An archive of Lookout’s daily COVID-19 updates

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.