Janet Smith (left) takes Alejandrina Flores' temperature inside the COVID unit at a Los Angeles hospital.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
COVID 2022

Health officials bracing for impact of Thanksgiving travel, gatherings on local COVID-19 cases

The latest data from the Santa Cruz County health department shows a 17% increase in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks. Though a smaller increase than in recent periods, health officials say the impact of travel and gatherings around Thanksgiving is not yet known, but things are likely to get worse.

Though the rate of increase for new COVID-19 cases is slowing down slightly, Santa Cruz County health officials warn that the impacts of the Omicron variant as well as from Thanksgiving gatherings and travel are not yet known, and they expect things to get worse again.

After being put back in place in August, a local mask mandate was lifted Sept. 29, then reestablished Nov. 21. At the time, officials said the turnaround was due to a surge in local cases and hospitalizations. The rolling 14-day average on Nov. 15 showed a 29% increase, a figure that jumped to 42% the following week.

The most recent figure, from Monday, showed a slight flattening of that curve — a 17% increase — but county health spokesperson Corinne Hyland said cases “typically increase two weeks out from a holiday.” Though the figures are reported on Wednesdays, the percentage is calculated based on data ending on Mondays.

A chart showing COVID-19 numbers in Santa Cruz County
(Source: Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency)

As of Friday, there were 540 active COVID-19 cases and 13 people were hospitalized, according to county data. Last month, four additional people died, bringing the total to 224.

As of Thursday, one 68-year-old, unvaccinated COVID-19 patient was at Watsonville Community Hospital and 10 patients — all over 50 — were at Dominican Hospital. Greg Whitley, the chief medical officer at Dominican, said the hospital had both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients but declined to provide a breakdown, saying only that a majority were unvaccinated.

He added that each of the vaccinated COVID-19 patients was either immunocompromised or had not received a booster, and some fit into both categories.

Whitley said that discrepancies between hospital-reported data and state data — 13 versus 11 hospitalizations — were likely due to delays on the part of the state. Dominican Hospital and Watsonville Community Hospital are the only medical facilities in Santa Cruz County that take in COVID-19 patients.

“We’re seeing a little bit of a surge,” he said.

And the trends are not exactly encouraging.

“Omicron will likely make it worse, since the existing evidence points to increased transmissibility,” said County Health Officer Gail Newel.

Both Whitley and Newel also urged everyone to get vaccinated and to receive a booster shot if eligible.

With winter just beginning, Newel reiterated the advice preached many times during the past two years.

“Everyone should wear their masks, avoid large gatherings, and, of course, stay home if they’re sick,” she said. “There is no need to panic, but everyone should continue to do what they have been.”

Everyone over the age of 18 is eligible for and encouraged to receive a booster shot once they are either six months past their second Pfizer or Moderna shot or two months beyond their initial Johnson & Johnson shot.

To check vaccine availability and schedule an appointment, visit the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency’s vaccine information page.