily cases and deaths have dropped considerably in recent weeks, although some scientists remain concerned about the potential spread of mutant variants that are more contagious and possibly more lethal.

While California has the largest number of COVID-19 deaths of any state in the nation, it ranks 32nd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for COVID-19 deaths per capita.

Santa Cruz County reported seven new deaths Tuesday, bringing the total here to 181.

As for variants of the virus, there are now more than 200 cases of the U.K. variant in California and more than 1,800 nationwide, with 45 states reporting cases.

Another variant of concern, first identified in South Africa, B.1.351, has been identified in the Bay Area, which has the only two confirmed cases in California — one in Santa Clara County, and the other in Alameda County. The South African variant has been reported in 46 cases nationwide in 14 states.

A variant related to the South African strain, P.1, first identified in Brazil, has not been identified in California but has been identified in four states in five people. But another Brazilian strain, P.2., has been identified in a sample from the Bay Area.

This week, researchers at UC San Francisco disclosed new information about the homegrown California variant, named B.1.427/B.1.429, which includes a worrisome mutation dubbed L452R.

Santa Cruz County officials are awaiting data on variants; none so far have been reported here, though it’s possible there are cases given the virus’s evolution.

New research strongly suggests that the coronavirus strain now dominant in California not only spreads more readily than its predecessors, but also has the ability to evade antibodies generated by COVID-19 vaccines or prior infection. It’s also associated with more severe illness and death.

Those attributes have some scientists worried that the homegrown variant could reverse California’s recent progress in reducing new infections — especially if it’s able to swap mutations with other threatening strains. Experts said it underscores the need to vaccinate people as quickly as possible and to continue wearing masks, maintain social distance and follow other public health precautions as the state begins to reopen more.

Despite the words of caution regarding the variants, officials continued to offer an optimistic message amid news that a third vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, could receive emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration within days.

-Rong-Gong Lin II, Melissa Healy, Kevin Rector, LA TIMES, with Lookout Staff contributing

Feb. 24

4:30 p.m.: With the announcement that teachers are among those eligible for vaccination, there’s been some confusion for the many educators who live in the Santa Cruz area but teach in other counties.

Teachers in this situation who tried to get vaccinated through the Santa Cruz County regional education office’s partnership with Dignity Health have received conflicting information over the past several days about whether they were eligible to get vaccines through that program.

If you’re one of those teachers, here’s the solution: County communications manager Jason Hoppin told Lookout today that the county health agency will use its vaccine allocation to vaccinate teachers who live in Santa Cruz but work elsewhere.

“We are organizing vaccination pods. To get into one of those they have to use the form,” Hoppin said. The form he’s referring to is the vaccine interest survey that’s available here. Hoppin added that if teachers are able to get vaccinated through their health care provider, then they should do so.

A Dignity spokesperson said in a statement that “Since Dominican Hospital and Dignity Health Medical Group-Dominican’s roles are to administer the vaccine, not to decide who gets it, I would defer to the county.”

Here’s more information on the state of the pandemic locally:

Vaccinations: 71,177 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far. According to Lookout partner the LA Times, the county ranks eighth in the state for vaccine administration per capita.

Cases and positivity rate: There are 485 active cases of COVID-19 in the county, which is 10 fewer than yesterday. This continues a weeks-long trend of decreasing active cases. The latest 14-day average of positive cases confirmed per day in Santa Cruz County is 34.1, about the same as it was in early November, and continues to show an overall improvement after an all-time high of more than 200 in early January. The 14-day average positivity rate has decreased to 5.1% from 5.2% on Tuesday.

The most recent seven-day average positivity rate, updated Tuesday in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data, is now 2.9%, much lower than the state average of 4.8%. The health equity quartile positivity rate (the rate in parts of the county with lower scores on health equity metrics) is 6.3%.

Hospitalizations: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today is 24, three more than Tuesday. Of those hospitalized, three people are in the ICU, which remains unchanged since yesterday. There are zero ICU beds available, three fewer than yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Nursing homes: The most significant outbreaks at nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities have been contained. Driftwood Healthcare has at least one active case among residents and Pacific Coast Manor and Watsonville Post Acute Center each have at least one case among their staff members.

Deaths: Seven new COVID-19 deaths were reported today. Two were people in their sixties, two were in their seventies, and all but one had an underlying health condition. Feb. 24

4:30 p.m.: With the announcement that teachers are among those eligible for vaccination, there’s been some confusion for the many educators who live in the Santa Cruz area but teach in other counties.

Teachers in this situation who tried to get vaccinated through the Santa Cruz County regional education office’s partnership with Dignity Health have received conflicting information over the past several days about whether they were eligible to get vaccines through that program.

If you’re one of those teachers, here’s the solution: County communications manager Jason Hoppin told Lookout today that the county health agency will use its vaccine allocation to vaccinate teachers who live in Santa Cruz but work elsewhere.

“We are organizing vaccination pods. To get into one of those they have to use the form,” Hoppin said. The form he’s referring to is the vaccine interest survey that’s available here. Hoppin added that if teachers are able to get vaccinated through their health care provider, then they should do so.

A Dignity spokesperson said in a statement that “Since Dominican Hospital and Dignity Health Medical Group-Dominican’s roles are to administer the vaccine, not to decide who gets it, I would defer to the county.”

Here’s more information on the state of the pandemic locally:

Vaccinations: 71,177 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far. According to Lookout partner the LA Times, the county ranks eighth in the state for vaccine administration per capita.

Cases and positivity rate: There are 485 active cases of COVID-19 in the county, which is 10 fewer than yesterday. This continues a weeks-long trend of decreasing active cases. The latest 14-day average of positive cases confirmed per day in Santa Cruz County is 34.1, about the same as it was in early November, and continues to show an overall improvement after an all-time high of more than 200 in early January. The 14-day average positivity rate has decreased to 5.1% from 5.2% on Tuesday.

The most recent seven-day average positivity rate, updated Tuesday in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data, is now 2.9%, much lower than the state average of 4.8%. The health equity quartile positivity rate (the rate in parts of the county with lower scores on health equity metrics) is 6.3%.

Hospitalizations: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today is 24, three more than Tuesday. Of those hospitalized, three people are in the ICU, which remains unchanged since yesterday. There are zero ICU beds available, three fewer than yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Nursing homes: The most significant outbreaks at nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities have been contained. Driftwood Healthcare has at least one active case among residents and Pacific Coast Manor and Watsonville Post Acute Center each have at least one case among their staff members.

Deaths: Seven new COVID-19 deaths were reported today. Two were people in their sixties, two were in their seventies, and all but one had an underlying health condition.

Feb. 23

2:30 p.m.: The state released its weekly update to the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” data today. Santa Cruz County has been on the brink of meeting the criteria to move into the red tier, but didn’t quite make it: while the positivity rate and health quartile positivity rates cleared the required <8% (less than 8%) value, the adjusted case rate is 8.6. An adjusted case rate of less than 7 daily new cases per 100,000 people is the cutoff for red tier.

Counties also need to meet the red requirements for two consecutive weeks in order to move into this less restrictive tier, so the soonest this could possibly happen for Santa Cruz is March 16.

Here’s more information on the state of the pandemic locally:

Vaccinations: 69,987 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far. According to local officials, the county ranks seventh in the state for vaccine administration per capita.

Cases and positivity rate: There are 495 active cases of COVID-19 in the county which is 32 less than yesterday. This continues a weeks-long trend of decreasing active cases. The latest 14-day average of positive cases confirmed per day in Santa Cruz County is 35.4, and continues to show an overall improvement after an all-time high of more than 200 in early January. The 14-day average positivity rate has decreased to 5.2% from 5.3% on Monday.

The most recent seven-day average positivity rate, updated Tuesday in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data, is now 2.9%, much lower than the state average of 4.8%. The health equity quartile positivity rate (the rate in parts of the county with lower scores on health equity metrics) is 6.3%.

Hospitalizations: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today is 21, three fewer than Monday. Of those hospitalized, three people are in the ICU which remains unchanged since yesterday. There are three ICU beds available, also unchanged from yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Nursing homes: The most significant outbreaks at nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities have been contained. Driftwood Healthcare has at least one active case among residents and Pacific Coast Manor and Watsonville Post Acute Center each have at least one case among their staff members.

Deaths: Two new COVID-19 deaths were reported today. Both were Latinx women in their forties with underlying health conditions. This continues a troubling trend that health director Mimi Hall pointed out at a Feb. 11 press conference: every Santa Cruz County resident under the age of 65 who has been killed from COVID-19 has been a person of Latinx descent.

Here’s a demographic overview of who has died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

Feb. 22

3:00 p.m.: Over 50% of Santa Cruz County residents between the ages of 65-74 have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

As promised in a Feb.11 press conference, this means the county will move allow occupation-based prioritization. The first group of workers eligible includes those in childcare, emergency services, and food and agriculture.

The number of confirmed active cases continues to decline in Santa Cruz County, and no new deaths were reported today.

Here’s more information on the state of the pandemic locally:

Vaccinations: 67,893 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far. According to local officials, the county ranks 7th in the state for vaccine administration per capita.

Cases and positivity rate: There are 527 active cases of COVID-19 in the county, 134 less than yesterday, continuing a weeks-long trend of decreasing active cases. The latest 14-day average of positive cases confirmed per day in Santa Cruz County is 36.7, and continues to show an overall improvement after an all-time high of more than 200 in early January. The 14-day average positivity rate has decreased to 5.3% from 5.8% on Friday.

The most recent 7-day average positivity rate, updated last week in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data, is now 3.5%, much lower than the state average of 6.5%. New numbers will be released on Tuesday.

Hospitalizations: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today is 24, one fewer than Friday. Of those hospitalized, three people are in the ICU, four fewer than yesterday. There are three ICU beds available according to state data, a decrease from seven on Friday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Nursing homes: The most significant outbreaks at nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities have been contained. Driftwood Healthcare has at least one active case among residents and Pacific Coast Manor and Watsonville Post Acute Center have at least one case among their staff members.

Deaths: No new COVID-19 deaths were reported today.

Feb. 19

1 p.m: Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that state officials will set aside 10% of California’s weekly allotment of COVID-19 vaccine doses for educators starting next month, an effort to jump-start the process of reopening more public school campuses as virus conditions improve in communities across the state.

The announcement, made during a visit to an Oakland vaccination clinic, marked a swift turn of events after school reopening negotiations between Newsom and state lawmakers.

“The reason we can do that more formally, even though we’ve allowed for it over the course of the last number of weeks, is the window of visibility into the future with more vaccinations that are now coming from the Biden administration,” Newsom said.

Locally, progress is already being made in vaccinating teachers. County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah told Lookout’s Nick Ibarra that about half of all K-12 teachers in Santa Cruz County have received their first vaccine dose, and he is hopeful the remaining staff will have one in the next few weeks.

The week is continuing a trend of decreasing active cases and hospitalizations locally:

Vaccinations: 62,252 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far. According to Lookout content partner the Los Angeles Times, the county ranks 8th in the state for the number of vaccines distributed per capita.

Cases and positivity rate: There are 661 active cases of COVID-19 in the county, 43 less than yesterday, continuing a weeks-long trend of decreasing active cases. The latest 14-day average of positive cases confirmed per day in Santa Cruz County is 42.9, and continues to show an overall improvement after an all-time high of more than 200 in early January. The 14-day average positivity rate has decreased to 5.8% from 6.3% on Thursday.

The most recent 7-day average positivity rate, updated today in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data, is now 3.5%, much lower than the state average of 6.5%.

Hospitalizations: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today is 25, one more than yesterday. Of those hospitalized, seven people are in the ICU, one more than yesterday. There are seven ICU beds available according to state data, an increase from six yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.
Nursing homes: The most significant outbreaks at nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities have been contained. Driftwood Healthcare has at least one active case among residents and Pacific Coast Manor and Watsonville Post Acute Center have at least one case among their staff members.

Deaths: No new COVID-19 deaths were reported today.

-John Myers, Taryn Luna Los Angeles Times; Lookout’s Mallory Pickett

Feb. 18

5:15 p.m.: The stream of COVID-19 vaccine is swelling slightly in California but remains a trickle for those trying to get their first dose, according to officials.

Forecasts discussed this week show California should receive 1.28 million vaccine doses next week and 1.31 million the week after. Both those figures are up from the state’s last shipment, which was about 1.08 million.

The expected uptick, though welcome, won’t come close to the supplies necessary to clear California’s existing vaccination queue — let alone handle the millions more who will need the shots roughly a month from now. “What we need is more manufactured supply,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

Another new and unwelcome wrinkle in the vaccine rollout is the winter storm in other parts of the country. Although California has largely avoided the deep freeze, officials said this week that harsh conditions elsewhere could affect shipments of new doses.

Jeff Zients, who leads President Biden’s COVID-19 task force, said during a news briefing this week that the weather was having an impact on delivery and distribution companies.

“People are working as hard as they can given the importance of getting the vaccines to the states and to providers,” Zients said, “but there is an impact on deliveries.”

A representative from the California Department of Public Health could not immediately say on Thursday how wide the vaccine disruption was but confirmed that California was “among the states that have been affected by delays.”

A consistent challenge for California and the rest of the country is that both vaccines currently in use, one from Pfizer-BioNTech and the other from Moderna, require two doses, administered three and four weeks apart, respectively.

Lately, the need to provide second shots has spurred officials throughout the state to greatly limit — or outright suspend — access to first doses.

Of the roughly 2.6 million total doses California is slated to receive in its next two shipments, only about 1.34 million are expected to be available for first doses, according to figures presented during Wednesday’s meeting of the state vaccine advisory committee.

“Dedicated allocation seems to be increasing, so keep your fingers crossed that it continues to go in that direction,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, California’s public health officer and director of the state Department of Public Health.

As long as the number of vaccines being shipped remains inadequate, however, officials will face a quandary: Should they administer a large number of first doses when supplies are available, knowing that could lead to constraints down the line, or try to reserve shots week by week to ensure that people get both doses in their two-shot regimen?

“I’ve been up and down this state, large cities, small communities ... other communities on the coast, large-scale sites at Dodger Stadium and Petco Park, up in Santa Clara at Levi’s Stadium,” Newsom said during a briefing in the city of Coachella. “End of the day, we’re throttling back many of those sites because of those constraints on supply.”

More vaccines, however, are on the way. Earlier this month that the U.S. had secured contractual commitments from Moderna and Pfizer to deliver 600 million doses of vaccine by the end of July.

U.S. drug regulators are also vetting another vaccine candidate from Johnson & Johnson that requires only one dose.

“That’s extraordinarily encouraging, but June, July is not March and April,” Newsom said. “And so, over the course of the next number of weeks, we’re going to have to be honest with folks about what we can and what we can’t do.”

As of Wednesday, more than 1.45 million Californians had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Aragón. More than 6.4 million total doses have been administered throughout the state.

California reported Tuesday that over 1.5 million received doses had not yet been used — though officials said those might be reserved for already scheduled appointments, or the figure could be lower if the doses had not yet been tracked in the state’s data collection system, which relies on local providers’ individual reporting.

-Luke Money, Colleen Shalby, Los Angeles Times

Here’s some detail on the state of the pandemic locally, on the first day of high school sports return to Santa Cruz County:

Vaccinations: 59,288 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far. According to Lookout content partner the Los Angeles Times, the county ranks 8th in the state for the number of vaccines distributed per capita.

Cases and positivity rate: Currently there are 704 active cases in the county, continuing a weeks-long trend of decreasing active cases. The latest 14-day average of positive cases confirmed per day in Santa Cruz County is 46.9, and continues to show an overall improvement after an all-time high of more than 200 in early January. The 14-day average positivity rate has decreased to 6.3% from 6.4% yesterday.

The most recent 7-day average positivity rate, updated today in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data, is now 3.5%, much lower than the state average of 6.5%.

Hospitalizations: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today is 24, the same as yesterday. Of those hospitalized, six people are in the ICU, the same as yesterday. There is one ICU bed available according to state data, a decrease from two yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: Two new deaths were reported today bringing the total to 172. Both were men, one person was in their 70s and one was in their 80s. Neither were residents of congregate living facilities.

Feb. 17

4:15 p.m.: In sync with the local trend, coronavirus infections have plummeted to pre-Thanksgiving levels in California, bringing renewed optimism that a wider reopening of the still-shackled economy might be just around the corner.

Gov. Gavin Newsom hinted this week that more counties may emerge next week from what the state calls the purple tier — the strictest of California’s four-rung reopening roadmap for businesses and other public spaces.

“The good news — parts of the state are already beginning to open back up,” he said Tuesday. “Business is already starting to take shape — modified, nonetheless. We’re working hard to get our kids back in school.

As it stands, 52 of California’s 58 counties remain in the most restrictive purple tier, meaning that indoor operations remain suspended or severely limited at many businesses and other public facilities.

Three counties — Del Norte, Mariposa and Plumas — have progressed to the less-stringent red tier, and another three — Trinity, Sierra and Alpine — have gone a step further, into the orange tier.

The most lenient yellow category remains empty at this point.

This week, Plumas County became the latest to move out of the purple tier, and Newsom said Tuesday that he expects that trend to continue.

“I anticipate a substantial number next week and even more in the subsequent weeks,” he said during an event to mark the opening of a new COVID-19 vaccination site at Cal State Los Angeles.

That’s all dependent on whether the current trend lines continue, though. While health officials have cheered the state’s collective progress, they’ve continued to warn that California isn’t out of the woods yet — and that adherence to infection-prevention protocols such as wearing masks in public and avoiding crowded settings, particularly indoors, remains a must.

In Santa Cruz County, the downward trend in active cases, positivity rate, and hospitalizations continued Wednesday. Here are the details:

Vaccinations: 56,718 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far, which means about 20% of the county’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine from either the county’s allocation, the major health care systems (Dignity/Dominican, Sutter/PAMF and Kaiser Permanente), independent providers or the federal pharmacy program.

Cases and positivity rate: The latest 14-day average of positive cases confirmed per day in Santa Cruz County is 48.9, and continues to show an overall improvement after an all-time high of more than 200 in early January. The 14-day average positivity rate has decreased to 6.4% from 6.6% yesterday.

The most recent 7-day average positivity rate, updated today in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data, is now 3.5%, much lower than the state average of 6.5%.

Hospitalizations: COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased from 28 yesterday to 24 today. Of those hospitalized, six people are in the ICU, which is two more than yesterday. There are two ICU beds available according to state data, an increase from one yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported today.

