Inspire Diagnostics staff scope out the line of cars awaiting COVID tests at the Cabrillo College site.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID 2022

COVID-19 updates in Santa Cruz County: Infections, hospitalizations, deaths and demographic data

The What: Santa Cruz County’s COVID-19 positivity rate continues to rise exponentially. As of Friday, the 14-day average was up 399%; last week’s figure was 187%, up from 12% the week prior to that. The county registered five more deaths in the past week, bringing the pandemic total to 235.

According to statistics from the county, there are a total of 4,060 active COVID-19 cases. Part of the reason for the jump may also be due to increased testing on the part of school districts following the end of the winter break. As of Thursday, the County Office of Education reported 1,655 active cases on its own dashboard.

A chart showing increasing COVID-19 case rates in Santa Cruz County as of Jan. 13, 2022
(Via County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency)

The So What: Even still, officials have cautioned that the official numbers might be underestimating how steep the upward trend is amid the Omicron surge, because the results of many in-home tests never get reported.

The Omicron variant was first found in Santa Cruz County last month. The breakdown of cases by variant is not known, as county officials have not sequenced all known positive cases.

How Santa Cruz County compares: The county is currently in the red tier, indicating the highest level of infectious spread. This level is the same as all of its neighbors in Northern and Central California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state as a whole is also currently in the red tier.

As of Friday, 71.64% of Santa Cruz County residents were fully vaccinated, a minimal increase from the week prior and slightly lower than the statewide figure of 72.1%. However, as Lookout reported on Dec. 10, a quirk in the state reporting figures may be artificially reducing that number, increasing it by as much as 5%. This would put the county more in line with its neighbors.

Neighboring Santa Clara and San Mateo counties had a fully vaccinated rate of 82.6% and 80%, respectively; Monterey and San Benito counties stood at 66.2% and 61.9%, respectively. Marin County was at 85.5%, the highest rate in the state.

Current cases, hospitalizations and deaths: As of Thursday, Santa Cruz County had more than 2,100 active cases than it did a week ago. Hospitalizations, which health officials have said typically lag behind case rates by about two weeks, have begun to trend up, with 35 county residents reported hospitalized — up from 16 last week — and three in intensive care — up from two. There are three ICU beds still available countywide.

“This is going to continue to be a hard month, perhaps the hardest yet,” Dr. David Ghilarducci, deputy health officer, said at a Thursday news conference. “But it will end soon.”

Ghilarducci said the county’s projection is that the case rate will probably peak in early February before declining. Still, he recommended that those with asymptomatic or mild cases of COVID-19 or other non-serious injuries or ailments avoid going to the emergency departments at Dominican Hospital or Watsonville Community Hospital.

“But if you do have a high fever, difficulty breathing, or other significant symptoms, you really should go the hospital right away,” he said.

Local COVID-19 patients are treated at either Dominican Hospital or Watsonville Community Hospital. As of Friday, Dominican spokesperson Kevin Kimbrough said that 18 patients at the facility are COVID positive, regardless of whether or not that is the reason for their hospitalization; information on ages and vaccination and booster status was unavailable with staff stretched thin amid the ongoing surge.

Watsonville Community Hospital had nine COVID-positive patients as of Friday, per a hospital representative, five of whom were unvaccinated. Six were female and three male, ranging in age from 27 to 85.

Overall COVID cases by region - Jan. 12
(Via County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency)
Known COVID cases by region in Santa Cruz County as of Jan. 12, 2002
(Via County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency)

Geographic breakdown: The city of Santa Cruz now has more than 40% of the county’s overall cases — 1,734 — with Watsonville (843), Aptos (350) and Scotts Valley (271) all now eclipsing 200 cases.

Since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago, South County has seen the highest number of cases among local regions. In particular, Watsonville has had 39.53% of the total number of cases despite comprising 18.3% of the overall population.

Given current overwhelming demand for COVID testing, a testing site run by Inspire Diagnostics is opening at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds and will be open to the entire community, county officials announced Friday afternoon. Inspire has been partnering with the County Office of Education to test county educators and students and their family members at several other sites across the county. Registration is required.

“The COE has provided our community a great service in providing testing options for our school staff, students and their families,” Dr. Cal Gordon, deputy health officer, said in a news release. “We are excited to partner with the COE to expand testing to the greater community.”

The fairgrounds testing site, at 2601 E. Lake Ave. in Watsonville, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Inspire fairgrounds site is in addition to three run by the company in partnership with the COE — at Cabrillo College, the offices of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and at the COE offices in Santa Cruz — that are open only to county educators, students and their families.

Also changing amid the Omicron surge is official guidance on masking. At Thursday’s news conference, officials urged residents to ditch cloth masks upgrade to N95, KN95 or KF94 face masks — and continued to stress that residents should get vaccinated or boosters shots as soon as eligible.

As of Tuesday, appointments were available as soon as this weekend at local pharmacies, where previously availability had been about two weeks out. For those willing to make the drive to Morgan Hill and other locations in the South Bay, appointments are available as soon as Friday through CVS pharmacy.