COVID-19 catchup: Dr. Gail Newel talks variants, double-masking, hugging mom and more
As the speed of vaccinations ramps up and cases decline, many experts are hopeful spring will be a turning point in the pandemic. County health officer Dr. Gail Newel is looking forward to seeing her mother fully vaccinated, and maybe even getting to hug her soon.
Lookout’s COVID Today, the latest on COVID-19 developments as they happen, is among eight Lookout initiatives documenting all aspects of the pandemic this year. For more, go to our COVID 2021 section, sign up for COVID Text Alerts and our COVID PM newsletter here, and leave feedback and ask questions at the end of this story.
Although the state’s coronavirus numbers have plummeted to levels not seen in months, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday acknowledged that “we are seeing a little bit of a plateau, and one needs to be mindful of that.”
Taking it a step further, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that she remained “deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic.”
At the same time, vaccinations are proceeding: more than 9 million Californians, and more than 84,000 Santa Cruz County residents, have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.
Lookout caught up with Newel at this pivotal moment to ask about some of the issues on our readers’ minds. Here’s what we learned:
On variants and protecting yourself from infection:
- UCSC released results today showing that from a limited sample of tests in Santa Cruz — 84 — about 65% of them were infections caused by the California variant. “I don’t think we know very much yet,” Newel said. “I think preliminarily, we think that it may be more transmissible and maybe more lethal, both. But not enough is known about that yet.”
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UCSC has just completed its first sequencing of 84 COVID-19 samples from Santa Cruz County. Similar to the rest of the...
- The state is also sequencing SARS-CoV-2 samples, and Newel said she expects state officials will soon publish a public map of where variants of concern have been found.
- Newel highlighted that the CDC has released new mask guidance suggesting either double masking or specific types of masks should be worn. “That’s for indoor gatherings,” she said. “Really, you need to be more concerned with these variants that your old mask might not work anymore.”
The mask options recommended by the CDC include an N95; a KN95; double masking with a cloth and surgical mask; a cloth mask with a built-in filter; and a special “knot and tuck” method for making procedure masks fit better.
On the state’s MyTurn system:
- Many Santa Cruz County residents have registered with MyTurn, the state system for vaccine appointments, and have waited in vain to receive a notification, despite knowing they are eligible. Newel explained that Santa Cruz County has “just onboarded,” with that system.
- People can sign up for MyTurn now, but they won’t get notifications until the onboarding is fully complete, which should happen “over the next few days,” Newel said.
Vaccines for occupational priority groups:
- Certain occupations are now prioritized for vaccination, including food and agriculture workers, workers in education and child care, and law enforcement. Newel said the county is mostly working through employers and “gatekeeper” organizations, such as the Farm Bureau, to get occupational vaccines done. This means most eligible workers will be notified by their employer or a professional organization.
- The County Office of Education is now facilitating vaccines for teachers who live in Santa Cruz but work in other counties, unlicensed day care providers and workers who provide child care in an informal capacity. (Teachers who live in Santa Cruz but work in Santa Clara should be aware that Santa Clara County will not vaccinate them.)
- To sign up to get a vaccine through this channel, eligible people should contact the County Office of Education at (831) 466-5600.
-Luke Money, Rong-Gong Lin II of the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report