-Luke Money, Rong-Gong Lin II of the Los Angeles Times contributing, Mallory Pickett

Feb. 16

3:15 p.m.: The state released the weekly “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” data today, which includes the metrics that determine a county’s tier status. Santa Cruz County is currently in the purple, most restrictive tier. But today’s numbers revealed that the red tier — which allows for indoor dining, movie theaters, and indoor gyms to reopen, with modifications — is not far off.

In order for the county to move into the red tier:

  • The adjusted case rate would need to be below seven cases per 100,000 people.
  • The 7-day positivity would need to below 8%.
  • The health equity quartile would need to be below 8%.

The most recent data shows the adjusted case rate in Santa Cruz County is the only metric above the red tier cutoff, at 12 new cases per day per 100,00 people.

If this number were to drop below the seven-case threshold in next week’s data, it would need to remain there for two more weeks before the county could be eligible to downgrade to the red tier. So while the transition might not be in the immediate future, restaurants and movie theaters could consider dusting off for potential openings in the next several weeks.

Sutter/PAMF update: In vaccine news, Sutter/PAMF patients in the area might have noticed that the organization is no longer booking appointments for vaccine first doses.

A Sutter spokesperson gave Lookout this statement on the situation:

“At this time Sutter Health has paused scheduling new first dose appointments for COVID-19 vaccination due to a lack of vaccine supply. Our vaccination program relies on vaccine supply from the state. As soon as more vaccine is made available to us, we will reopen appointments. We scaled rapidly and now have the capacity to vaccinate tens of thousands of patients a day throughout our footprint, but our ability to do so remains dependent on vaccine supply.”

Vaccinations: As of today, 55,724 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far, which means about 20% of the county’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine from either the county’s allocation, the major health care systems (Dignity/Dominican, Sutter/PAMF and Kaiser Permanente), independent providers or the federal pharmacy program.

Here’s more detail on the state of the virus locally:

Cases and positivity rate: The latest 14-day average of positive cases confirmed per day in Santa Cruz County is 51.1, and continues to show an overall improvement after an all-time high of more than 200 in early January. The 14-day average positivity rate has decreased to 6.6% from 7% yesterday.

The most recent 7-day average positivity rate, updated today in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data, is now 3.5%, much lower than the state average of 6.5%.

Hospitalizations: COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased from 30 yesterday to 28 today. Of those hospitalized, seven people are in the ICU, which is two more than yesterday. There is one ICU bed available according to state data, a decrease from five available yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: Two new deaths were reported today, bringing the total COVID-19 deaths in Santa Cruz County to 170. Both were women — one in her sixties, one in her seventies. One was a resident of Sunshine Villa, and both had underlying health conditions.

Here’s the most up to date demographic information on the people who have died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

— Mallory Pickett

Feb. 15

4:30 p.m.: County covid numbers weren’t updated today, but last week more numbers related to vaccination progress were made available. In some good news, the officials shared that Santa Cruz County ranks ninth in per capita vaccinations in California. Additionally, 62% of residents older than 75 and 36% of residents over the age of 65 have received at least one dose of vaccine.

The state of California also made demographic information on vaccination progress available by county today. The pandemic has hit different communities and different races very unevenly, and so state and local health officials say they are now making equitable distribution of the vaccine a priority.

So far, the majority of doses—45%—in Santa Cruz County have gone to white people, but deputy health officer Dr. David Ghilarducci said this was because the first administrations were focused on healthcare workers and nursing home residents in Phase 1A which were “not targeted with respect to race or ethnicity, so we’re going to see a disproportionate representation (of race).” He expects this will change soon.

Watsonville has been the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Santa Cruz County. Although only 18% of Santa Cruz County residents live in Watsonville, the city has been home to more than 52% of all COVID-19 cases in the county. Now, Watsonville leaders are eyeing a permanent, public memorial to honor residents who have died of COVID-19.

Here’s more detail on the state of the pandemic locally:

Cases and positivity rate: The case rate in Santa Cruz County was not updated today, but have shown an overall improvement after all-time highs in early January. The 14-day average positivity rate was updated and has decreased to 7.0% from 8.3% on Friday, which is more than 10% lower than the peak on Jan. 10.

The most recent 7-day average positivity rate reported in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data is now 4.9%, much lower than the state average of 8.5%. The 14-day average daily cases reported each day is now at 54 cases reported each day. At its highest, this rate was 203 cases on Jan. 14.

Hospitalizations: COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased over the weekend, from 39 on Friday to 30 today. Of those hospitalized, 7 are in the ICU, which is two more than yesterday. There are five ICU beds available according to state data, which is five more than on Friday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Vaccinations: As of today, 54,404 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far between the county’s allocation, the major health care systems (Dignity/Dominican, Sutter/PAMF and Kaiser Permanente), independent providers and the federal pharmacy program.

-Mallory Pickett

Feb. 12

3:45 p.m.: All 10 public school districts along with four charter schools announced plans Friday to get elementary schools reopened for hybrid in-person learning in March and April. The schools are also working with Dignity Health/Dominican to get teachers and school staff vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Read more on the announcement here:

Local active cases continued to decline, though hospitalizations remained constant at a level consistent with what was seen in December at the beginning of the winter surge.

Here’s more detail on the state of the pandemic locally:

Cases and positivity rate: Case rates and positivity rates in Santa Cruz County continue to improve after all-time highs in early January. There are now 955 active cases, which is 30 less than yesterday. The 14-day average positivity rate remains at 8.3% which is more than 10% lower than the peak on Jan. 10 and about 4% down from the previous fortnight.

The 7-day average positivity rate reported in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data is now 4.9%, much lower than the state average of 8.5%. The 14-day average daily cases reported each day is now at 65.2 cases reported each day. At its highest, this rate was 203 cases on Jan. 14.

Hospitalizations: Hospital capacity remained approximately constant with 39 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, which is one more than yesterday. Of those hospitalized, 12 are in the ICU, which is two more than yesterday. There are zero ICU beds available according to state data, which is the same as yesterday. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: The county reported four new deaths Thursday, bringing the total death toll to 168. One was in their seventies, one was in their sixties, and both had underlying health conditions. Both were of Latinx descent. Here’s the latest demographic data on who has died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

Vaccinations: As of Wednesday, 45,582 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far between the county’s allocation, the major health care systems (Dignity/Dominican, Sutter/PAMF and Kaiser Permanente), independent providers and the federal pharmacy program.

-Mallory Pickett

Feb. 11

5:15 p.m.: Santa Cruz County health officials lauded the continued decrease in active cases and hospitalizations during a press conference Thursday, but they warned that national and local models forecast an intense surge in mid-March, driven largely by new, likely more transmissible variants.

“We’re going to be facing a bigger surge than we even experienced in December and January in March,” said county health agency directory Mimi Hall. “The surge is expected to begin in mid-March, to peak in April, and to begin subsiding in May.”

Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county’s deputy health officer, said the size of the surge can be mitigated by universal masking and speedy vaccine distribution. “All the models show that if we have a 95% mask compliance, we would be in great shape,” he said.

Ghilarducci also shared some detailed updates on local vaccination progress. According to the data he presented, about 44% of Santa Cruz County residents above 75 years in age have received their first dose of vaccines, with just 2% of that population having had both doses. Approximately 17% of all residents between 65-74 have had at least one dose, and 1% of that group has had both doses.

The question of when occupation-based priority groups will start to receive county vaccines — especially teachers — has been a hot topic locally and nationally. Ghilarducci said that officials here are hoping to get a first vaccine dose to about 50% of the county’s residents over 65 before moving into those groups. He was hopeful that could be done in about two weeks, depending on vaccine supply.

Cases and positivity rate: Case rates and positivity rates in Santa Cruz County continue to improve after all-time highs in early January. There are now 985 active cases, which is 59 less than yesterday and the first time the number of active cases has dropped below 1,000 in months. The 14-day average positivity rate is at 8.3% which is more than 10% lower than the peak on Jan. 10 and about 4% down from the previous fortnight.

The 7-day average positivity rate reported in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data is now 4.9%, much lower than the state average of 8.5%. The 14-day average daily cases reported each day is now at 64 cases reported each day. At its highest, this rate was 203 cases on Jan. 14.

Hospitalizations: Hospital capacity also improved with 38 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, which is one fewer than yesterday. Of those hospitalized, 10 are in the ICU, which is the same as yesterday. There are zero ICU beds available, which is five fewer than the previous day. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: The county reported four new deaths Thursday, bringing the total death toll to 166. The victims were a man and a woman, one in their 80s and one in their 90s. Both had underlying health conditions. Here’s the latest demographic data on who has died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

Vaccinations: As of Wednesday, 45,582 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far between the county’s allocation, the major health care systems (Dignity/Dominican, Sutter/PAMF and Kaiser Permanente), independent providers and the federal pharmacy program.

-Mallory Pickett, Tulsi Kamath

Feb. 10

5 p.m.: Two cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa were reported in the Bay Area today, the first to be reported in California. One was in Santa Clara County, the other from Alameda.

The Santa Clara case was in someone who had recently traveled internationally, but followed public health guidelines to self-quarantine for 10 days after their trip. The Alameda case remains under investigation, according to a joint press release from both counties.

Santa Cruz County deputy health officer Dr. David Ghilarducci said he was “not surprised at all,” that new variants of concern are beginning to be detected in California, and said it underscores the importance of vaccination.

“When you have that much virus circulating, you’re going to see more and more variants come out of this,” he said. That’s why public health officials are so focused on vaccination: to reduce the number of infections, and therefore reduce the potential for mutation. The good news, Ghilarducci said, is that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines appear to have “pretty good effectiveness,” against the South African and other variants.

County health spokesperson Corinne Hyland told Lookout that approximately 11.5% of Santa Cruz County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and about 2% have also received a second dose. There are about 276,000 residents countywide.

Clinical trials for Pfizer and Moderna were completed before the emergence of the new variant in South Africa, but lab tests demonstrated that those vaccines still produce antibodies against that variant — though the amount of antibodies is reduced. Because both of those vaccines are so effective against severe disease, doctors and scientists are hopeful that even with a reduction in antibodies they will still work well. (An analysis of the different vaccines and their effectiveness against the South African and other strains is available from STAT news here).

Here’s more about what we know about the status of the virus locally:

Cases and positivity rate: Case rates and positivity rates in Santa Cruz County continue to improve after all-time highs in early January. There are now 1,044 active cases, which is 102 less than yesterday. The 14-day average positivity rate is at 8.3% which is more than 10% lower than the peak on Jan. 10 and about 4% down from the previous fortnight.

The 7-day average positivity rate reported in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data is now 4.9%, much lower than the state average of 8.5%. The 14-day average daily cases reported each day is now at 65.2 cases reported each day. At its highest, this rate was 203 cases on Jan. 14.

Hospitalizations: Hospital capacity also improved with 39 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, which is one fewer than yesterday. Of those hospitalized, 10 are in the ICU, which is the same as yesterday. There are five ICU beds available, which is six fewer than the previous day. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: The county reported two new deaths Wednesday, bringing the total death toll to 162. The victims were a man and a woman, one in their 80s and one in their 90s. Both had underlying health conditions.

Vaccinations: As of Wednesday, 44,040 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far between the county’s allocation, the major health care systems (Dignity/Dominican, Sutter/PAMF and Kaiser Permanente), independent providers and the federal pharmacy program.

Feb. 10

5 p.m.: Two cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa were reported in the Bay Area today, the first to be reported in California. One was in Santa Clara County, the other from Alameda.

The Santa Clara case was in someone who had recently traveled internationally, but followed public health guidelines to self-quarantine for 10 days after their trip. The Alameda case remains under investigation, according to a joint press release from both counties.

Santa Cruz County deputy health officer Dr. David Ghilarducci said he was “not surprised at all,” that new variants of concern are beginning to be detected in California, and said it underscores the importance of vaccination.

“When you have that much virus circulating, you’re going to see more and more variants come out of this,” he said. That’s why public health officials are so focused on vaccination: to reduce the number of infections, and therefore reduce the potential for mutation. The good news, Ghilarducci said, is that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines appear to have “pretty good effectiveness,” against the South African and other variants.

County health spokesperson Corinne Hyland told Lookout that approximately 11.5% of Santa Cruz County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and about 2% have also received a second dose. There are about 276,000 residents countywide.

Clinical trials for Pfizer and Moderna were completed before the emergence of the new variant in South Africa, but lab tests demonstrated that those vaccines still produce antibodies against that variant — though the amount of antibodies is reduced. Because both of those vaccines are so effective against severe disease, doctors and scientists are hopeful that even with a reduction in antibodies they will still work well. (An analysis of the different vaccines and their effectiveness against the South African and other strains is available from STAT news here).

Here’s more about what we know about the status of the virus locally:

Cases and positivity rate: Case rates and positivity rates in Santa Cruz County continue to improve after all-time highs in early January. There are now 1,044 active cases, which is 102 less than yesterday. The 14-day average positivity rate is at 8.3% which is more than 10% lower than the peak on Jan. 10 and about 4% down from the previous fortnight.

The 7-day average positivity rate reported in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data is now 4.9%, much lower than the state average of 8.5%. The 14-day average daily cases reported each day is now at 65.2 cases reported each day. At its highest, this rate was 203 cases on Jan. 14.

Hospitalizations: Hospital capacity also improved with 39 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, which is one fewer than yesterday. Of those hospitalized, 10 are in the ICU, which is the same as yesterday. There are five ICU beds available, which is six fewer than the previous day. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day and are dependent on staffing.

Deaths: The county reported two new deaths Wednesday, bringing the total death toll to 162. The victims were a man and a woman, one in their 80s and one in their 90s. Both had underlying health conditions.

Vaccinations: As of Wednesday, 44,040 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far between the county’s allocation, the major health care systems (Dignity/Dominican, Sutter/PAMF and Kaiser Permanente), independent providers and the federal pharmacy program.

Feb. 9

3 p.m.: Santa Cruz County continues see decreases in case totals, positivity rates and hospitalizations, yet another sign that COVID-19 is ebbing.

Meanwhile, the county ranks ninth-highest in California in terms of vaccine distribution, with 14,608 doses administered per 100,000 residents, according to a slide displayed at a Santa Cruz City Council meeting today.

While that, too, is positive, there’s still a long way to go. A Santa Cruz County Public Health Department spokesperson told Here’s more about what we know about the status of the virus here:

Cases and positivity rate: Case rates and positivity rates in Santa Cruz County continue to improve after all-time highs in early January. There are now 1,146 active cases, which is nearly 100 cases less than yesterday. The 14-day average positivity rate is at 8.4% which is more than 10% lower than the peak on Jan. 10 and 4.4% down from the previous fortnight. The 14-day average daily cases reported each day is now at 76.7 cases reported each day. At its highest, this rate was 203 cases on Jan. 14.

Hospitalizations: Hospital capacity also improved with 40 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, which is two fewer than yesterday. Of those hospitalized, 10 are in the ICU, which is one less than the previous day. There are also 11 ICU beds available, which is one more than the previous day. It’s important to note that hospitalizations and capacity change rapidly and multiple times a day.

Deaths: The county reported one new death Tuesday, bringing the total death toll to 160. The victim was a man in his 70s with no underlying health conditions. He did not live in a nursing home.

Vaccinations: As of Tuesday, 41,586 vaccine doses have been administered in Santa Cruz County so far between the county’s allocation, the major health care systems (Dignity/Dominican, Sutter/PAMF and Kaiser Permanente), independent providers and the federal pharmacy program.

-Tulsi Kamath, Isabella Cueto, Patrick Riley

Feb. 8

3 p.m.: The county announced the opening of a new vaccination site in Watsonville today. It will utilize county health allocation of vaccine and serve healthcare workers in phase 1A, county residents over 75, and people over 65 and over from Pajaro Valley zip codes. Learn more, including how to sign up, here.

County communications manager Jason Hoppin reiterated today that the county is using their limited vaccine supply (which is distinct from the doses allotted to healthcare systems such as Kaiser, PAMF/Sutter, and Dignity) to focus on healthcare workers and the elderly. But he said they might be able to start administering vaccines based on occupation as early as the beginning of next month.

The number of active cases in Santa Cruz County continues to decline.

Here’s some more detail on the pandemic locally:

Cases & positivity rate: Active case numbers for Santa Cruz County declined to 1,240 today. The most recent seven-day positivity rate is 5.6%, which is lower than the state average seven-day positivity rate of 10%. The 14-day average positivity rate is 8.8%, compared to the state value of 5.8%.

Hospitalizations: Locally, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 decreased from 45 on Friday to 42 today. Eleven of those patients are in the ICU, a significant decrease from 16 on Friday. State data shows 10 ICU beds available in the county.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished, though Driftwood Healthcare Center continues to report at least one active resident infection. No active cases are reported among the staff at any skilled nursing facility.

Data on assisted-living facility infections, which was most recently updated on Feb. 7, shows that no assisted living facilities in Santa Cruz County are currently reporting active infections among either staff or residents.

Deaths: The local death toll was updated to 159 today. As of today, approximately 58% of deaths due to COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County have been among nursing home residents, 77% of all fatalities have been people with at least one underlying health condition, and 84% have been people over 70 years of age.

Feb. 5

5:15 p.m.: The number of vaccine doses put into arms throughout Santa Cruz County had increased nearly 11% since Tuesday, but getting vaccines to people in priority groups remained a slow process, state records show.

As of Friday, 33,998 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been distributed countywide. To put that in perspective, there are about 15,000 health care workers, first responders, pharmacists and others who are first line to be vaccinated countywide, followed by about 44,000 people 65 and older.

Since each person needs two doses of the vaccine, that means roughly 118,000 doses would be needed to vaccinate just the people in those groups.

The latest vaccination numbers from the state were released as a showdown loomed between teachers countywide — who say they want to be vaccinated before schools can reopen — and county health officials, who say school can be resumed safely without teachers getting doses.

Here are some other statistics about the pandemic:

Cases & positivity rate: Active case numbers for Santa Cruz County were not updated today. The 14-day average positivity rate declined is 10.2%, slightly higher than 10.0% yesterday. The most recent seven-day positivity rate is 5.6%, which is lower than the state average seven-day positivity rate of 10%.

Hospitalizations: Locally, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 increased from 43 on Thursday to 45 today. Sixteen of those patients are in the ICU, one less than on Thursday but a significant increase from just ten on Wednesday. State data still shows four ICU beds available in the county.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished, though Watsonville Post Acute Center is reporting at least one new active case among its residents and Driftwood Healthcare Center continues to report at least one active resident infection. No active cases are reported among the staff at any skilled nursing facility.

Data on assisted-living facility infections, which was most recently updated on Feb. 4, shows that De Un Amor is the only assisted living facility that is currently reporting any cases, with at least one positive staff case and at least one infected resident (the state does not report the exact number of staff or resident infections unless it’s above 10).

