Santa Cruz County health officials give an update on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in Santa Cruz County.
(Santa Cruz County)
COVID 2021

Santa Cruz COVID updates: Amid ‘hopeful’ signs, county officials hammer vaccination message

Santa Cruz County health officials gave a positive pandemic update Thursday -- “I’m feeling very hopeful,” Dr. Gail Newel said -- but warned that risks remain serious for the unvaccinated.

For the first time in “many, many months” there are fewer than 100 active COVID-19 cases in Santa Cruz County, county health officials said in a briefing Thursday — and over 66% of the eligible population has received at least one vaccine dose.

County health officer Dr. Gail Newel said she is “thrilled” to see the progress of the Santa Cruz community in fighting the pandemic: “I didn’t think we’d be here this quickly, so I’m feeling very hopeful.”

But amid this cheery news, Newel and her colleagues warned that the risk of COVID-19 remains painfully real for one population: the unvaccinated. After county hospitals went several days this week without any COVID-19 patients — for the first time in months — a patient was hospitalized Wednesday night with COVID-19. This person was unvaccinated and was a known contact of several other unvaccinated people who had tested positive.

“As we’re relaxing these restrictions we have to remember that we’re actually living in two worlds right now, and that we have the vaccinated world, or the vaccinated population, and the unvaccinated,” deputy health officer Dr. David Ghilarducci said. “I want to make sure that the unvaccinated population out there knows that they continue to be at risk for serious illness, or passing serious illness on to a loved one.”

Newel also pointed out that while the news in Santa Cruz — and much of the rest of the state and the nation — is positive, this is not true globally. “We do need to remember that that’s not true, globally, and that many lives are being lost in India and elsewhere in the world,” Newel said.

She added that the Southern Hemisphere is particularly hard hit right now, which indicates that the virus likely has a seasonal component.

“I’m still holding my breath about what comes after summer, and [I have] concern for our community, especially the unvaccinated at-risk population as we move into the fall and the holiday season again,” Newel said. “It is anticipated that booster shots will eventually be needed.”

But she added that the vaccines continue to show excellent effectiveness against all the variants of concern, and vaccine manufacturers are preparing to be able to provide boosters — though there are “no signs” that they are needed at this point, Newel said.

Here’s everything else we learned from Thursday’s update:

Masks off? Not yet

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most settings, with travel and public transit the exceptions. But the California Department of Public Health hasn’t yet updated its guidance to align with the CDC, so until that happens Santa Cruz County will remain under CDPH orders: Masks are required in most indoor situations for everyone, while fully vaccinated people can remove their masks in most outdoor settings and indoors if they are with other fully vaccinated people.

  • When the state updates its guidelines to more closely align with the CDC, Newel said Santa Cruz County will follow those recommendations. She will not enact local restrictions that are stricter than the state’s.

High confidence in tier movement; more restrictions to lift soon

  • Newel said there were strong indications that Santa Cruz County will advance to the least restrictive yellow tier on Tuesday.
  • Vaccinations and hospitalizations are on track for Gov. Gavin Newsom to dissolve the Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework on June 15. Newel said state officials have said post-June 15 guidance will be “very brief, and will focus on large guidelines.”

Pfizer vaccine now available to residents between 12-15 years old; youth vaccinations crucial to pandemic control

  • As of Thursday, the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for use in children between the ages of 12 and 15. Health officials said the Pfizer vaccine is available at the OptumServe site in Watsonville as well as many other clinics and doctor’s offices. Currently, Dignity Health has only Moderna vaccines, but that could change in the near future.
  • Ghilarducci and Newel both highlighted youth sports as an ongoing “area of vulnerability,” with cases continuing to crop up in that setting. Vaccinating this population will be “very important,” Ghilarducci said.
  • Once children have been vaccinated, they will no longer be required to quarantine for 14 days if someone on their sports team, or another close contact, tests positive for COVID-19.

Vaccine progress and equity

  • Ghilarducci said the rate of vaccination has slowed to an average of about 2,200 per day as younger populations are vaccinated; shots peaked at around 3,200 per day in April.
  • Chief of public health Jen Herrera said that as demand slows, the county is moving away from mass vaccination clinics and is focusing more on targeted outreach, or “pop-up” clinics, such as one the public health department recently hosted at the Watsonville Swap Meet.