A Los Angeles hospital's COVID treatment area
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COVID 2022

Omicron in Santa Cruz: First two cases of variant identified in residents in their mid-20s

The first two cases of the Omicron variant in Santa Cruz County have been identified in a pair of residents from the northern part of the county. Health officials say to remain calm, but urged continued caution amid the latest COVID-19 surge.

On Tuesday afternoon, Santa Cruz County Public Health was notified that two North County residents in their mid-20s had tested positive for the Omicron variant that is raising concerns around the globe amid another COVID-19 surge.

Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Cal Gordon urged the public to remain calm, but be cautious.

“While we must remain vigilant against COVID-19 and Omicron, this new variant is not a cause for panic,” he said in a news release announcing the first two cases identified in the county. “It is important that we collectively focus on the things we know to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.”

County spokesman Jason Hoppin said that while we are familiar with COVID at this point, Omicron could pose issues for hospital capacity.

“It’s the same virus, so there’s nothing new that we need to do,” he said. “However, the biggest issue is overwhelming the hospitals, because early evidence shows that it is very transmissible.”

Hoppin added that while 14 people in the county were hospitalized as of Tuesday with COVID, two of whom were on ventilators, cases have recently been trending downward.

Seeking to be cautious amid the current surge, UC Santa Cruz announced Tuesday that the first two weeks of its winter quarter, slated to begin Jan. 3, would be conducted online, with the university targeting in-person return for Jan. 18.

While more breakthrough cases have been attributed to the Omicron variant than with previous variants, evidence suggests that boosters continue to provide protection against infection, and fare even better with preventing serious illness and death.

As of Monday, the wait time for getting booster shot or vaccine throughout most of Santa Cruz County is at least two weeks. A spot check of a number of supermarkets and pharmacies in San Jose Tuesday evening also showed a two-week wait time even for those willing to travel for a shot.

Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said that county health clinics had been increasing their capacity and hours for at least the last month. He said the clinic in Watsonville has been able to provide around 800 a week while a series of pop-ups in Felton has averaged 144 a week “which is as much as we’ve ever done.”

“The challenge is that the medical providers haven’t been able to step up due to staffing shortages and give the vaccine to their members,” he said. “The board doesn’t have control over them; we can’t vaccinate the whole county.”

Calls to local representatives from Kaiser Permanente, Dignity Health and PAMF on Tuesday afternoon and evening asking about plans regarding a ramp-up were not returned.

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As of Tuesday, 60,245 county residents have received booster shots. When broken down by age, that comes out to 48% of the population 65 and older, 33% of those aged 50-65, and 15% of those 18 to 49.

“The population aged 18-49 is where the focus needs to be,” said Hoppin.

As always, individuals are advised to get vaccinated and boosted, wear a mask indoors, get tested if symptomatic or exposed, and stay home if sick.

Dan Evans contributed to this report.