Deaths: Local COVID-19 death information was not updated today.

Feb.4

5:30 p.m.: County health officials held a press conference Thursday in which they shared good news tempered by concerns about new variants and vaccine availability, even warning of a potential case “surge in late March.”

The good news is that the county case rates have dropped by 55% in the last 14 days, according to county health officer Dr. Gail Newel. She shared that the unadjusted case rate is now 31, and the adjusted case rate (which factors in testing volume) is 24.4.

The adjusted case rate being below 25 means Santa Cruz County schools are eligible to apply for waivers to resume in-person classes for students in grades six and below, which Newel said she would support.

Newel and her colleagues applauded the reduced transmission of COVID in the community, which they attributed to residents following public health guidelines.

“Our case rates, as a community, and as a state, are directly related to our individual behaviors,” Newel said.

Newel warned that these individual behaviors are now more important than ever, and Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county emergency services director, warned that “we still have a ways to go,” and they are asking for “continued vigilance.”

This is because vaccine supply remains limited, and because of the proliferation of new, more transmissible variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. State and local models predict another surge in cases in late March.

“The latest modeling takes into account both the variants of the virus and vaccination, and despite vaccination happening as quickly as we get the vaccine supply, it’s likely not going to be quick enough to cope with the more transmissible variants,” Newel said. “Taking those two new factors into account is what leads us to believe that there will be a surge in late March, and with hospitalizations and deaths echoing off of that in April.”

Ghilarducci made a point to emphasize human behavior in the equation: “If mask use was pretty universal, we won’t see a spike. So it’s really that simple.”

The county also shared more vaccination news; CDPH leadership said on a health officer call yesterday that the Oakland Coliseum site will be county-specific, which conflicts with what CDPH spokespeople told ˆLookout on Wednesday. Lookout is working to clarify this, but it’s possible the true answer won’t be clear until appointments become available at the site around Feb. 15.

Additionally, the county’s chief of public health Jennifer Herrera shared that the county will offer another vaccination clinic at the fairgrounds on Feb. 10. Sign-up information for this will be available early next week.

A new site, operated by OptumServe (the same company that operates the testing site at Ramsay Park) is also going to open in Watsonville very soon. More information on the site and who is eligible will be released next week, but Herrera said that it will operate five days a week and they expect to administer 210 vaccines per day.

According to the state’s vaccine dashboard, 32,080 vaccines had been administered by major health systems, county officials, independent health providers and the federal pharmacy partnership (which is inoculating people in nursing-home and assisted-living facilities) as of Thursday. That’s a 4.5% increase over the 30,670 doses administered as of the day before.

Finally, Newel also commented on a point that will be of interest to Lookout readers: the county positivity rate.

Newel and county spokesperson Jason Hoppin shared that they had recently met with state epidemiologists, who said the seven-day positivity rate is more accurate than the 14-day positivity rate, because it is reported once a week with a seven-day lag that allows for all the data to come in and any necessary corrections to be made.

However, it is less immediate than the 14-day average positivity rate, which is reported every day and does not have a lag. As CDPH told Lookout, “Each metric provides a different piece of information.” Dr. Ghilarducci counseled that the most important thing to keep an eye on is the trend.

“I think that gives us more information than the absolute numbers themselves,” he said.

Lookout ˆ will continue to report on trends in the 14-day positivity rate, but we will also share the weekly seven-day rate when it is released.

With that in mind, here’s more detail on the state of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

Cases & positivity rate: Active cases continue their decline, dropping from 1,432 Wednesday to 1,383 Thursday. This means more people are recovering than being diagnosed, as cases are moved from active to recovered 21 days after diagnosis. The 14-day average positivity rate declined is 10.0%, the same as yesterday. However the most recent seven-day positivity rate is 5.6%, which is lower than the state average seven-day positivity rate of 10%.

Hospitalizations: Locally, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 increased from 40 on Wednesday to 43 Thursday. Seventeen of those patients are in the ICU, a significant increase from ten on Wednesday. State data still shows four ICU beds available in the county.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished, though Driftwood Healthcare Center continues to report at least one active infection among residents. Pacific Coast Manor and Santa Cruz Post Acute still report at least one staff member testing positive.

Data on assisted-living facility infections, which was most recently updated on Feb. 3, shows that De Un Amor is the only assisted living facility that is currently reporting any cases, with at least one positive case among staff and residents (the state does not report the exact number of staff or resident infections unless it’s above 10).

Deaths: Two deaths were reported today, bringing the county total to 155. One was a man and one was a woman, and both were in their 80s and had at least one underlying health condition. One of the deaths reported today was a resident of Sunshine Villa. Both had underlying conditions. Here’s the most up-to-date demographic information on who has died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

Feb. 3

4:30 p.m.: Gov. Gavin Newsom announced two new vaccination clinics on Wesnesday, in a partnership between the state and the federal government. The sites, located in Los Angeles and Oakland, will be staffed mostly by federal workers from FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Oakland site will be located at the Oakland Coliseum, and there are no residency or insurance requirements, meaning any Santa Cruz County residents currently eligible for vaccination can sign up through California’s MyTurn website, according to a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health.

The vaccination site is not up and running yet, and is expected to start operating on Feb. 16. Appointment scheduling should be available in the next few days. If, once scheduling begins, eligible Santa Cruz County residents are not seeing the Oakland site as available, it could be because the site is only showing vaccine clinics within a certain distance. There is a function on the site to search for appointments in a specific zip code that can be used in that case. (The full text of Newsom’s announcement is at the end of this story.)

In other news, local cases and hospitalizations continue a promising decrease, though the 14-day rolling average of new cases is still relatively high at 83. This is about the same as it was during the first week of December — back when Santa Cruz’s second surge was in full swing, but before the worst of the post-holiday infections. At the apex of the winter surge, the county was averaging about 200 new confirmed cases per day.

Here’s more detail on the state of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

Cases & positivity rate: Active cases continue their decline, dropping from 1,590 Tuesday to 1,432 Wednesday. This means more people are recovering than being diagnosed, as cases are moved from active to recovered 21 days after diagnosis. The 14-day average positivity rate declined from 10.5 to 10.0%. This remains well above the state average, which is 6.9%. The 14-day average of new confirmed cases is lower than it has been since the beginning of December, at 83 cases per day.

Hospitalizations: Locally, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 decreased from 42 Tuesday to 40 on Wednesday. Ten of those patients are in the ICU, an increase from eight on Tuesday. State data now shows four ICU beds available in the county.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished significantly, though several still have some staff members testing positive. Driftwood Healthcare Center continues to report at least one active infection among residents. Pacific Coast Manor and Santa Cruz Post Acute still report at least one staff member testing positive.

Data on assisted-living facility infections, which was most recently updated on Feb. 1, shows that De Un Amor and Sunshine Villa both have at least one active case among their residents. Both also have at least one active case among staff (the state does not report the exact number of staff or resident infections unless it’s above 10).

Deaths: The total deaths reported by the county is now 153. Of the new deaths reported, two of the victims were in their fifties, one was in their sixties, and one in their seventies. One was a resident of Driftwood Healthcare Center.

Here’s the full text of Newsom’s announcement about the mass vaccination sites in Oakland and Los Angeles:

California Governor Gavin Newsom and the Biden-Harris Administration today announced a pilot project to establish community vaccination sites in Oakland and Los Angeles.

These pilot sites, which will be based at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum and California State University, Los Angeles, are part of the wider effort to establish 100 vaccination sites nationwide in the federal administration’s first 100 days. The sites will be co-run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of California through the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES).

“In the fight against COVID-19, partnership is key, especially when it comes to reaching Californians in underserved areas,” said Governor Newsom. “These new sites will help us get available supply to some of the California communities most in need. I thank the Biden Administration for standing with us as we continue our efforts to safely, swiftly and equitably vaccinate all Californians.”

“Both of these sites are perfect examples of how FEMA is working around the clock to support state led, federally supported vaccine delivery,” said Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton. “Today’s announcement is a significant step forward in the ongoing effort to ensure every American who wants a vaccine will receive a vaccine.”

FEMA will provide resources and federal staffing support to establish these new community vaccination centers as well as operational support.

The two locations chosen for these efforts are in some of the most diverse and socioeconomically challenged communities in the country. They are also communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and are home to essential workers who have borne the brunt of keeping the economy open over the past year.

The goal of establishing these joint federal pilot sites is to continue to expand the rate of vaccinations in California in an efficient, effective and equitable manner, with an explicit focus on making sure that communities with a high risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection are not left behind.

In order to expand the reach of these state-federal sites further into the communities, each of these new sites will be paired with two mobile vaccination clinics which can be deployed to multiple locations to amplify and provide distribution to areas that otherwise lack sufficient support.

Preparations and buildout of these two locations are now underway and the sites are expected to be open to eligible members of the public beginning February 16. Registration for vaccine appointments at these two sites will be available through the state’s MyTurn scheduling system in the coming days.

The State of California is coordinating closely with FEMA to ensure the vaccine doses used at these sites will not decrease the available supply for other sites in the hosting counties.

Feb.2

2 p.m.: The local trend of decreasing COVID-19 transmission in Santa Cruz County is continuing, though a substantial number of cases are still being confirmed every day.

In all, 55 new cases were confirmed on Monday, according to county statistics. This is much less than the high of 336 cases confirmed on Dec. 31, but is still significantly higher than the average of about 30 new cases per day that the county was seeing in the summer.

The improving local picture comes amid concerns that, statewide, more variants of the virus are being detected. A coronavirus variant from Brazil has been detected in a sample from the Bay Area, underscoring the urgency of ramping up inoculation efforts as researchers try to learn whether it, as well as others circulating in California, could undermine the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

Researchers at Stanford’s Clinical Virology Laboratory screened nearly 1,000 specimens during the last two weeks and found one case of the Brazilian variant, P.2, said Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, the laboratory’s medical director. They reported the finding to public health authorities on Jan. 25.

The researchers also identified four cases of a variant from the U.K., B.1.1.7, that appears to spread more easily, may be more virulent and is already known to be circulating in California, Pinsky said. And they found that about 29% of the specimens had the L452R mutation, a feature of a homegrown California variant that may have helped drive the most recent case surge.

“It’s definitely possible that they already contributed to the humongous surge we’ve seen over the last six weeks or so,” said Dr. Edward Jones-Lopez, an infectious diseases expert at USC. “And it could get even worse if these strains are indeed fitter than previous strains and people lower their guard and we are not very logistically efficient in delivering vaccines. When we put those two factors together, it might still be a rough next two to three months.”

Here’s more detail on the state of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

Cases & positivity rate: Active cases continue their decline, dropping from 1,717 Monday to 1,590 today. This means more people are recovering than being diagnosed, as cases are moved from active to recovered 21 days after diagnosis. The 14-day average positivity rate declined ever-so-slightly from 10.6% to 10.5%. This remains well above the state average, which is 7.3%.

Hospitalizations: Locally, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 decreased from 44 on Monday to 42 Tuesday. Eight of those patients are in the ICU, a decrease from 12 on Monday. State data now shows four ICU beds available in the county.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished significantly, though several still have some staff members testing positive. Driftwood Healthcare Center and Valley Convalescent Hospital continue to report at least one active infection among residents.

Data on assisted-living facility infections, which was most recently updated on Jan. 31, shows that De Un Amor and Sunshine Villa both have at least one active case among their residents. Both also have at least one active case among staff (the state does not report the exact number of staff or resident infections unless it’s above 10).

Deaths: The total deaths reported by the county is now 149. The increase is because one of the previous deaths, of a person in their thirties, was temporarily misclassified by the state as being a resident of Santa Clara County. This has been fixed and that death has been reinstated in the Santa Cruz, bringing the total to 149.

Here’s the most up to date demographic information on who has died of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

-Mallory Pickett, with additional reporting from the LA Times

Feb.1

2 p.m.: In yet another sign of progress, the number of people recovering from COVID-19 continues to outpace the number of new cases in Santa Cruz County. The number of hospitalized patients increased over the weekend — but overall the downward trend in hospitalizations continues, health officials are reporting.

This progression will be put to the test, however, now that California has lifted the stay-at-home order for all regions. As public health experts debate the wisdom of California’s decision to ease these restrictions, they are warning residents to step up precautions now that highly contagious variants and a still-high positive test rate have combined to create “a more dangerous world.”

“We will have to be doing a major education effort to make sure people do not misinterpret the removal of the regional stay-at-home order and think they can go about their lives like they did before COVID,” Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, a UCLA medical epidemiologist and infectious-diseases expert, told the Los Angeles Times. “Otherwise,” he said, “we will see these numbers just go right back up.”

Here’s more detail on the state of COVID-19 locally:

Cases & positivity rate: Active cases continue their decline, dropping from 1,847 Friday to 1,717 today. This means more people are recovering than being diagnosed, as cases are moved from active to recovered 21 days after diagnosis. The 14-day average positivity rate declined from 12.5% to 10.6%. This still remains well above the state average, which is 7.3%.

Hospitalizations: Locally the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 increased from 40 on Friday to 44 on Monday. Twelve of those patients are in the ICU, a significant increase from six on Friday. State data now shows four ICU beds available in the county.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished significantly, though most still have some staff members testing positive. Driftwood Healthcare Center and Valley Convalescent Hospital continue to report at least one active infection among residents.

Data on assisted-living facility infections, which was most recently updated on Jan. 28, shows that De Un Amor has at least one active case among its residents and Sunshine Villa has 11. Both also have at least one active case among staff (the state does not report the exact number of staff or resident infections unless it’s above 10).

Deaths: The total deaths reported by the county is now 148. The data now shows only two people in their thirties as having died from COVID-19, where previously three had been reported. This first appeared last week, and county health officials are unsure of what caused the change. Lookout will provide updates on an explanation as soon as one is provided.

Here’s the most up to date demographic information on who has died of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

Jan. 28

4 p.m.: A trend that has lasted all week is continuing statewide and locally — new COVID-19 cases and positivity rates both continue to decrease.

As county health officer Dr. Gail Newel said in yesterday’s press conference, “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s close enough that we know it’s not a train.”

Only 77 new cases were confirmed in Santa Cruz County yesterday, compared to 160 in one day two weeks ago.

Here’s more detail on the state of COVID-19 locally:

Cases & positivity rate: Active cases continue their decline, dropping from 1,972 Thursday to 1,847 Friday. This means more people are recovering than being diagnosed, as cases are moved from active to recovered 21 days after diagnosis. The 14-day average positivity rate declined from 12.8% to 12.5%. This still remains well above the state average, which is 8.2%. This has been true since around Christmas.

Hospitalizations: Locally the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 decreased significantly again, from 52 to 40. Six of those patients are in the ICU, the same as on Thursday. State data now shows three ICU beds available in the county.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished significantly, though most still have some staff members testing positive. Hearts and Hands has at least one new active infection among its residents, and Driftwood Healthcare Center and Valley Convalescent Hospital continue to report at least one active infection among residents.

Data on assisted-living facility infections, which was most recently updated on Jan. 27, shows that De Un Amor has 12 active cases among residents and Sunshine Villa has 11. Both also have at least one active case among staff (the state does not report the exact number unless it’s above 10).

Deaths: There were inconsistencies in the death data reported by the county today which showed a decrease in the number of deaths in some parts of the public dataset. Local health officials are looking into the source of this change and this post will be updated with more information as Lookout receives it.

Jan. 27

3:30 p.m.: Active cases and the rate of those testing positive for COVID-19 declined slightly Wednesday as Santa Cruz County continued to show signs of disease spread slowing very slowly. Here are the latest details:

Cases & positivity rate: Active cases decreased again from 2,319 to 2,118. This means more people are recovering than being diagnosed, as cases are moved from active to recovered 21 days after diagnosis. The 14-day average positivity rate declined slightly, and is now 13.2%. However this local value remains well above the state average, which is 8.8%. This has been true since around Christmas.

Hospitalizations: Locally the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 increased by three since yesterday, bringing the total to 61. Six of those patients are in the ICU compared to five yesterday. State data now shows just one ICU bed available in the county.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished significantly, though most still have some staff testing positive, and Driftwood Healthcare Center and Valley Convalescent Hospital still have at least one active infection among residents.

Data on assisted living facility infections was updated on Jan. 26. It shows that De Un Amor and Sunshine Villa still have ongoing outbreaks, with 12 infected residents at De Un Amor (a decrease of one since yesterday) and 11 at Sunshine Villa. Both facilities also have at least one staff member testing positive.

Deaths: Seven new deaths were confirmed today, bringing the total to 143 locally. These deaths occurred on various days between Dec. 19 and Jan. 25.

Two of the deceased were residents of congregate living facilities, one in Westwind Memory Care, and one in Watsonville Nursing Center. Three people were in their 60s, one in their 70s, one in their 80s, and two in their 90s.

All but one of those who died had at least one underlying health condition. Five were men and two were women. Two of the victims were of Latinx descent, two were white, and three were of unknown ethnicity.

Here’s the latest demographic data on who’s died from COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County:

-Mallory Pickett

Jan. 26

4:15 p.m.: California health officials acknowledged Tuesday that vaccine distribution is not moving quickly enough at the same time that Santa Cruz County officials were stepping up local vaccination efforts through a new drive-thru clinic at the county fairgrounds in Watsonville.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and Yolanda Richardson, secretary of government operations, said in a press conference that California is building a statewide vaccine administration network, and will be partnering with an as-yet-unnamed third party to help facilitate distribution through this network.

Few details were provided, but this network appears to build off the kinds of vaccinations already happening at pharmacies, local health systems, public hospitals, and pop-up sites. “We understand that vaccine supply is limited, but we also have to address that the supply we have needs to get into arms as soon as possible,” Richardson said, adding that Californians to date have been “understandably confused by mixed messages” and “variability of eligibility across the state.”

In Santa Cruz County, health officials have received 21,775 vaccine doses and have put 9,200 of them into arms, according to the county’s vaccine tracker. The remaining 12,575 vaccines are all slated to go to individuals in phase 1a, including health care workers, and people over age 75 in phase 1b.

The county this week opened a vaccination clinic at the Watsonville fairgrounds in hopes of getting these shots out quickly. The goal of this clinic is to reach people who are uninsured or otherwise unable to receive vaccines through a health system such as Kaiser Permanente, Sutter/PAMF, or Dignity Health. Those health systems are getting separate vaccine allotments for patients directly from the state.

In Watsonville, health care workers had distributed 340 vaccines by mid-afternoon Tuesday, with hopes of eventually ramping up to 1,000 vaccinations a day. Those eligible for vaccination can sign up here.

