Santa Cruz County COVID-19 update: Infections, hospitalizations, deaths and demographic data
The What: Santa Cruz health officials say that even though the county’s two-week positivity rate is flattening, “it’s still too early to tell” whether cases will start to decrease, especially with winter approaching.
The So What: Officials say to expect the mask mandate to stay through the winter, particularly with so many unknowns surrounding the Omicron variant. For information on testing, vaccines and boosters — and how long it’ll take to get one — click here.
COVID 2021 COVERAGE
With the discovery of the Omicron variant and the possibility of increased infections locally, Lookout is keeping an eye on Santa Cruz County impacts as well as regional and national news.
How Santa Cruz County compares: The county is currently in the orange tier, indicating a substantial level of infectious spread. This level is the same as most of our neighbors in Northern and Central California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though better than neighboring Monterey County, which is in the red tier. The state as a whole is also currently in the red tier.
In terms of gender, slightly more females have tested positive for COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County than males overall, a trend in keeping with the statewide average. The death rate in Santa Cruz County is nearly 50-50 by gender, though nearly 20% more males have died than females statewide.
Santa Cruz Deputy Health Officer Cal Gordon said the statewide trend in male to female deaths aligns with vaccination statuses on the state and local level. More than 80% of the female population in Santa Cruz has been fully vaccinated compared to 51.9% statewide. For males, 77.5% have been vaccinated in Santa Cruz County and 47.8% statewide.
“In many respects, we’ve been fortunate overall not to have the same level of impact of some of the other counties in our state,” Gordon said.
Current cases, hospitalizations and deaths: As of Thursday evening, Santa Cruz County has 587 active COVID-19 cases, an increase of 47 from the prior week.
A total of 13 people are currently hospitalized, more than the 11 hospitalized a week ago. A total of 225 county residents have died of COVID-19 or related complications since the start of the pandemic, one more than a week ago.
COVID-19 patients are treated at either Dominican Hospital or Watsonville Community Hospital.
Kevin Kimbrough, spokesperson at Dominican, said of the nine patients at the facility, six were unvaccinated, three had received the single Johnson & Johnson shot or two of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and two had received a booster shot. Kimbrough said the booster status of the third fully-vaccinated patient was unclear.
At Watsonville Community Hospital, one patient was unvaccinated, three were fully vaccinated and none had received a booster.
Gordon said in addition to the usual advice of wearing masks, getting booster doses, and receiving COVID-19 testing when sick, it’s important for residents to get their flu shots this winter.
“There will potentially be a significant amount of flu this winter and it’s going to be very, very difficult to determine whether you have flu or you have COVID-19,” he said. “And so getting the flu shot, in addition to COVID-19 vaccines is likely to spare you the worry of whether you have COVID-19 or just the flu and having to seek medical attention.”
Change in rate of infections: When the mask mandate was reestablished on Sept. 29 — after being removed in August — county health officials said the turnaround was due to a surge in local cases and hospitalizations. That trend has begun to flatten, but officials are still bracing for the winter.
Health officials track whether the case rate is increasing or decreasing by looking at a 14-day rolling average. Over the past four weeks, this figure has increased and then flattened out, with a current rate of 4%, down from the 17% seen the previous week.
Gordon said officials were significantly more concerned a couple of weeks ago when trends pointed to a surge in cases, but said the curve appears to be flattening.
“We’re still going up, but we’re not going up at the same rate as before,” he said.
He added that winter has not yet arrived and with the Omicron variant on the horizon, this flattening could be transient.
Though the figures are typically reported on Wednesdays, the percentage is calculated based on data ending on Mondays.
Geographic breakdown: Overall, South County has seen a high number of cases compared to other regions. In particular, Watsonville has had 43.7% of the total number of cases despite comprising 18.3% of the overall population, going a long way toward explaining why the region has seen more than half of the county’s total cases.
When looking at the current cases, while the caseload in Watsonville is now almost identical to its population percentage, the city of Santa Cruz now has nearly twice as many cases as its population might suggest.
In terms of both overall and current cases, areas listed as “unincorporated” by county health officials are another outlier. Though making up nearly 40% of the overall population, people living in these areas have made up — in terms of current and overall cases — 1.9% and 2.4%, respectively.
Also confusing is that while Aptos, Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, Felton, Freedom and Soquel are well-established communities, they are not municipalities and would normally be considered “unincorporated.”
Gordon said he believes the unincorporated, but named, communities may have their populations underestimated in the data while the jurisdiction termed “unincorporated” may be overestimated. He said county staff would be working to adjust the figures if that turns out to be the case.