A toast at a holiday table
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COVID 2021

Get your guard back up, health officials warn: As holidays approach, gatherings could trigger COVID spread

Lookout spoke with Santa Cruz’s David Ghilarducci on rising COVID-19 cases, booster doses and what he recommends as Thanksgiving and other holidays approach.

Noting that cases are on the rise, Santa Cruz County health officials are urging residents to redouble their COVID-19 safety efforts as Thanksgiving and other holiday gatherings approach.

“I think that people probably let their guard down over time,” Deputy Health Officer David Ghilarducci said. “Especially before the Delta variant, we were saying that you don’t need to worry about masks if you’re vaccinated. Delta kind of taught us that well, we’re not quite there yet. It’s not done with us yet.”

Dr. David Ghilarducci
Dr. David Ghilarducci
(Courtesy County of Santa Cruz)

In June, COVID-19 cases in the county ranged from two to seven per day — the lowest case rate for 2021. But, as the Delta variant began to spread in August, the rate peaked at between 50 and 100 per day. Ghilarducci said the current rate is around 50 per day.

Santa Cruz officials removed the mask mandate in late September, citing decreasing rates, and the move to yellow — or moderate transmission level — tier. According to the Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 tracker, Santa Cruz County is now back in the orange — or substantial transmission level — tier. Despite the change, officials have not made any plans to reinstate the mandate.

By the numbers:

  • The average number of daily new COVID-19 cases in Santa Cruz County in the last 14 days has increased by 29%
  • There have been two COVID-19 related deaths in Santa Cruz County in November
  • There are 428 active COVID-19 cases in Santa Cruz County

Ghilarducci said the trends are similar to 2020, when November began with a daily case rate of 35, but spiked to 139 the following month.

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“The highest risk of spreading disease is in closed indoor settings and especially with family members from outside your normal household,” he said. “That’s where we’re seeing the most spread and we saw this last winter and we kind of predict it for every holiday.”

When it comes to holiday gatherings, Ghilarducci said he encourages people to gather outdoors, wash hands regularly and carefully, and wear a mask if you are unvaccinated.

Boosters


Ghilarducci said that of Santa Cruz’s fully vaccinated population, 17.8% have received a booster dose. That figure is similar to rates elsewhere in the state.

By the numbers:

  • 7.6% of fully vaccinated people between 18 to 49 have received a booster
  • 16.7% of fully vaccinated people between 50 to 64 have received a booster
  • 38.7% of fully vaccinated people over 65 have received a booster
  • 67.5% of eligible Santa Cruz County residents are fully vaccinated
  • 72.3% of eligible Santa Cruz County residents have received at least one shot

Ghilarducci said those who have received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have to wait six months after their last shot before getting a third one. Those who received a single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine need to wait two months before getting a second shot. But, he said, everyone in California who has completed the waiting period is eligible for a booster.

However, booking an appointment is another question.

“We’re seeing a lot of demand, and I’m hearing reports that people are having trouble getting an appointment right away,” Ghilarducci said. “Typically we’re looking at like a two week wait to get a shot.”

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Ghilarducci added the county is likely to see an increase in demand for booster doses as Thanksgiving approaches.

“People know that Thanksgiving is coming up, they want to sort of boost up their protection before they visit family, which makes a lot of sense. And so that’s really increased demand as well.”