New guidelines

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced changes to the current guidelines Monday in an effort to speed up vaccine distribution. Under these new guidelines, the administration will continue to focus on people 65 and older, as well as health care workers before moving on to certain essential occupations. Those occupations are defined by tier 1 of Phase 1b, which includes workers in education, child care, emergency services, and food and agriculture.

Following tier 1 of Phase 1b, vaccination will follow age-based prioritization — but details have yet to be released.

On Tuesday, Ghaly also reviewed some of the numbers highlighting California’s continued progress in slowing transmission of the disease. COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased 20.4% over the last 14 days, and ICU admissions, which tend to change more slowly, decreased 10% in the last 14 days. The statewide 14-day positivity rate has also decreased significantly, dropping 33% since January 12, from 13.5% to 9.0%

The local picture

Local numbers also continue to improve, though Santa Cruz County’s 14-day positivity rate remains higher than the state average, at 13.6%. Only 68 new cases were confirmed yesterday, and the active case count continues to decrease. Today they are 2,319 active known cases countywide, 152 fewer than yesterday.

Here are the latest details on the state of the pandemic locally:

Cases: Active cases decreased slightly from 2,471 to 2,319. This means more people are recovering than being diagnosed, as cases are moved from active to recovered 21 days after diagnosis. The 14-day average positivity rate also continued a steep decline, reaching 13.6%. Just yesterday this value was 15.6%, and as recently as Jan. 10 the local positivity rate was greater than 20%.

Hospitalizations: Locally the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has decreased to 58 from 61 on Monday, with five of those patients in the ICU. State data now shows four ICU beds available in the county, up from two yesterday, and a big improvement after many days of zero capacity.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished significantly, though most still have some staff testing positive, and Driftwood Healthcare Center and Valley Convalescent Hospital still have at least one active infection among residents.

Data on assisted living facility infections was updated on Jan. 24, and shows that De Un Amor and Sunshine Villa still have ongoing outbreaks, with 13 infected residents at De Un Amor and 11 at Sunshine Villa. Both facilities also have at least one staff member testing positive.

Deaths: One new death due to COVID-19 was confirmed today, bringing the total to 136. The victim was an Asian man in his seventies, who did have at least one underlying health condition and was not a resident of congregate living facility.

-Mallory Pickett

Jan. 25

1:30 p.m.: The Bay Area regional stay-at-home order was lifted today, meaning Santa Cruz County is now in the purple tier of the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” framework.

Many services unavailable during the stay-at-home order can now resume, including outdoor dining at restaurants and indoor services — with modifications — at nail and hair salons. A full list of what’s allowed to open and close in Santa Cruz County is available here.

Santa Cruz Health Officer Gail Newel warned last week that Santa Cruz remains in a serious situation, as the county’s 14-day average of confirmed cases is now close to 140, according to state data. But this figure has been declining since it reached a high of 203.6 around Jan. 13.

The Bay Area regional ICU capacity, which reached 23.4% this weekend, is now at 8.4%. But four-week projections show it will surpass 25% fore the region by Feb. 21, which is why the Bay Area stay-at-home order, along with that for all other regions, is being lifted.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press conference today that Californians remain in “a challenging period,” but a period in which “we truly do see light at the end of the tunnel.”

In four weeks, CDPH forecasts the state-wide average ICU capacity should surpass 30%.

The total number of reported fatalities due to COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County increased to 135 today from 130 on Friday. The five deaths reported most recently occurred between Jan. 4 and Jan. 20.

Here are the latest numbers you need to know:

Cases: Active cases decreased slightly from Friday, from 2,663 to 2,471. This means more people are recovering than being diagnosed, as cases are moved from active to recovered 21 days after diagnosis. The 14-day average positivity rate also continued a steep decline, reaching 15.6% from 16.6% yesterday, and a high of 20.7% on Jan. 10.

Hospitalizations: Locally the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has decreased to 61 from 68 on Friday, with five of those patients in the ICU. State data now shows two ICU beds available in the county, after several days of zero capacity.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished significantly, though most still have some staff testing positive, and Driftwood Healthcare Center and Valley Convalescent Hospital still have at least one active infection among residents.

Data on assisted living facility infections has not been updated since Jan. 21.

Deaths: The number of reported deaths reached 135 today. One of the victims was in their 70s, three in their 80s, one in their 90s. All but one had an underlying condition. One was a resident of Sunshine Villa, one was a resident of Hanover House. One was of Latinx descent and four were white. Two were women and three were men.

Here’s an updated overview of the demographics of those who have died in Santa Cruz County:

-Mallory Pickett

Jan. 22

4:15 p.m.: County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said today the regional stay-at-home order “may” be lifted within two weeks due to improving capacity in Bay Area hospitals. However, locally, she said the situation remains very serious — as evidenced by the county logging 10 deaths, its second-highest number of deaths reported for a single day.

During Lookout’s COVID 2021 community conversation last night, Newel, along with other local experts, also warned that the way vaccine rollout is happening right now is creating inequity in access to the vaccine. Read more about that here.

Here are the latest numbers you need to know:

Cases: Active cases increased slightly today, from 2,637 to 2,663, after a few days of falling. The 14-day rolling average of new active cases continued to fall, however, reaching about 165 today. The 14-day average positivity rate also continued a steep decline, reaching 15.6% from 16.6% yesterday, and a high of 20.7% on Jan. 10.

Hospitalizations: The Bay Area regional ICU capacity is 6.5%, down from 7.0% yesterday, and the region remains under the stay-at-home order. Locally the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has decreased to 68 from 72 yesterday, with 9 of those patients in the ICU. However, there are no ICU beds available in county hospitals, a staggering statistic that has remained consistent for days. This capacity fluctuates throughout the day and is highly dependent on staffing.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished significantly, though most still have some staff testing positive, and Driftwood Healthcare Center and Valley Convalescent Hospital still have at least one active infection among residents.

Assisted living facilities — where vaccines have been slow to reach — are still dealing with some large outbreaks among residents. According to the most recent data, which is from Thursday, Jan. 21, De Un Amor still has 13 active infections among residents and Sunshine Villa has 11.

Deaths: Ten new deaths were posted today, bringing the total to 130. One of these people was in their sixties, one in their seventies, six in their eighties, and two in their nineties.

Here’s the most up-to-date demographic data on the COVID-19 fatalities in Santa Cruz County so far (note that the County has changed their reporting system for this, and in the process, some errors in county deaths data were corrected):

Jan. 21

3:30 p.m.: Some good news today as the California Department of Public Health officially announced today that the Moderna vaccine lot that had been on “pause” while they investigated a higher-than-expected number of allergic reactions is safe for use and will be released.

In less hopeful news, state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan predicted that with the current pace of distribution it could take months to vaccinate the 65 and older population.

Active cases of COVID-19 reported by the county continued to decline, dropping from 2,753 yesterday to 2,637. Cases are re-classified from “active” to “recovered” after 21 days. The falling numbers mean more people are recovering than being diagnosed.

Cases: The 14-day rolling average of new active cases dropped slightly to about 180, after hovering around 190 for several days. New confirmed cases had been increasing steadily since the beginning of November, but began to level off around Jan. 15. The 14-day average positivity rate also paints a hopeful picture, as it has decreased to 16.6% from a high of 20.7% on Jan. 10.

Hospitalizations: According to the most recent available data, the Bay Area regional ICU capacity is 7.0%, down from 7.4% yesterday, and the region remains under the stay-at-home order. Locally the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased to 72 from 71 yesterday, with 9 of those patients in the ICU. However, there are no ICU beds available in county hospitals, a staggering statistic that has remained consistent for several days. This capacity fluctuates throughout the day and is highly dependent on staffing.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished significantly. But assisted living facilities — where vaccines have been slow to reach—are still dealing with some large outbreaks among residents. De Un Amor has 13 active infections among residents and Sunshine Villa has 11.

Deaths: Seven new deaths were posted today, bringing the total to 120.

Jan. 20

3:45 p.m.: Active cases of COVID-19 as reported by the county declined again today, meaning more people are recovering than are being diagnosed.

Active cases are automatically reclassified as inactive after 21 days. Today, there are 2,753 active cases of the virus in Santa Cruz County, which is 57 fewer than yesterday.

Cases: The 14-day rolling average of new active cases dipped slightly to 187, after being around 190 for several days. New confirmed cases had been increasing steadily since the beginning of November, but began to level off around January 15. The 14-day average positivity rate also paints a hopeful picture, as it has decreased to 17.7% from a high of 20.7% on January 10.

Hospitalizations: According to the most recent available data, the Bay Area regional ICU capacity is 7.4%, and the region remains under the stay-at-home order. Locally the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has decreased to 71, down from 79 yesterday, with 10 of those patients in the ICU. However, there are no ICU beds available in county hospitals, a staggering statistic that has remained consistent for several days.

Nursing homes: Most of the worst outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities have now diminished significantly. But assisted living facilities — where vaccines have been slow to reach—are still dealing with some large outbreaks among residents. De Un Amor has 13 active infections among residents and Sunshine Villa has 11.

Deaths: No new deaths were posted today.

Jan. 19

4:15 p.m.: California hit an eye-popping milestone Tuesday, reporting more than 3 million total coronavirus cases statewide since the pandemic began last spring, according to a case count by the LA Times, a Lookout content partner.

But state health officials said during a news conference that they see “rays of hope” as the transmission rate of the virus has come down some.

In Santa Cruz County, virtually all COVID-19 statistics improved slightly Tuesday, but county Health Officer Gail Newel described the improvements as minuscule at best.

She told Lookout that the county recorded 320 new cases in a 24-hour period over the weekend — a record — and that officials are “waiting for that spike in cases to hit the hospitals.”

Newel said the county is still very much in throes of the “Christmas and New Year’s surge,” and that hospital ICUs here likely will fill up even more. There were 79 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Santa Cruz County as of Tuesday with 12 of them in the ICU. State data showed zero ICU beds available in Santa Cruz County, though that number can fluctuate rapidly.

The Bay Area region’s ICU bed availability capacity stood at 7.4% on Tuesday, up from 3.4% on Friday. The region includes Santa Cruz County.

The state situation

“The good news is that we’re in a posture where the spread of COVID is not growing in the state, but decreasing, just a little more slowly than we would like,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

Hospitalizations statewide decreased “for the first time in quite some time,” dropping 8.5% in the last two weeks to 20,262, according to Ghaly. ICU hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have also seen a drop, decreasing 2.8% over the last 7 days to 4,693 across the state.

“These are rays of hope shining through with the hospitals coming down some, and that overall curve of our case numbers beginning to flatten,” Ghaly said.

Still, the 3-million mark means about 1 out of every 13 Californians have been infected with the virus at some point. More than 33,700 Californians have died from COVID-19 so far.

New strains of the virus have also caught the eye of public health officials, including a highly contagious variant first identified in the United Kingdom. One other new strain has been identified in a dozen counties — including neighboring Monterey County — and has been linked to several large outbreaks in Santa Clara County, which also is adjacent to Santa Cruz County.

Officials are still working to determine how broad the new variant — linked to the Santa Clara outbreaks — is across the state and what its impacts are on infectiousness and severity of the disease, Dr. Ghaly said.

The county situation

A look at the latest numbers countywide:

Active cases: The county had 2,810 current active cases of the virus as of Tuesday, down from a total of 3,017 on Friday. Since the pandemic began, there have been 12,275 cases of COVID-19 recorded in Santa Cruz County.

Positivity rate: Santa Cruz County’s 14-day average positivity rate is 17.5%, down slightly from Friday’s value of 18.6% — but still much higher than the average value across all California counties, which is just 11.6%.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported Tuesday, with the county’s death toll remaining at 113. This doesn’t mean no new deaths have occurred, just that the records haven’t yet been released to the county.

Hospitalizations: There were 79 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Santa Cruz County as of Tuesday with 12 of them in the ICU. State data showed zero ICU beds available in Santa Cruz County. It is important to note that this number changes rapidly as people move in and out of the ICU, and is also highly dependent on staffing. The Bay Area regional ICU capacity is currently 7.4%, and the stay-at-home order remains in effect.

Jan. 18


5 p.m.: Kaiser Permanente told Lookout Monday evening that it, too, had administered doses of the Moderna vaccine from lot 41L20A, which has now been paused as state health officials investigate possible allergic reactions from the vaccine. Spokesperson Karl Sonkin said in a statement that the hospital system had “not recorded any severe adverse reactions in patients who received vaccine from this lot.” But the health system has paused the rollout of the vaccine from this lot, in accordance with state recommendations.

“While all vaccine supply is extremely limited, this situation only affects a relatively small percentage of our supply,” Sonkin wrote.

Vaccine appointments through Kaiser Permanente will be rescheduled, and members will be notified, as the hospital system "(monitors) information provided by the manufacturer, CDPH, the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

Lookout has not yet heard back from requests for information from Sutter Health/ PAMF about this issue.

1:30 p.m.: Dignity Health has administered doses of the 41L20A lot of the Moderna vaccine, the hospital system told Lookout this afternoon. In a statement, Dominican Hospital President Dr. Nanette Mickiewicz said the hospital had “not documented any significant reactions during our COVID-19 vaccine distribution, including the doses of Moderna lot 41L20A we have administered. That said, in accordance with the guidance from CDPH, we have paused all administration of Moderna vaccines from that lot indefinitely.”

11 a.m.: About 5,300 doses of Santa Cruz County’s vaccine inventory are from lot 41L20A of the Moderna vaccine — the same lot that state health officials put “on pause” Sunday night due to a higher-than-usual number of possible allergic reactions that are under investigation.

That means 64% of the remaining 8,210 Moderna doses that were to be distributed in Santa Cruz County will have to remain in storage for now. None of the 5,300 41L20A doses had yet to be distributed here, Santa Cruz County spokesperson Jason Hoppin told Lookout Monday.

“We’re told the pause is ‘brief,’” he wrote in an email. It is unclear how this will impact the already sluggish distribution of the vaccine both here and elsewhere.

As of last Friday, the county had received a total of 6,825 Pfizer doses and 9,900 Moderna doses. Only slightly more than 5,300 doses have been distributed overall.

Statewide, more than 330,000 doses from this lot have been distributed to 287 providers across the state. That amounts to about 10% of the vaccine shipped to California overall.

The apparent allergic reactions occurred in Southern California, the LA Times reported.

“A higher-than-usual number of possible allergic reactions were reported with a specific lot of Moderna vaccine administered at one community vaccination clinic. Fewer than 10 individuals required medical attention over the span of 24 hours,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan in a statement. “Out of an extreme abundance of caution and also recognizing the extremely limited supply of vaccine, we are recommending that providers use other available vaccine inventory and pause the administration of vaccines from Moderna Lot 041L20A until the investigation by the CDC, FDA, Moderna and the state is complete. We will provide an update as we learn more.”

Lookout Santa Cruz is reaching out to the major health systems in Santa Cruz County to find out how many doses of the paused Moderna lot might have been sent to them.

— Tulsi Kamath

6:30 a.m.: A COVID-19 variant has been linked to “multiple outbreaks in Santa Clara County,” just across the Santa Cruz County line, and also has been found in neighboring Monterey County, the California Department of Public Health is reporting.

This variant, called 452R, is different than the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom. 452R has been identified in several large outbreaks in Santa Clara County.

“It’s too soon to know if this variant will spread more rapidly than others, but it certainly reinforces the need for all Californians to wear masks and reduce mixing with people outside their immediate households to help slow the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Erica Pan, state epidemiologist.

The state is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local public health departments and laboratory sequencing partners to learn more about the variant, including how it spreads, according to a CDPH news release.

“The fact that this variant was identified in several large outbreaks in our county is a red flag and must be investigated further,” said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. “This virus continues to mutate and adapt, and we cannot let down our guard. This news underscores the need for everyone to follow all prevention measures and get vaccinated as soon as they are offered the vaccine.”

In addition to Santa Clara County, the 452R variant has been detected in Humboldt, Lake, Los Angeles, Mono, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco, San Bernardino, San Diego and San Luis Obispo counties. Because genomic sequencing is not done equally across the state or country, it is too soon to know how prevalent the 452 variant is statewide, nationally or globally.

It was most recently noted to contribute to an increasing proportion of COVID-19 cases in specimens sequenced by Dr. Charles Chiu, a virologist and professor of laboratory medicine at UC San Francisco. Dr. Chiu has been sequencing cases from multiple counties across the state over the past several months as part of the state’s SARS-CoV-2 Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative.

“This variant carries three mutations, including L452R, in the spike protein, which the virus uses to attach to and enter cells, and is the target of the two vaccines that are currently available in the United States,” said Dr. Chiu. “Researchers at UCSF and elsewhere will now be able to perform the critical laboratory experiments to determine whether or not this virus is more infectious or affects vaccine performance.”

Vaccine batch put on pause: Dr. Pan, the state epidemiologist, also is recommending that that a batch of vaccines — lot 41L20A of the Moderna vaccine — be put “on pause” due to possible allergic reactions that are under investigation. More than 330,000 doses from this lot have been distributed to 287 providers across the state. That amounts to about 10% of the vaccine shipped to California overall.

The apparent allergic reactions occurred in Southern California, the LA Times reported. Lookout will be working to determine Monday if any batches of the vaccine have been sent to Santa Cruz County.

“A higher-than-usual number of possible allergic reactions were reported with a specific lot of Moderna vaccine administered at one community vaccination clinic. Fewer than 10 individuals required medical attention over the span of 24 hours,” Pan said in a statement. “Out of an extreme abundance of caution and also recognizing the extremely limited supply of vaccine, we are recommending that providers use other available vaccine inventory and pause the administration of vaccines from Moderna Lot 041L20A until the investigation by the CDC, FDA, Moderna and the state is complete. We will provide an update as we learn more.”

Stay-home order update: The stay-at-home order remains in place indefinitely in Santa Cruz County and other Bay Area region counties based on 4-week projections of ICU bed capacity, CDPH said Sunday.

ICU capacity projections are based on four factors: current estimated regional ICU capacity available, measure of current community transmission, current regional case rates and the proportion of ICU cases being admitted.

The latest data showed Bay Area ICU bed availability at only 3.4%. The order went in place because the region fell below the state’s 15% threshold.

-Lookout Santa Cruz Staff

Jan. 15


3:30 p.m.: In a press conference with other local health officials today, county health officer Dr. Gail Newel said this week’s COVID-19 data in Santa Cruz, “surprised even me with its severity, it’s higher than we’ve ever seen.”

Perhaps the only good news is that local and regional hospitalizations have plateaued somewhat in recent days, and the Bay Area regional capacity is expected to stay above 0% for at least the next few weeks. In light of this news, Newel lifted the local ban on elective surgeries.

Here’s a look at the latest numbers:

Active cases: The county announced 228 new active cases of the virus today, bringing the current active case count to 3,017. Since the pandemic began, there have been 11,715 cases of COVID-19 recorded in Santa Cruz County; over a quarter of those cases are currently active.

Positivity rate: Santa Cruz County’s 14-day average positivity rate is 18.6%, down slightly from yesterday’s value of 20.6%, but still much higher than the average value across all California counties, which is just 12.9%. In today’s press conference, Dr. Newel also added that “some of our clinics are reporting, consistently, day after day, positivity rates [around] 40%.”

Positivity rate explained: A few people have asked Lookout about why the county reports a different positivity rate than the state, and which one is correct. Lookout has talked with Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county director of emergency medical services and he goes into detail about the issue.

Deaths: Two new deaths were confirmed today, bringing the total to 113. Both were men with underlying health conditions, one in his 60s and one in his 70s. Neither were residents of a skilled nursing or residential care facility. One was white and was of Asian ethnicity, according to county data.

Hospitalizations: There were 80 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Santa Cruz County as of Friday with 12 of them in the ICU. State data shows zero ICU beds available in Santa Cruz County, and in today’s press conference the county’s health services director Mimi Hall pointed out that the county has largely been at zero ICU capacity since Thanksgiving, which she said was “highly, highly concerning.” It is important to note that this number changes rapidly as people move in and out of the ICU, and is also highly dependent on staffing. The Bay Area regional ICU capacity is currently 3.4%, and the stay-at-home order remains in effect.

Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county’s emergency medical services director says that despite the low capacity, Dominican Hospital and Watsonville Community Hospital have not had to enact “crisis care standards,” a system similar to triage, though the county was “very worried” about that possibility over the past few weeks.

-Mallory Pickett

Jan.14

3:30 p.m.: COVID-19 continues to spread in Santa Cruz County: officials continue to report an average of approximately 200 new cases per day, and the 14-day average positivity rate remains stuck around 20%.

The good news is that the most recent datapoint in that 14-day period is unusually low — just 22 cases were reported Thursday, a possible sign of a downward trend. Also vaccinations are opening up to a wider pool of recipients, though vaccination progress is still slower than hoped for.

Here’s a look at the latest numbers:

Active cases: The county announced just 22 new active cases of the virus as of Wednesday, bringing the current active case count to 2,789. Since the pandemic began, there have been 11,447 cases of COVID-19 recorded in Santa Cruz County; nearly a fourth of those cases are currently active.

Positivity rate: Santa Cruz County’s 14-day average positivity rate is 20.6%, up slightly from yesterday’s value of 20.2%, and still much higher than the average value across all California counties, which is just 13.4%.

Positivity rate explained: A few people have asked Lookout about why the county reports a different positivity rate than the state, and which one is correct. Lookout has talked with Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county director of emergency medical services and he goes into detail about the issue.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported in Santa Cruz County, so the death toll remains at 111. This doesn’t mean no new deaths have occurred, just that the records haven’t yet been released to the county.

Hospitalizations: There were 79 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Santa Cruz County as of Wednesday with 14 of them in the ICU, seven more total and one more in the ICU than yesterday. State data shows zero ICU beds available in Santa Cruz County. However, it’s important to note that this number changes rapidly as people move in and out of the ICU, and is also highly dependent on staffing. The Bay Area regional ICU capacity is currently 4.7%, and the stay-at-home order remains in effect.

— Mallory Pickett

Jan. 13

3 p.m.: COVID-19 continues to rage on in Santa Cruz County and the greater Bay Area, though no new deaths were reported countywide on Wednesday. The 14-day average of daily new cases reached 198.8 cases per day, an all-time high, according to a Lookout analysis of county data.

Here’s a look at the latest numbers:

Active cases: The county announced 79 new active cases of the virus as of Wednesday, bringing the current active case count to 2,789. Since the pandemic began, there have been 11,275 cases of COVID-19 recorded in Santa Cruz County; nearly a fourth of those cases are currently active.

Positivity rate: The county made some gains Wednesday with the state reporting that Santa Cruz County’s 14-day average positivity rate is at 20.2%, down from 20.6% yesterday. Those numbers, however, are still extremely high.

Positivity rate explained: A few people have asked Lookout about why the county reports a different positivity rate than the state and which one is correct. Lookout’s Mallory Pickett talked with Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county director of emergency medical services and he goes into detail about the issue.

Daily case rate: The county struck a new all-time high with the 14-day average of daily new cases at 198.8 cases per day.

Deaths: No new deaths were reported in Santa Cruz County Wednesday, so the death toll remains at 111.

Hospitalizations: There were 72 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Santa Cruz County as of Wednesday with 13 of them in the ICU. However, it’s important to note that this number changes rapidly as people move in and out of the hospitals.

— Tulsi Kamath

Jan. 12

3:30 p.m.: Despite some modest good news statewide, local cases continue to increase. As the disease spreads, more Santa Cruz County residents are suffering bad outcomes with five more deaths reported today, bringing the total death toll to 111. One of the victims was in her 50s with no underlying health conditions — a sad reminder that youth and health do not guarantee safety.

Cases: The local 14-day average positivity rate remains extremely high at 20.6%, and the 14-day average of daily new cases (the average number of new positive tests every day for the past two weeks) is 194.1. This metric continues to reach all-time highs every day.

Deaths: Five more deaths were confirmed as COVID-19 fatalities today. The deaths occurred between Jan. 1 and Jan. 6. The Latinx woman in her 50s who died became only the seventh person under 60 to die in Santa Cruz County from the coronavirus.

Among the other recent deaths were three nursing residents in their 80s and one in their 90s, two women and one man. They all had underlying health conditions. One of the deceased was a resident of Dominican Oaks, the second fatality at that facility.

Hospitalizations: The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 has decreased slightly in Santa Cruz County according to state data, which follows statewide trends. Currently, 69 patients are hospitalized with the virus, 13 of them in the ICU. Two ICU beds are available according to the most recent data, though this number fluctuates throughout the day.

Nursing homes: Driftwood Healthcare Center and Watsonville Nursing Center still have outbreaks among their residents, as does River Valley Care Center, which was previously not included in Lookout analysis due to an error in the state reporting database.

2:10 p.m.: The Bay Area region remains under the regional stay-at-home order for now, but California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a press conference today that the state is “actively calculating some of the information from the last 24 hours,” and an update will available in the next 24 hours on whether the Bay Area or any other regions will be released from the order.

This decision is based on projections of ICU capacity over the next four weeks. Once the order is removed, counties in that region will return to the California’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” guidelines.

Ghaly said that statewide, hospitalizations decreased from 3,500 to 2,500 over the past few days. “We did see some transmission reductions and that is exactly the kind of relief our hospitals needed to get through the last week,” he said, but he added that “we are prepared and anticipate that some increase in hospitalizations will come in the middle of the month.”

The Trump administration today called on states to immediately expand the pool of people eligible for vaccinations to anyone over 65. Ghaly said that California’s Vaccine Drafting Guidelines Workgroup and Community Vaccine Advisory Committee have been directed to meet today to evaluate the new federal guidelines and how they should be adapted in the state.

California’s new vaccine guidance should be available in “the next 24 hours or so,” he said.

— Mallory Pickett, Lookout Santa Cruz

Jan. 11

5:50 p.m.: An average of one out of every five people who have been tested for COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County over the last two weeks have tested positive — an all-time high, according to state data.

Additionally, Bay Area regional ICU capacity has plummeted to 0.7%, bringing that metric closer to the Southern California and San Joaquin regions, which have been at 0% for some time.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press conference Monday that this likely will lead to an extension of the stay-at-home order in Santa Cruz and other Bay Area counties, though the official determination won’t be released until Tuesday.

In Santa Cruz County, the rise in the “14-day-average positivity rate” to 20.7% surprised even some county officials, who were checking with the California Department of Public Health to confirm its accuracy. Adding to the confusion was that CDPH simultaneously was reporting a “7-day-average positivity rate” of 9.4% for the county — but that figure lags seven days, and the virus has spread markedly in the past week.

Dr. David Ghilarducci, Santa Cruz County’s director of emergency medical services, told Lookout Monday afternoon that the 20.7% positivity rate, which he found plausible, is an average, masking wide disparities countywide. Some individual testing sites in South County were reporting positivity rates between 25% and 40% in recent days, he said.

The county’s recent ban on elective surgeries also might be driving the positivity rate up a bit, as those surgeries required testing beforehand — with the bulk of those tests coming back negative. “So that was part of the denominator that’s no longer in there,” Ghilarducci explained. “But overall, the bottom line message is that we have a lot of disease in the community. “

Nearby Monterey County is also reporting a 14-day average positivity rate above 20% according to state data, but Santa Clara County is at just 11.3%. The state average value is 13.7%.

Per capita testing rates in Santa Clara are significantly higher than in Santa Cruz — about 727 tests per hundred thousand people in the most recent data, compared to 540 for Santa Cruz — which could account for part of the disparity between the neighboring counties.

The positivity rate can be an unreliable indicator of the level of virus in the community because it’s not a random sample of the population: by and large the people who are getting tested are those who have symptoms, or think they may have been exposed. But regardless of the absolute value, the recent increase is striking. Just before Christmas the positivity rate in Santa Cruz was 12%.

Just about the only bright spot in today’s numbers: Statewide, there has been a 6% increase in hospitalizations over the past two weeks, which is a"substantially lower rate of growth,” compared to the growth in COVID-19 hospital admissions over past few weeks, Newsom said.

In Santa Cruz County, two more COVID-related deaths were recorded over the weekend — both residents of nursing homes.

Here’s the rundown on where the county stands:

Cases: The 14-day rolling average of confirmed cases reached 194.1, yet another new high. This means on average, over the past two weeks, nearly two hundred new people have tested positive in Santa Cruz County every day. This mirrors the increase in the local 14-day average positivity rate.

Deaths: Two new deaths due to COVID-19 were confirmed today, one man and one woman. Both were residents of congregate living facilities, one of them of Hearts and Hands Post Acute Care and Rehab Center, and one from Maple House I in Santa Cruz. One of the deceased persons was in their 70s, one was in their 80s. One had underlying conditions and one did not.

Nursing homes: Valley Convalescent Hospital, which was experiencing a significant outbreak, now has no positive tests among residents, though at least one staff member has an active infection. Driftwood Healthcare Center and Watsonville Nursing Center still have over 20 positive residents.

All the other skilled nursing facilities in the county have at least one staff member testing positive, but no residents. The one exception is Watsonville Post Acute Center, which now has no cases among either staff or residents.

For more COVID-19 statistics, go to Lookout’s COVID 2021 data page.

Jan. 8

4:20 p.m.: On the last day of the original Bay Area Regional stay-home order, public health officials will now consider 4-week projections on ICU capacity to determine how long the order should be extended.

It’s a safe bet Santa Cruz County and other Bay Area counties are in for the long haul: As of today, the ICU capacity for the region is at 3%, the lowest it’s been since the order was triggered.

The current stay-home order began on Dec. 17 when the Bay Area region slipped below 15% ICU capacity. The order was to last for three weeks — until today, Jan. 8 — at which time public health officials would assess 4-week ICU capacity projection to determine if the order could be lifted.

A press release from the California Department of Public Health noted today that the order will remain in effect and public health officials will assess the region’s 4-week projections “in the coming days.”

The San Joaquin Valley and Southern California regions are the only regions in the state with lower ICU capacity numbers than the Bay Area region, with 0% capacity each. A stay-home order that was triggered for both those regions in early December was extended as they continue to grapple with surging cases and hospitalizations.

Locally, the positivity rate — the percentage of tests with positive results averaged over 14 days — continued a steep climb to record heights. It now stands at 18.5%, and has gone up nearly 6% in the past two weeks. It continues to be well above the state average which is now 13.3%

County health officer Dr. Gail Newel told Lookout in a statement today that this is “very worrisome.” Newel pointed out that because of the way the disease progresses and data is reported, these positive tests will take a few days to show up in case counts.

Hospitalizations follow about two weeks after that, with ICU numbers and deaths going up about two weeks later, she said.

“The bottom line is that we’re probably in for a rocky next few weeks before things get better,” Newel said.

She reminded everyone in the community to “continue to do their part” by following all of the social distancing requirements, minimizing mixing, and avoiding traveling, even after they’ve been immunized. “Our individual actions will continue to save lives.”

Due to data reporting issues, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard was not updated today.

6:15 a.m.: Santa Cruz County health officials have announced a clinic to vaccinate essential workers will take place Saturday. Lookout’s Mallory Pickett has the story here.

Jan. 7

5:15 p.m.: The county announced seven new confirmed COVID-19 deaths this evening, bringing the total to 104.

Two of the deaths reported today were people in their 30s (the county provides age brackets, not exact ages. No one under 30 has died in Santa Cruz). The woman in her 30s added to the county’s tracker this evening was of Latinx ethnicity and had no underlying health conditions. She died on December 29.

Three of the other deaths were among residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, including one resident at Dominican Oaks — that facility’s first fatality.

It’s important to note that the date on which deaths are publicly announced by the county is dependent on when their death certificate is finalized and released to the county. The 11 total deaths announced today occurred over many days from Dec. 12 through Jan. 5.

Here is an updated breakdown of the demographics of local COVID-19 deaths:

12:00 p.m.: The winter surge in COVID-19 infections continues unabated in Santa Cruz County.

Four more COVID-19 deaths were confirmed by the county, all of which occurred during the final week of December and the first week of January.

These deaths are unlikely to be people who got sick during Christmas, as it usually takes several weeks for the disease to progress.

The true impact of Christmas and New Year’s gatherings on hospitalizations and deaths is still unfolding, and county spokesperson Jason Hoppin said they are aware of many more deaths waiting to be confirmed as COVID-19 fatalities.

One of the victims was a Latino man in his 30s, the second youngest person to die of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County since the passing of Miriam Villalobos. He had significant underlying health conditions.

The other three people included a white female in her 90s without any underlying conditions who was a resident of Pacific Coast Manor, a white female in her 70s who was a resident of Aegis Assisted Living in Aptos, who did have underlying health conditions. The final fatality was a man of unknown race in his 90s who did not have underlying health issues.

Local hospitalizations decreased slightly, and according to state data four ICU beds are available in Santa Cruz County. But county emergency health services director Dr. David Ghilarducci warned today that hospitals are still “extremely overloaded.” The regional situation is increasingly dire and the Bay Area regional ICU capacity decreased from 7.4 to 3.5% today.

Cases: The rolling 14-day average of cases is 165.5, a number that has held about constant over the past several days. The 14-day average positivity rate, however, continues to skyrocket and now stands at 17.6%, much higher than the state average of 12.9%.

Hospitalizations: Hospitalizations decreased slightly from 84 yesterday to 76 today, with 14 of those patients in the ICU and four ICU beds available. The regional ICU capacity decreased sharply from 7.4% to 3.5%.

Nursing home cases: Driftwood Healthcare Center, Hearts and Hands Post Acute Care, Valley Convalescent Hospital, and Santa Cruz Post Acute Center, Aegis Assisted Living, Maple House I, Montecito Manor and Watsonville Nursing Center all have at least one COVID-19 case among residents and staff. Driftwood and Watsonville Nursing Center all have more than 20 cases among their residents.
Nursing home vaccinations: Hearts and Hands held a vaccination clinic Wednesday where they distributed more than 100 vaccines to staff and residents. Driftwood Healthcare Center has a vaccination clinic scheduled for Jan. 16.

Watsonville Nursing Center had to postpone vaccinations scheduled for this week to Jan. 28. Its outbreak is so extensive, not enough staff and residents would meet vaccination criteria (of being recovered from COVID-19).

7 a.m.: Statewide update | Coronavirus infections in California reached 2.5 million on Wednesday, another alarming milestone that underscores an unprecedented surge that has overwhelmed hospitals and is expected to worsen in the coming weeks.

According to the Los Angeles Times tracker, one of every 16 people in the state has tested positive for the virus at some point during the pandemic, with the number of new cases exploding by more than 1 million in less than a month.

The numbers show how rapidly the coronavirus is spreading, with areas such as Los Angeles County and the Central Valley particularly hard hit. Officials have said stay-home measures imposed in November and December have helped — but a rise in travel and social gatherings amid a slew of winter holidays have taken a heavy toll.

-Rong-Gong Lin II, Luke Money, Ben Welsh, LA Times

Jan 6

1:45 p.m.: Santa Cruz County recorded two new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 93.

The fatalities occurred during the last week of December. The deceased were one man and one woman both in their eighties, both were white and had underlying health conditions.

One person was a resident of Paradise Villa, an assisted living facility in Live Oak, continuing a trend of COVID-related nursing home deaths countywide.

Several nursing home and congregate care facilities continue to experience COVID-19 outbreaks. Driftwood Healthcare Center, Aegis Assisted Living in Aptos, and Valley Convalescent Hospital, and Watsonville Nursing Center all have more than 10 active infections among residents.

Cases: Cases and positivity rates continue their record highs. The 14-day average of daily cases stands at 168.9, and the 14-day average positivity rate is 16.6%.

Hospitalizations: Bay Area regional ICU bed availability increased slightly from 5.9% to 7.4% from Tuesday, and Santa Cruz County has 83 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, 16 of them in the ICU. According to state data, five ICU beds are available, a significant increase from yesterday when, according to the state dashboard, local hospitals had no ICU beds available.

Nursing home vaccinations: Hearts and Hands, a skilled nursing facility, is hosting a vaccine clinic today. They expect to administer about 130 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to residents and staff.

Jan. 5

3:30 p.m.: Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to surge to all-time highs in Santa Cruz County: A record 86 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 countywide, with 18 of them in the ICU. The 14-day test positivity rate is also higher than ever at 16.9%.

COVID-19 deaths from the period of Dec. 20 to Dec. 29 were made public today, increasing the county total from 83 to 91 fatalities. Seven of the eight new deaths were residents of skilled nursing facilities, all of the victims were 70 or older, and most (seven of the eight) had underlying conditions.

The Bay Area regional ICU bed availability, which includes Santa Cruz County, dropped from 7.9% to 5.9% today.

In Santa Cruz County, hospitals are “postponing elective surgeries, moving staff, increasing numbers of patients per provider, attempting to discharge stable patients earlier than normal, and expanding treatment areas,” county emergency medical services director Dr. David Ghilarducci told Lookout in an email today.

“They are close, but not quite at the stage of implementing crisis care. This, of course, means triaging patients based on prospect of recovery, which is an extreme, but unavoidable, consequence of disaster such as this,” he added.

Officials at Dominican Hospital are bracing for things to get worse. In a prepared statement to Lookout yesterday, the hospital’s president would not rule out implementing “triage” measures that presumably would be similar to those seen in Southern California.

“If the number of patients exceeds our resources, and there are no alternate care sites available, we may need to implement triage guidelines so that limited resources are used equitably and consistent with national standards,” Dr. Nanette Mickiewicz, the Dominican Hospital president said.

Cases: The 14-day average in confirmed cases is 168.9 as of Jan. 4, the highest it has been since the start of the pandemic in March. The 14-day test positivity rate is also higher than ever at 16.9% — and much higher than the state average of 12.7%. The Santa Cruz positivity rate had been about the same as the state average until around Christmas, when it diverged steeply and the local rate skyrocketed.

Nursing homes: Driftwood Healthcare Center and Watsonville Nursing Center both have more than 40 active cases among residents. Aegis Assisted Living also reported 14 active resident cases, according to the most recent state data available.

Hospitalizations: 83 patients are hospitalized for COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County, another record, with 18 of them in the ICU. Before December, there had never been more than 39 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County at once. Since December 1, this number has never dropped below 40.

Deaths: We are continuing to update our demographic analysis of COVID-19 fatalities in Santa Cruz County. A full picture is available on our COVID data dashboard.

Vaccine request: The Santa Cruz Metro is asking the California Vaccine Drafting Guidelines Workgroup to prioritize transit workers in the state vaccination guidelines. “Much like health care professionals, emergency service workers and food and agricultural workers, public transit workers provide an essential service,” Santa Cruz Metro said in a press release.

The Metro is encouraging the state to include transit workers in tier 2 of Phase 1b in the state allocation plan, which will be the third group to be eligible for vaccines. This is in line with the CDC guidelines and California’s current working plan, though the final guidelines are still being finalized.

-Mallory Pickett

6:40 a.m. Statewide update: After a relative New Year’s lull in confirmed infections, California posted a new single-day record for coronavirus cases Monday, logging more than 74,000, according to a Times tally of local health jurisdictions.

That is 11% higher than the previous record, when 66,726 cases were registered Dec. 28. The state is now averaging about 37,000 cases a day over the last week, down from a high of about 45,000 in mid-December. But the situation is still far worse than the beginning of last month, when 14,000 cases a day were recorded.

California also posted its sixth-highest daily tally of COVID-19 deaths: 379. That helped pull up the average number of COVID-19 deaths over the last week to 353 a day, the highest number yet.

-Rong-Gong Lin II, Luke Money, LA Times

Jan. 4

5:10 p.m: Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to surge to all-time highs in Santa Cruz County. A record 82 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 countywide, with 17 of them in the ICU.

“So far our hospitals have been able to accommodate the added pressure, operating in surge conditions,” county emergency medical services director Dr. David Ghilarducci told Lookout Monday. But, he added, “the ability to stretch any further is much in doubt.”

The Bay Area regional ICU bed availability, which includes Santa Cruz County, stood at 7.9%, with hospitals in nearby Santa Clara County having been at or near capacity for days.

That would appear to create the potential for a situation similar to what’s happening in L.A. County, where hospitals are so crowded that that ambulance crews have been advised to try to cut back on their use of oxygen and not bring to hospitals patients who have virtually no chance of survival. Officials now say they need to focus on patients with a greater chance of surviving.

The measures were taken as circumstances were expected to become even worse in coming weeks, when patients sickened over the Christmas holiday will need treatment, leaving officials desperate for ways to increase capacity and triage care to focus on the sickest patients.

Hospitals in L.A. County are moving to rapidly discharge ill patients who, in less-crowded situations, would normally be allowed to stay for continued observation. That has helped, but officials fear the flood of new patients — many with COVID-19 — is outpacing their ability to move less critical patients out.

Given that hospitals in the Bay Area region still have capacity in their ICUs, it would seem the sickest patients could be transferred throughout the region to get critical care.

In Santa Cruz, officials at Dominican Hospital were bracing for things to get worse. In a prepared statement to Lookout, the hospital’s president would not rule out implementing “triage” measures that presumably would be similar to those seen in Southern California.

Dr. Nanette Mickiewicz, the president of Dominican Hospital, said in a statement that “if the number of patients exceeds our resources, and there are no alternate care sites available, we may need to implement triage guidelines so that limited resources are used equitably and consistent with national standards.”

Cases: The 14-day average in confirmed cases is 164.9 as of Jan. 2, the highest it has been since the start of the pandemic in March. The 14-day test positivity rate is also higher than ever at 16% — and much higher than the state average of 12.4%. The Santa Cruz positivity rate had been about the same as the state average until around Christmas, when it diverged steeply and the local rate skyrocketed.

Nursing homes: Driftwood Healthcare Center and Watsonville Nursing Center both have more than 40 active cases among residents. Aegis Assisted Living also reported 24 active resident cases, according to the most recent state data available.

Hospitalizations: 82 patients are hospitalized for COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County, another record, with 17 of them in the ICU. Before December, there had never been more than 39 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County at once. Since December 1, this number has never dropped below 40.

-Lookout Santa Cruz Staff, LA Times

Jan. 1

1:20 p.m.: Senneca Diagnostics, which has been operating a test site at Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, has moved its testing site to Cabrillo College parking lot K, and has expanded its opening hours from two to four days a week. The site is now open from Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Anyone can make an appointment, whether or not you have symptoms. The site accepts insurance but if you are uninsured its free. You can make an appointment here.

Dec. 31

4:34 p.m.: Dominican Oaks concluded its first round of vaccinations today. More than 200 staff and residents received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine.

“It was just a slight prick, that’s all,” said Mary Margaret Hogan, a 94-year-old resident of Dominican Oaks. “I mean it was a piece of cake. I would urge everybody to take the vaccine—not only for their sake but for everybody else’s sake.”

Jose Felix, a food services employee, said he felt “more secure,” after receiving the initial vaccine dose.

The Moderna vaccine is a two-dose vaccine. The second dose will be administered after 28 days.

Read more about everything we know and don’t know about the vaccines in Santa Cruz County here.

2:01 p.m.: California has just become the third state in the U.S.A. to reach 25,000 deaths, following Texas and New York. According to the LA Times, a Lookout content partner,
more than 1,100 people statewide have died from COVID-19 in the last three days, including a record-high 442 Tuesday and the next-highest total, 424, on Wednesday. Read more about this grim milestone here.

1:25 p.m.: Dominican Oaks, a residential care facility owned by Dominican Hospital, is holding its first vaccination clinic today through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program. A spokesperson for Dignity Health said they expect to offer over 200 vaccinations.

11:32 p.m.: Watsonville Nursing Center is reporting an extensive and worsening outbreak, with 48 residents testing positive—up from 31 last week—and 13 staff members.

Vaccination clinics, run by CVS, will begin at that facility on Jan. 7, according to a statement on the facility’s website. But residents and staff must have been symptom-free for 14 days to receive the vaccine.

Cases: The county is currently reporting 2,383 known active cases, an increase of 191 since yesterday. The state of California’s estimation of the county’s 14-day average positivity rate is holding steady at 12.9%.

Nursing homes: Nearly all local skilled nursing facilities are reporting at least one active infection among either residents or staff. Watsonville Nursing Center currently has the largest outbreak with 61 total cases, and Aegis Assisted Living in Aptos comes second, with 24 residents and 18 staff members testing positive.

Hospitalizations: 76 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County, another all-time high. Of those patients, approximately 17 are in the ICU. According to the state data dashboard, only one ICU bed is available.

The availability of ICU beds in the Bay Area region, which includes Santa Cruz County, is 8.5%, a slight increase from 7.5% yesterday.

Regional stay-at-home orders are based on this metric surpassing 15% ICU bed availability and projections of how it might change. The Bay Area’s current order will remain in place through Jan. 7, at which point four-week forecasts of the region’s ICU capacity will be evaluated to decide whether to lift the order. If those forecasts ever show projected capacity of 15% or above, the stay-at-home order will be lifted.

Vaccines: Staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities, firefighters, and other emergency medical staff are all being vaccinated in Santa Cruz County this week. Bookmark Lookout’s Vaccine Watch for updates.

In other covid news, Governor Gavin Newsom announced an incentive for schools to reopen for in-person learning yesterday: a one-time payment of $450 per student. The incentive program will start in February but is unlikely to have an impact on Santa Cruz County plans, as Nick Ibarra reported.

Dec.30

5 p.m.: Nurses formed a car caravan around Watsonville Community Hospital on Wednesday to protest what they say are unsafe working conditions, insisting the hospital’s management has done little to address their concerns amid a continued surge in COVID-19 patients.

It was the second time this month that Watsonville nurses took to the streets. Read more about their complaints here.

-Nick Ibarra

3:03 p.m.: The new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been detected in California. Governor Gavin Newsom said today in a public conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci that the variant, which is believed to me more transmissible and is spreading quickly in the United Kingdom was detected in a patient in Southern California today. Fauci said he was “not surprised.”

A statement released by the California Department of Public Health said the patient is in San Diego.

The statement continued, “This is the first identification of the United Kingdom variant strain, sometimes called strain B.1.1.7 or VOC 202012/01, in California. The affected individual has no known travel history. “

The CDPH statement added that, “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 vaccines should provide immunity to this strain.”

Read more about the mutated virus and what it means for California here .

12:15 p.m.: A glimmer of good news appeared in Santa Cruz County COVID-19 data today: a slight decrease in the number of active cases from 2,301 to 2,191.

Meanwhile, in a press conference today, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that the next phase of vaccination, Phase 1b, “includes teachers as a priority.” The state vaccine working group is meeting today to finalize guidelines for phase 1b.

The guidelines will then be sent to the state’s “Community Vaccine Advisory Committee,” which will hold a public meeting to discuss the guidelines on Jan. 6 before they are finalized.

Cases: The county is currently reporting 2,191 known active cases, a decrease from the 2,301 reported Tuesday. In another positive development, the state of California’s estimation of the county’s 14-day average positivity rate has decreased slightly from 13.4 to 12.9% since yesterday.

Nursing homes: Nearly all local skilled nursing facilities are reporting at least one active infection among either residents or staff. Valley Convalescent Hospital and Watsonville Nursing Center are dealing with particularly significant outbreaks — Valley Convalescent currently has 22 residents and 13 health care workers testing positive, while 29 residents and at least one health care worker are infected at Watsonville Nursing Center.

Hospitalizations: 74 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County, an all-time high. Of those patients, approximately 15 are in the ICU. According to the state data dashboard, only one ICU bed is available.

The availability of ICU beds in the Bay Area region, which includes Santa Cruz County, also has dropped. ICU bed availability stood at 7.5%, down from 10.4% on Tuesday.

Regional stay-at-home orders are based on this metric surpassing 15% ICU bed availability and projections of how it might change. The Bay Area’s current order will remain in place through Jan. 7, at which point four-week forecasts of the region’s ICU capacity will be evaluated to decide whether to lift the order. If those forecasts ever show projected capacity of 15% or above, the stay-at-home order will be lifted.

Vaccines: Staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities, firefighters, and other emergency medical staff are all being vaccinated in Santa Cruz County this week. Bookmark Lookout’s Vaccine Watch for updates.

-Mallory Pickett

Dec.29

1 p.m.: State officials and hospitals are bracing for another “surge upon a surge” as people who may have been infected at Christmas continue the spread of COVID-19 at New Year’s gatherings. California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said in a press conference today that the worst of these effects could begin to show up in early and mid January.

Ghaly added that hospitals in Southern California are already “in crisis” and some are already having to modify how they care for patients, by sending some patients home who might otherwise be cared for in the hospital, or increasing the patient ratio for doctors and nurses.

Cases: Santa Cruz County has not updated its COVID-19 data since yesterday due to the holidays, but as of yesterday the county has seen 8,202 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March, with 2,301 of those cases marked “active.” That means nearly a third of all cases in the county are happening right now, an all-time high.

The state of California’s estimation of the county’s 14-day average positivity rate has increased from 12.4% on Monday to 13.4% on Tuesday.

Nursing homes: Nearly all local skilled nursing facilities are reporting at least one active infection among either residents or staff. Valley Convalescent Hospital and Watsonville Nursing Center are dealing with particularly significant outbreaks — Valley Convalescent currently has 22 residents and 13 health care workers testing positive, while 30 residents and at least one healthcare worker are infected at Watsonville Nursing Center.

Hospitalizations: Local hospitalizations continue to soar, with 71 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, an all-time high. Of those patients, approximately 17 are in the ICU leaving just two beds available.

The Bay Area regional ICU capacity is 10.4%. Regional stay-at-home orders are based on this metric and projections of how it will change. The current order will remain in place through Jan. 7, at which point four-week forecasts of the region’s ICU capacity will be continually evaluated to decide whether to lift the order. If those forecasts ever show projected capacity of 15% or above, the stay-at-home order will be lifted.

Testing: Between Dec.12 and Dec.18 — the most recent period for which data is available — the turnaround times for patients to get results from the community testing site at Ramsay Park was 3.5 days. Dr.Cal Gordon, the county COVID-19 testing director, said “with the surge [test sites] are being challenged.” During that time period the state laboratory processing the tests received 1,566,437 specimens.

Dec. 28

6:45 a.m.: As nursing home residents statewide are set to begin being vaccinated this week, a Watsonville nursing home is monitoring another wave of COVID-19 cases.

The latest outbreak at the Watsonville Nursing Center and Watsonville Post Acute campus appears to have begun in the nursing center on Dec. 23, according to messages posted online by administrator Rae Ann Radford. As of Monday, 47 nursing center residents had tested positive, with two of them being hospitalized. Eleven staff members had tested positive as well.

“We have been able to secure some additional staff from staffing agencies that will be starting [Tuesday] to help meet our staffing needs,” Radford wrote. “We appreciate your patience and understanding during this challenging time.”

Nursing homes in Santa Cruz County have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19, Lookout has reported. An outbreak at Watsonville Post Acute earlier this year resulted in more than a dozen deaths.

The latest numbers show that 68% of all COVID-19 deaths in Santa Cruz County have been residents of skilled nursing or assisted living facilities. This is in stark contrast to the state of California and national figures, in which nursing home deaths make up about 35% of the total.

Watsonville Nursing Center officials are dealing with the outbreak as Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced that residents and staff are set to begin receiving no-cost Pfizer vaccines this week. Approximately 499 nursing homes will be provided vaccine by CVS and 357 by Walgreens, according to Newsom’s announcement on Monday.

Lookout is seeking more information about distribution of the vaccine in nursing homes here. Here’s the full text of Newsom’s press release:

California has opted in to the federal COVID-19 Pharmacy Partnership. At no cost to the state or local government, CVS and Walgreens will administer the Pfizer vaccine to residents and staff in long-term care facilities. Starting today, CVS and Walgreens will start with nursing homes, which will take an estimated 3-4 weeks, and then vaccinate staff and residents in assisted living, residential care and other long-term care facilities.

“Vaccinating those most vulnerable among us is critical to fighting this virus,” said Governor Newsom. “By leveraging CVS and Walgreens resources, we can effectively deploy vaccines to residents and staff at our long-term care facilities, which are at higher risk of Covid transmission — and do it at no cost to the state or local government.”

The program will enable counties to leverage CVS and Walgreens pharmacy staff to administer the vaccine more broadly with pharmacy staff going directly to care facilities. Skilled Nursing Facilities will receive vaccine from staff from CVS and Walgreens. Approximately 499 nursing homes will be provided vaccine by CVS and 357 by Walgreens. The vaccines will be administered by pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and nurses. Pharmacy technicians are participating under a recent waiver by the Board of Pharmacy that requires appropriate supervision under California law and specialized training.

“This partnership is an opportunity to augment other vaccination efforts at the local level to prioritize our most vulnerable Californians where we are seeing the most outbreaks, hospitalizations, and deaths,” said Dr. Erica Pan, Interim State Public Health Officer. “The partnership also allows us to continue to vaccinate other high priority individuals such as our front-line health care workers who are critical to our ongoing response to a surge of cases.”

Specifically, the program:

  • Schedules and coordinates on-site vaccine clinic dates directly with each facility. Pharmacy staff will visit each facility several times to ensure that all residents and employees who wish to be vaccinated get the vaccine.
  • Orders vaccines and associated supplies (e.g. syringes, needles, personal protective equipment).
  • Ensures cold storage for the vaccine.
  • Provides on-site administration of the vaccine to all residents and staff.

Dec. 28


6:08 p.m.: Kaiser Permanente is postponing non-urgent and elective surgeries and procedures at its facilities throughout California. The pause will remain in effect through Jan. 10 in Kaiser’s Southern California region and through Jan. 4 in Northern California, according to statements from the health care consortium.

Cancer-related surgeries will continue, as will procedures in “any situation in which postponing surgery would have a negative impact on the patient’s medical condition, including pain,” officials added in a statement.

Delaying less-urgent procedures is necessary, officials said Monday, “to respond to the current and forecasted increases in COVID-19 cases” and free staff up “to concentrate on supporting COVID-19 care.”

As of Sunday, the most recent day for are available, there were 19,766 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide — an all-time high, and 45% more than two weeks ago. Of those patients, 4,228 were in intensive care, also a record. The patients who are in the hospital now reflect coronavirus infections diagnosed two weeks earlier. That means hospitals are still expected to see increasing demand into the new year because of infections that took place in early December.

-LA Times

12:45 p.m.: The coronavirus has claimed its youngest victim in Santa Cruz County — a person in their 30s — as county officials released data showing that the number of cases continues to reach all-time highs. Here is the latest:

Cases: As of this morning, the county has seen 8,202 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March, with 2,301 of those cases marked “active.” That means nearly a third of all cases in the county are happening right now, an all-time high.

The state of California’s estimation of the county’s 14-day average positivity rate has the county at 12.4%, meaning more than one out of every 10 people tested for the virus during that time tested positive.

A Lookout analysis of daily case totals shows that as of Dec. 26, the county has seen an average of 161 new cases reported each day. This also is an all-time high, as the upswing in cases continues and is more than double the 14-day average on Dec. 1, which was at about 74 cases per day.

Deaths: The county is recording 83 deaths, up from 76 on Dec. 23. This, too, is a record, though it also reflects the lag in reporting data over the holiday weekend.

One of the people who died was in their 30s, a first for the county during the pandemic. Earlier this year, a person in their 40s also died from the virus. Statewide, only about 7% of all the people who have died of COVID-19 fall in the 18-49 age group, about 1,700 people. Santa Cruz County has fared better with 2 out of 83 deaths — 2.4% — in that age demographic.

Of the other people who died locally, one was in their 70s, three were in their 80s and two were in their 90s. Three of the seven people who died had no underlying health conditions.

Nursing homes: Three of the seven deaths reported today were connected to nursing homes experiencing outbreaks, county health officials said. One person was a resident at Heart and Hands Post Acute Care and Rehab Center in Live Oak, one person was at Montecito Manor in Watsonville and a third was at Valley Convalescent Hospital in Watsonville. So far, 57 of the 83 deaths, or 67%, have occurred at nursing homes.

Hospitalizations: Six more people in the county required hospitalization for treatment of COVID-19 since last Wednesday, with a total of 296 people being hospitalized since March.

As of Monday afternoon, state data reveals that the Bay Area Region, which includes Santa Cruz County, has 9.5% of ICU beds available. The Bay Area Region currently ranks third in ICU capacity rates behind only Southern California and San Joaquin Valley, which have all their ICU beds full.

Vaccines: Officials have begun to administer a new shipment of vaccines — 3,775 doses — to first responders as they continue to rollout Phase 1a of the vaccine distribution plan. You can read more about what we know and don’t know about the vaccine and what that means for you here.

— Tulsi Kamath

Dec. 23

7:25 p.m.: California has now recorded more than 2 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, according to a county-by-county tally conducted by The LA Times, the first state in the nation to reach that alarming milestone, another marker of the wrenching toll the pandemic is inflicting.

The coronavirus has been spreading with unprecedented speed in recent weeks, creating crisis conditions in hospitals and making California one of the hardest-hit parts of the United States. Available capacity at intensive care units across Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley remain at 0%.

Hospitals across Los Angeles County are now strained and overwhelmed, L.A. County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said Wednesday. At certain points of the day on Tuesday, 96% of all hospitals in L.A. County were diverting certain kinds of ambulances to hospitals farther away because they were so full, a figure that is usually only 33% at this time of year. Ambulances had to wait hours to offload into crowded emergency rooms.

Should socializing among people from different households go on at Christmas and New Year’s, officials and experts across the state warned of a disaster not seen in the modern era in California’s hospitals, where mortality could go up as ICU nurses and doctors are stretched beyond any realistic capacity.

More than 540,000 new cases have been added in just the last two weeks alone. California now ranks third among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as having the most number of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks.

It took almost 10 months for California to record its millionth confirmed coronavirus case. The state tallied its second million coronavirus cases in just six weeks.

Cumulatively, California ranks 36th among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico for highest number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents.

The strain of the worst wave of the pandemic was clear across the state, from L.A. to the Central Valley to Silicon Valley.

Public health officials are now awaiting the arrival of Christmas and New Year’s with bated breath. Many seeds of the current surge, they say, were planted by people defying public health guidance against traveling and gathering with those outside their households for Thanksgiving. If large numbers of Californians do the same this time around, officials warn, it’s almost certain to trigger yet another surge.

“We are experiencing, we have experienced, the surge on top of the surge from Thanksgiving,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. “And, obviously, the most important message that we can communicate today is to do everything in our power to mitigate the spread and the transfer of this virus during this very vulnerable period of time, because this virus loves social events. This virus thrives in that atmosphere.”

More than 23,000 Californians have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, a milestone crossed Tuesday. Over the last 14 days, more than 3,000 have died — a staggering number that accounts for 13% of the state’s 23,303 total fatalities.

Those numbers serve as a “sober, sober reminder of how deadly this disease is, and how tragic the loss of every life is,” according to Newsom.

“This disease remains deadly,” he said Wednesday. “This pandemic remains deadly.”

On Tuesday, 375 deaths were reported statewide, according to a county-by-county tally conducted by The Times, marking the second worst death toll in a single day, just short of the record recorded Dec. 16, when 394 deaths were recorded.

Infections have soared in recent weeks, pushing unprecedented numbers of patients into California’s hospitals.

On Tuesday, the most recent day for which complete data are available, there were record-high numbers statewide of COVID-19 hospitalizations — 18,448 — and patients in intensive care — 3,827.

-LA Times

3 p.m.: Three new deaths were reported in Santa Cruz County on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 76.

All three people who died — one man and two women — were residents of nursing homes experiencing outbreaks. Two were residents of Heart and Hands and one was a resident of Pacific Coast Manor. County data shows that two of the people were in their 70s and one was in their 80s.

Cases continue to rise with another all-time high Wednesday — 1,960 known active cases. That means more than a quarter of the 7,352 COVID-19 cases recorded in Santa Cruz County since the start of the pandemic are currently considered active cases.

One figure that did not show an uptick was the county’s 14-day average positivity rate which dipped slightly from 12.2% Tuesday to 11.9% Wednesday. However, the 14-day average of daily positive cases continues to climb at 154.5 new cases as of the latest figures.

— Tulsi Kamath, Mallory Pickett

Dec. 22

12:10 p.m.: Santa Cruz County posted three new deaths from the coronavirus today, bringing the total to 73. The victims were two women and one man, one of them in their 70s and the other two in their 80s.

Two of the deaths were part of nursing home outbreaks, one from Pacific Coast Manor, one from Santa Cruz Post Acute. Two of the victims had underlying conditions, and one did not. For complete demographic information on all the COVID-19 deaths in Santa Cruz County, visit Lookout’s coronavirus data dashboard.

Santa Cruz County recorded 137 new cases today, bringing the total to 1,928 active known cases, and 60 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, with 15 of them in the ICU.

The 14-day average test positivity rate is 12.1%, now just slightly lower than the state average of 12.2%.

— Mallory Pickett

Dec. 21

3:00 p.m.: Over the past two weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased by 63%, 2,741 Californians have died, and ICU admissions have increased by 51%, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a press conference Monday.

“We are worried that certain regions do exceed their existing capacity and even may go beyond the existing surge capacity that they currently have planned,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly.

As cases and hospitalizations continue to increase, Newsom said the stay-at-home order is likely to be extended in those regions, including Southern California, where it is set to expire by the end of December.

The Bay Area stay-at-home order — which includes Santa Cruz County — expires Jan. 7, and Newsom did not comment on whether that will be extended.

According to the original order, it will only be lifted if regional ICU capacity meets or exceeds 15%.

Newsom also said genetic surveillance in California has yet to find any evidence of the new strain of the coronavirus that’s circulating in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

12:15 p.m.: The 14-day average COVID-19 test positivity rate in Santa Cruz County is now 11.7%, an all-time-high, and the 14-day average case count is 150, also an all-time high.

This value means that about 150 people have been testing positive for COVID-19 in the county every day for the past two weeks.

The county positivity rate is virtually the same as the state average of 12%, while the case count is substantially lower than the state average value of 256.

As the virus continues to spread, the new community testing site at Civic Auditorium opened Monday, and it is already fully booked — meaning no appointments are available for the next several days. The other state-run testing site at Ramsay Park in Watsonville doesn’t have appointments until Dec. 26.

According to the most recent data provided to Lookout, which is from earlier this month, the average turnaround time for results from OptumServe was 61 hours, well above the state mandated time of 48 hours.

County testing director Dr. Cal Gordon said the state testing task force reported that this was due to a temporary procedural change at the state laboratory, and that by now results should be getting back to people within 24-48 hours. A new report on turnaround times will be released later this week.

-Mallory Pickett

Dec. 18

3:48 p.m.: The county has confirmed a new testing site will open next week at Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St. in downtown Santa Cruz.

Appointments will be available Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., beginning on Monday, Dec. 21. The testing center, overseen by the state of California, will operate like the other state site at Ramsay Park in Watsonville: all tests will be free, and available for anyone who wants them, regardless of whether they’re symptomatic.

Appointments are mandatory. To make one, click here.

-Isabella Cueto

Noon: Santa Cruz County recorded six new COVID-19 deaths Friday, eclipsing the single-day record of five set earlier this week.

Three of the deaths were among nursing home residents, two from Santa Cruz Post Acute, and one from Hearts and Hands. Five of the people had underlying health conditions in addition to COVID-19, and one did not. One of the victims was in their 60s, two in their 70s, one in their 80s, and two in their 90s.

More than half of all the COVID-19 deaths suffered by Santa Cruz County have occurred just in the last month, as part of the intensifying surge of cases following Halloween and Thanksgiving. The county is averaging more than 100 new cases per day and recorded 118 new cases just this morning. The true number of infections is almost certainly higher, as not everyone gets tested.

In terms of hospital bed availability for seriously ill patients, the Bay Area’s regional ICU capacity stands at 12.8%. In a press conference yesterday, county health officer Dr. Gail Newel said part of the reason the regional number has dropped is because Bay Area hospitals are accepting some patients from Southern California, where ICUs are at 0% capacity.

Local hospitals here are unable to accept patients from anywhere else because the ICUs at Dominican and Watsonville Community hospitals are also essentially full. While they have enough beds and equipment, staffing continues to be a challenge, officials say.

-Mallory Pickett

Dec.17

1:30 p.m.: For the first time in days, Santa Cruz County reported no new deaths Thursday with the total staying steady at 64. Almost two-thirds of all deaths that have occurred in the county have happened since October and of the total deaths, 43 are attributed to nursing homes.

Meanwhile, there continues to be a surge in COVID-19 cases in the area with health officials reporting almost 100 new active cases of the virus bringing the total to 1,724 — the highest it’s ever been. Following that trend, a Lookout analysis of the 14-day average of daily positive cases reported shows a spike from 106.5 average cases on Dec. 15 to 123.1 average cases on Dec. 16.

— Tulsi Kamath

11:30 a.m.: County health officials announced Thursday that the state is setting up an additional COVID-19 testing site in northern Santa Cruz County. It will operate like the site at Ramsay Park in Watsonville that’s run by OptumServe: free, and available for anyone who wants it, symptomatic or not.

The OptumServe website shows the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium as a new testing location, but Dr. Cal Gordon, who runs COVID-19 testing operations for the county said in an email that this was placed on the website"prematurely,” and that the location has not yet been finalized. The site, however, is set to be somewhere in North County.

Wherever it is, county health officer Dr.Gail Newel said during a news conference that the new site would start operating soon.

She also said county contact tracers are no longer able to contact everyone who has been exposed to someone who tested positive. Newel said the county has enough staff to notify people who have been exposed to outbreaks at congregate settings such as jails and skilled nursing facilities, and otherwise is focusing tracing efforts on “high risk ZIP codes,” places with the highest rates of infection.

Local hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with the surge of COVID-19 patients. Newel pointed out that Santa Cruz County has always had a low ICU bed availability per capita, because the community has largely been able to rely on large nearby medical centers such as Stanford or UCSF for intensive care needs.

But now most hospitals are not accepting outside transfers.

“We’re doing our best to manage within our own community,” Newel said. “Our two hospitals have both surged their bed capacity, both ICU and non-ICU beds to meet the current needs.” But, as Lookout has reported, this is placing a huge strain on health care workers.

Extra vaccines

Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county emergency medical services director, did deliver some good news: The county has potentially received more vaccine doses than initially thought.

Vaccine vials always have some extra solution in them, Ghilarducci explained, to cover waste and make sure there’s enough. But news broke last night that some of the Pfizer vaccine vials had enough extra vaccine material in them to provide one or even two more doses.

Ghilarducci said the county would be working with hospital pharmacists to determine what this could mean for Santa Cruz County’s vaccine rollout.

Nursing home herd immunity?

Ghilarducci also said that Santa Cruz’s most vulnerable population, residents of skilled nursing facilities, have acquired a significant amount of immunity. “The virus has pretty much spread through all our skilled nursing facilities,” Ghilarducci said. “So tragic as that is, it does confer some temporary immunity or protection from new infections.”

Still, residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities will be some of the first to receive vaccinations, starting sometime around the end of December, he said. This is because there are still significant numbers of residents who have not been infected, and because immune protection from prior infection does not last as long as the protection from a vaccine.

Deaths among skilled nursing and assisted living facilities account for over 70% of all COVID-19 deaths in Santa Cruz County.

As of today Santa Cruz County has 1,724 active known cases, and a 10.1% test positivity rate (14-day average).

-Mallory Pickett, Isabella Cueto, Nick Ibarra

6:53 a.m.: Single-day pandemic records were shattered across California yet again on Wednesday. For the first time, a Los Angeles Times county-by-county tally found more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases and nearly 400 deaths in California reported in a single day.

The Times survey Wednesday night found 51,724 new coronavirus cases reported in a single day, shattering the state’s single-day record broken on Monday, when 42,088 cases were reported.

The Times tally also found 393 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday across California, breaking the record set Tuesday, when 295 deaths were recorded. Cumulatively, California has now reported 1.7 million coronavirus cases and 21,887 COVID-19 deaths.

Santa Cruz County now has 1,724 active known cases of COVID-19, and a test positivity rate of 10.1% (14-day average).

In Santa Cruz County, more than 60 new cases of COVID-19 were reported. After recording a single-day high of five deaths on Tuesday, the county neared that again on Wednesday, recording four new deaths, bringing the total to 64 since the pandemic began.

California is now tallying an average of 203 COVID-19 deaths a day over a weekly period, and 35,200 cases a day — both records, and both quadruple the numbers from mid-November.

The number of people hospitalized in California for COVID-19 has been increasing and breaking records for 18 consecutive days. On Tuesday, the most recent data available, 14,939 people across the state were in the hospital with coronavirus infections — more than six times larger than the comparable number on Halloween.

The number of people in intensive care units with COVID-19 also broke another record, for the 14th consecutive day. On Tuesday, 3,188 people infected with the coronavirus were in intensive care units across the state.

On Wednesday, state officials reported 0% availability of licensed intensive care unit beds in the San Joaquin Valley and 0.5% availability in Southern California. The Greater Sacramento region was calculated to have 14.1% of its supply of ICU beds available; and rural Northern California, 28.1%.

In the Bay Area, ICU availability slid Wednesday to 12.9% — below the 15% threshold the state has set for imposing sweeping new restrictions on businesses and activities aimed at curtailing the coronavirus.

Many of the region’s counties took it upon themselves to implement the new stay-at-home rules. Those that didn’t — San Mateo, Solano, Santa Cruz and Napa counties — will see a regional stay-at-home order, which reduces capacity at retail stores; closes businesses including hair salons, nail salons, card rooms, museums, zoos and aquariums; and prohibits most gatherings, hotel stays for tourism and outdoor restaurant dining — go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

Such orders are already in place across Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley and Greater Sacramento. Only rural Northern California has escaped the additional restrictions so far. The new orders will mean that by Friday, 98% of California’s residents, or 38 million people, will be under regional stay-at-home instructions, affecting 47 of 58 counties.

— Rong-Gong Lin II, Luke Money, Sean Greene — LA Times

Dec. 16

5:40 p.m.: More than 60 new active cases of COVID-19 were reported in Santa Cruz County on Wednesday, bringing total number of cases to a single-day high of 1,632. Just five days ago, the county was reporting 1,369 active cases, so cases have increased 19% in that time.

After recording a single-day high of five deaths on Tuesday, the county neared that again on Wednesday, recording four new deaths, bringing the total to 64. The majority of those deaths have occurred as a result of outbreaks in nursing homes, data shows.

Meanwhile, the rate of people testing positive for the virus went into the double digits, hitting 10.1% over the past 14 days.

The record high number of cases came as hospital workers began getting their first vaccinations to protect them from the virus and ICU bed capacity had dipped to the point that a long-awaited stay-at-home order will take effect at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday.

At 11:21 a.m. Wednesday, Dominican Hospital nurse Toni Luckett became the first person in Santa Cruz County to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. She was the first of hundreds of ICU and emergency department health care workers who are set to receive the vaccine this week.

Among other new stories related to the pandemic:

Nurses were holding out hope that new testing guidelines would help protect them as the virus continues to spread.

• They also were rallying to protest potential changes in staff-to-patient ratios that would temporarily see them caring for more sick people.

6:20 a.m.: California has shattered yet another single-day record for COVID-19 deaths: 295, according to the Los Angeles Times county-by-county tally for Tuesday.

That breaks the single-day record last set Dec. 8 and repeated Friday, when 219 deaths were recorded. California is now averaging 175 COVID-19 deaths a day over the last week, a new record for the pandemic in the state.

The record for average daily deaths over a weekly period has been broken for seven consecutive days. The deadliest day of the pandemic thus far in California was fueled by record death tolls in six counties from San Diego up to the Bay Area, according to a Times analysis.

Single-day COVID-19 death records were broken Tuesday in the counties of Los Angeles, with 93; San Diego, with 32; Santa Clara, with 24; Yolo, with nine; San Luis Obispo, with six; and Santa Cruz, with five.

Cumulatively, California has now reported 21,495 COVID-19 deaths and 1.65 million coronavirus cases. The state is now averaging about 32,000 new coronavirus cases a day over the last week — an astonishing eight times more than the daily average in late October.

At the same time, California has far fewer cumulative cases and deaths per capita compared to other states, which experts credit to aggressive stay-at-home orders issued early in the pandemic and repeated, if controversial, business-closure orders.

The death rate in Arizona, which has had far more permissive coronavirus restrictions, is 106 deaths per 100,000 residents — nearly double California’s, which is 54 deaths per 100,000 residents.

But the surge in infections that began in the autumn — likely related to a combination of pandemic fatigue, Thanksgiving celebrations and other factors — has been the worst so far, and threatens to overwhelm the state’s hospital system.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have never been higher: As of Monday, there were 14,283 patients statewide who have tested positive for the coronavirus, including 3,081 in intensive care. The record for COVID-19 hospitalizations has been broken for 17 consecutive days, and the number has more than doubled since Thanksgiving. On Tuesday, Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley reported the lowest regional available ICU capacity in the entire state: 1.7% and 1.6%, respectively.

Relatively speaking, the Bay Area — which includes Santa Cruz County — is actually performing the best of all of California’s five regions in terms of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, with 335 cases per 100,000 residents over the last week. Southern California is reporting the worst rate, with 712 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Nonetheless, the same pandemic fatigue affecting the rest of the state has also hit the Bay Area, and now intensive care units are crowded in the heart of Silicon Valley. Public health teams in Santa Clara County have been inundated with reports of outbreaks in workplaces, long-term care facilities and healthcare facilities; one outbreak involving a youth basketball team that violated a ban on playing at tournaments resulted in more than 75 positive coronavirus cases.

The surge in infections that began in the autumn — likely related to a combination of pandemic fatigue, Thanksgiving celebrations and other factors — has been the worst so far, and threatens to overwhelm the state’s hospital system.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California health and human services secretary, warned that the next two weeks — which include Christmas and New Year’s Day — are forecast to become even more difficult for hospitals already under major strain.

Ghaly said 12% of today’s newly diagnosed coronavirus cases are likely to require hospitalization. “And 12% of those that have been hospitalized are going to end up in our ICU,” he said.

Today’s hospitalizations are actually a reflection of coronavirus cases confirmed two weeks ago, when the average daily number over a weekly period was about 15,000 a day. Now, average daily cases number about 33,000 a day, meaning that pressure on the hospital system by New Year’s Eve is expected to be even greater.

“That should tell you that in the next couple of weeks, what our hospitals will be facing — the amount of people knocking on the front door with COVID ... that might need that ICU bed — are going to increase,” Ghaly said.

“So even though we talk about today ICU capacity being concerning ... what we are really preparing for is two weeks from now,” he said.

Ghaly said the only way to turn this around is for people to stay home, especially during the Christmas holiday season. Newsom said earlier this week that the regional stay-at-home orders imposed across most of California last week were beginning to show some effect in reducing residents’ movements.

The record death toll in Santa Clara County on Tuesday brought emotion to the voice of Dr. Sara Cody, the veteran health officer and a key architect of the nation’s first regional stay-at-home order, as she made her report to the county Board of Supervisors.

“We cannot normalize this,” Cody said. “It’s become pretty clear that we do need to take more serious action. We need a statewide action to keep people from dying.”

“Our economy will not recover and the small businesses that are suffering — they cannot succeed if their customers and their workers are dying,” Cody said. “And so to breathe life back into all of us, in all aspects of our lives, the one single thing that we must do is to bring the pandemic under control, and to slow it down.”

She acknowledged that people are tired of coronavirus restrictions, “but we have to just continue to soldier forward ... because the virus is everywhere.”

Latino residents continue to be disproportionately hit by the pandemic in Santa Clara County. And in a new finding, Cody said, disease rates among ethnic Vietnamese and Filipino residents are rising faster compared to other Asian subgroups.

“We have very dark days ahead,” Cody said. “COVID is in fact on a path to be among the five leading causes of death here in our county. So our pandemic locally is out of control ... and our healthcare system is quite stretched — not quite to the breaking point, but steadily marching to that point.”

Adding capacity to hospital staffing will be difficult. Hospitals, said Dr. Ahmad Kamal, Santa Clara County’s director of health preparedness, “continue to have staffing shortages due to exhaustion, due to absenteeism and due to an unprecedented demand throughout the state and nation for qualified nurses and healthcare workers.”

-Rong-Gong Lin II, Luke Money, Ryan Murphy — LA Times

Dec. 15

The number of deaths from the coronavirus in Santa Cruz County reached 60 today — up five from Monday — as the number of active cases rose only slightly from the day before.

There were 1,569 people who had the virus as of late Tuesday morning, according to county health officials. That’s up about 2% from the day before.

The numbers were released shortly after California state officials said they expect to receive an additional 393,900 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine next week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference Tuesday morning. That’s on top of the first shipment of 327,000 doses the state is receiving from Pfizer this week.

State officials also anticipate 672,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, once it is approved, by the end of December.

GALLERY: First Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses arrive at Dominican Hospital

The virus continues to spread statewide just as it has locally. The 7-day test positivity rate in California rose to 10.6%, reaching a peak the state hadn’t seen since early on in the pandemic, according to Newsom. The state has also experienced a 68% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last 14 days, he said.

ICU capacity in the Bay Area reached 15.8% — just shy of hitting the percentage that triggers a regional stay-at-home order — on Tuesday morning, Newsom said.

At least 142 people in California died of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. That’s below the seven-day average of 163 new deaths per day, as of Monday. In response, the state has activated a coroners’ mutual aid and mass fatality program to expand morgue capacity.

California has ordered 60 refrigerated storage units to have on standby in its counties and hospitals. The state also ordered 5,000 additional body bags, to be distributed to Los Angeles, San Diego and Inyo County. Santa Cruz County recently indicated that its morgue has ample capacity.

10:12 a.m.: Packed in dry ice and arriving via FedEx, county health officials got a surprise this morning: The first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Santa Cruz a day early.

“They arrived early,” county communications chief Jason Hoppin said. “We are not opening them at this time, but plan to deliver to hospitals later today.”

As a result, the vaccinations of frontline health care workers could begin as early as tomorrow — a slightly faster timeline than county officials detailed yesterday.

The 1,950 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine — two boxes of 975 doses each — will be distributed to Dominican Hospital and Watsonville Community Hospital, the county’s two acute-care hospitals with ICUs and emergency departments, and be kept in ultra-cold storage.

— Lookout Santa Cruz Staff

6:24 a.m.: California has shattered another grim record — more than 42,000 coronavirus cases in a single day, breaking a record set just a week ago.

A Los Angeles Times county-by-county tally tallied 42,129 coronavirus cases across the state Monday. That’s the first time more than 40,000 cases have been reported by the state’s local health agencies in a single day. And it breaks the single-day record set on Dec. 8, when 35,400 coronavirus cases were recorded.

The state is now averaging nearly 33,000 new coronavirus cases a day over the last week — the highest level ever recorded.

COVID-19 hospitalizations also continued breaking records. On Sunday, there were 13,635 people in California hospitalized, the 16th consecutive day the record has been broken. COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide are now six times worse than they were in late October.

The number of people in the intensive care units with COVID-19 have also soared, climbing to 2,967 on Sunday. That’s more than quadruple the number from Nov. 1.

Daily COVID-19 deaths are also climbing, too. The Times’ tally found that 155 deaths were recorded statewide Monday. That brings the average daily number of COVID-19 deaths over the past week to 164, the sixth consecutive day that number has broken the record.

Of the five regions of California as defined by the state Department of Public Health, Southern California is reporting the highest number of cases per 100,000 residents than any other — 690 cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days. The Bay Area — which includes Santa Cruz County — reported the fewest — 301 cases per 100,000 residents over the past week.

California was the first state in the nation, back in March, to introduce a statewide stay-at-home order, which public health experts credit for keeping deaths on a per capita basis lower than those in many other states.

Among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, California has the 39th highest cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents and the 39th highest cumulative number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents.

-Los Angeles Times

Dec. 14

As Santa Cruz County awaits word on when Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order will kick in, county officials have released new statistics that show the continued — and expected — spread of the virus.

The county was reporting 1,534 active cases as of early Monday morning, up 12 percent from Friday. The number of people to die from COVID-19 increased by two, to 55 from 53.

In all, the county has seen 6,003 cases since the start of the pandemic. County communications manager Jason Hoppin said in a press conference today that more than 20% of all cases have occurred just since Thanksgiving — less than a month ago.

“The theme is appearing that the people who are now presenting are those who gathered at Thanksgiving,” Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county Emergency Medical Services director, said at the press conference. He added that hospitals are now seeing people in their 30s and 40s who are very sick.

The county continues to avoid a stay-at-home order as ICU bed availability remains above 15% throughout the Bay Area region, which includes Santa Cruz County. When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the order, he predicted ICU capacity would dip below that threshold by today, prompting the order to take effect. But as of right now the regional capacity is 17.8%.

Local ICU capacity is hovering around 14%, according to Ghilarducci, who also said both Dominican and Watsonville have prepared surge capacity beds that they will start to staff and use for patients as needed.

Here’s how the order — if and when it ever happens — would affect the county, along with other Lookout Santa Cruz resources:

Dec. 12

The Bay Area region’s ICU bed availability went up from 16.7% to 17.6%, according to numbers released by the state Saturday, making a stay-at-home order in Santa Cruz County unlikely until early next week.

The original projection for the region to drop below 15% ICU capacity, triggering stay-at-home orders for all 10 counties, was Monday. Once the order is given, there will be a 24-hour grace period before it goes into effect.

The county’s COVID-19 numbers aren’t updated over the weekend, so the number of deaths (53) and active cases (1,369) remained unchanged.

County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said officials were tracking the logistical challenges of getting the first batch of vaccines to places such Santa Cruz County. “They’re getting them onto UPS and FedEx planes,” he said. “Looks like we’re still on track for early next week.”

Dec. 11

Santa Cruz County was just shy of entering a regional stay-at-home order on Friday, as ICU capacity in the Bay Area region dipped to 16.7%.

Given the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the area and the decline in the number of open intensive care beds, the Bay Area region is likely to reach 15% capacity sometime this weekend, triggering the stay-at-home order. Statewide ICU capacity is down to 9%, according to the latest data.

Santa Cruz County reported 1,369 active COVID-19 cases and three new coronavirus-related deaths Dec. 11, bringing the total number of reported deaths up to 53. Of the three deaths reported on Friday, two were residents of Santa Cruz Post Acute, adding to more than a dozen residents at that facility who have died of complications from COVID-19 as of Dec. 9.

One of the deaths was connected to Hearts & Hands, a post-acute care and rehabilitation center in Santa Cruz. It is the first reported death associated with Hearts & hands. There have been at least 14 COVID-19 cases among Hearts & Hands residents, and at least 21 cases among health care workers at the center, as of Dec. 9.

Of the three deaths reported on Friday, state data shows:

  • One person was in their 60s, one was in their 80s and the third was 90 or older.
  • Two were men, and one was a woman.
  • One was Asian, one was Latin and the other was white.
  • Two had underlying conditions, one did not.

Aegis Assisted Living of Aptos, a memory care center, reported at least one COVID-19 case among residents, and at least one case among staff this week. State health data does not specify how many active cases there are at a facility unless there are more than 11.

- Isabella Cueto

Dec. 10

ICU capacity in the Bay Area region, which includes Santa Cruz County, has dropped dramatically since Wednesday, from 24.5% to 17.8% availability. This is getting close to the 15% regional ICU capacity that will trigger an automatic stay-at-home order for the entire region, including Santa Cruz County.

The local situation is similarly dire. According to state data, the county has only one ICU bed available. But county officials have said previously that this number changes quickly, and hospitals could be able to add more beds as needed.

“It fluctuates — almost hourly — and we don’t get numbers directly from the hospitals,” said county spokesperson Jason Hoppin, explaining that the hospitals report those numbers directly to the state. The total number of ICU beds in the county can fluctuate widely depending on staff availability.

Regardless, Hoppin said county residents should be bracing for the stay-at-home-order to kick in, citing the latest Bay Area statistics. “It’s 17% now, down from 25% 2 to 3 days ago,” he said “If that trend line holds, we will hit the trigger tomorrow.”

9 a.m.: Santa Cruz County health officials have submitted their plan for vaccine distribution for the state, and said that an initial delivery could arrive in Santa Cruz County as soon as next week, for distribution in local hospitals.

While this is certainly cause for hope, the county cautioned in a statement that “widespread [vaccine] distribution may not occur for several months,” and urged everyone to “continue wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing.”

Vaccines will be given to different priority groups according to California Department of Public Health guidelines, available here. Healthcare workers who interact with COVID-19 patients, as well as residents of skilled nursing facilities, will be the first to receive it.

The county recorded three more deaths today, bringing the county-wide total to 50. One of the deaths was related to the outbreak at Santa Cruz Post Acute.

Of the victims, one of the people was in their 80s, one in their 60s, and one in their 50s. Only one of the three people who died had an underlying health condition.

The number of active cases is now at 1,342, and the 14-day average positivity rate is 8.4%.

Dec. 9

Santa Cruz County recorded 139 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 1,293, county officials reported Wednesday.

The number of active cases is up 18 percent over the previous four days, indicating a continued steady spread of the virus. And because many people who have the virus are asymptomatic, and not everyone who is symptomatic will get tested, the actual number of cases is likely much higher, officials said. The 14-day average positivity rate is holding about constant at 8.1%, and the county reported no new deaths.

Statewide, California reported 35,400 new cases on Tuesday, according to a LA Times county-by-county tally, and 219 deaths — both records for a single day. The latest tally means an average of 135 Californians have died each day over the past week — a number not seen since August — and nearly 25,000 people tested positive for the virus daily, a figure more than twice as bad as the peak of the summer surge.

So far, there is no word on whether Santa Cruz county plans to join other Bay Area counties in implementing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest stay-at-home order earlier than planned.

The Bay Area regional intensive-care unit availability is holding steady at 24.5%, according to state data, and KSBW reported earlier this week that Santa Cruz County has approximately 23% of its ICU beds available countywide. Both thresholds are likely to decrease rapidly in the coming days and weeks.

Newsom’s stay-at-home order will be automatically enacted when the number of available ICU beds falls below 15%, which is currently projected to occur on or around Dec. 14.

On Tuesday, Santa Clara County was down to only 31 available intensive care unit beds — just 9.5% of its capacity — to serve Northern California’s most populous county, home to nearly 2 million people.

“It is the worst we have seen, and it’s continuing to worsen,” said Dr. Ahmad Kamal, Santa Clara County director of health preparedness. “Hospitals are nearing capacity, our staffing is stretched thin — not just in our county, but throughout the state and throughout the nation.”

-Mallory Pickett, with Los Angeles Times contributing

Good news if you need a COVID-19 test

Turnaround times for test results at Ramsay Park, the state-operated testing site in Watsonville, have improved to an average of 47 hours. This is according to county COVID-19 testing director Cal Gordon, who also said the state has increased test processing capacity by at least 50%.

Ramsay Park is a critical piece in the county’s testing efforts, as it is one of the only places where anyone, even an asymptomatic person without a known exposure, can get a free test. In the past, it’s sometimes taken up to one or even two weeks for patients to receive results.

There’s also some good news for parents: the California Department of Public Health has reversed course and announced that outdoor playgrounds can remain open, even the new, stricter, stay-at-home order . . . whenever it should take effect.

-Mallory Pickett

Dec. 8

Santa Cruz remains one of the few Bay Area region counties that hasn’t enacted California’s stay-at-home order early. Regional ICU capacity has decreased from 25.7% to 24.5% since yesterday, and the stay-at-home order will be automatically enacted when this number hits 15%, which is currently projected to occur on or around Dec. 14.

County communications manager Jason Hoppin said officials are still considering whether to enact the stay-at-home order this week.

“Santa Cruz County is part of a much larger region, but we do pay attention to what our local hospitals are experiencing,” Hoppin said. “At this time ICU beds are not full but they are approaching [it]. That’s a number we are watching very closely as we determine our next steps.”

In the meantime, “Be careful — there are a lot of cases in Santa Cruz County,” Hoppin said. “Regardless of whether there’s a stay-at-home order or not, wear a mask, don’t mix with other households.”

The state of California has created a secure network app called “Notify CA” to automatically notify people if they have been exposed to COVID-19. It’s currently being tested by the University of California but will be made available statewide starting Thursday.

Santa Cruz County recorded three more COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, bringing the total to 47. One of the deaths was related to the outbreak at Pacific Coast Manor, a skilled nursing facility, and the other two were not related to an outbreak at any facility.

County health officials provided Lookout Santa Cruz with new, more detailed breakdowns of the deaths so far. Nearly half of the fatalities (22/47) have been residents over age 90. An additional 13 were people in their 80s, six in their 70s and four in their 60s.

There have only been two COVID-19 deaths in the county among people under 60, one person in their 50s and one in their 40s.

Over two-thirds of the deaths so far (32/47) resulted from outbreaks at skilled nursing homes and residential care facilities.

The number of active cases countywide has increased by 70 since yesterday, bringing the total to 1,154. The 14-day average positivity rate decreased slightly from 8.4 to 8.0%.

-Mallory Pickett

Dec. 7


Santa Cruz County is considering joining several Bay Area counties in enacting a stay-at-home order earlier than Gov. Gavin Newsom is requiring — with discussion expected at Tuesday’s county board meeting.

The Bay Area regional ICU capacity is at 25.7%. The state stay-at-home order will be enacted when that value drops to 15%.

Many Bay Area counties decided to enact that order early, and neighboring areas such as Santa Clara county are abiding by it, which means outdoor dining, non-essential travel, and any gathering between households, even outside (with some exceptions for religious groups) are banned.

Santa Cruz County has not yet enacted the stay-at-home order.

County communications manager Jason Hoppin said local health officials are still considering their options. If they do decide to enact the stay-at-home order or other restrictions early, they are expected to announce that in the next two days.

Otherwise, they will wait until the regional ICU capacity reaches 15%, automatically triggering the new order.

Hoppin pointed out that forecasts show the Bay Area region reaching the 15% ICU threshold by December 14 — so no matter what local officials decide, Santa Cruz County will be ordered to stay at home in the very near future.

Meanwhile, the county reported four new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the official death toll to 44. Of these deaths, three of them were related to outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities, two from Pacific Coast Manor and one from Santa Cruz Post Acute.

The number of active COVID-19 cases increased by 70 between Friday and Monday, and the county’s positivity rate increased from 8.2% to 8.4%.

Dec. 4


Santa Cruz County health officials reported Friday night that the death toll from COVID-19 had reached 40 people — up three people from the day before.

In all, the county was reporting 1,100 active coronavirus cases, down 31 cases from the day before.

But the rate of people testing positive for the virus over the past two weeks had increased slightly from the day before, to 8.5%.

Earlier Friday, officials gave the following breakdown about the 37 people who had died up to that point:

Age: 35 people who died were over 65, with one person in the 45-64 age range, and one in the 35-44 age range.

Health: 28 people had at least one underlying condition, and nine did not.

Race: 17 people were Latinx, 15 were white, one was Black, one was Asian, and three others were identified as either “other” or “unknown” race.

About 68% of deaths — 25 of 37 — are related to outbreaks at skilled nursing or residential facilities.

Dec. 4, 4:30 p.m.: Santa Cruz County considers ‘all options’ as 6 Bay Area counties implement stay-at-home orders

Six Bay Area health officers announced Friday that they would enact new stay-at-home orders sooner than planned — effective as soon as Sunday, Dec. 6. — but Santa Cruz County isn’t joining them just yet.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that state-imposed stay-at-home orders would go into effect when a region’s ICU capacity fell below 15%. The Bay Area region — of which Santa Cruz County is a part — had an ICU capacity of 25.30% Thursday, which is well over the 15% threshold.

But the six Bay Area jurisdictions — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and the city of Berkeley — have decided not to wait.

Most of the six counties and cities are implementing the order beginning 10 p.m. this upcoming Sunday with the exception of Alameda County, which will start enforcing its new regulations on Monday, and Marin County, which will begin Tuesday.

Santa Cruz County communications manager Jason Hoppin said in a statement that the county was aware of the stay-at-home orders being implemented in the other jurisdictions and that Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel was working with county leadership to consider what additional measures might be necessary. “At this time, we have not reached any conclusions but are considering all options,” he wrote.

As of Thursday, Santa Cruz County hospitals were at roughly 49% ICU capacity.

Under the new restrictions, which will likely apply to the entirety of the Bay Area if ICU capacity drops in the next week or two, most social gatherings are prohibited, travel is strictly limited, and even outdoor dining at restaurants is banned.