A nursing student administers a COVID test at the Cabrillo College site.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID 2022

Data confirms county’s Omicron impact: Quarter of all known cases occurred within last 21 days

A jump in COVID cases over the past two days or so to 10,143 was a result of the backlog. County public health officials were aware of the issue but said it did not impact their response. And the best news: The positivity rate continues to remain on the decline in Santa Cruz County.

The What: The Omicron surge was no illusion. Santa Cruz County saw roughly one-quarter of its total COVID-19 cases recorded throughout the pandemic within the last 21 days, according to Ramy Husseini, the health services manager for the Santa Cruz County communicable disease and population health units.

The county’s online dashboard is reporting 10,143 active known cases, while 42,141 total known cases have been reported since the pandemic began.

Once a positive case is confirmed, it remains an “active known case” for a period of 21 days. While some of those cases may be for people who are no longer testing positive or have recovered, they will remain on the dashboard for the full 21 days — a period that Husseini suspects will be updated considering the shorter infectious period of Omicron.

Husseini says the jump over the past two days or so to 10,143 cases is a result of the backlog in cases during the Omicron surge. He said county public health officials were aware of the backlog and it did not impact their response.

While this active case count number is reflecting Omicron’s surge, the positivity rate for Santa Cruz County has somewhat slowed. As of Friday, the 14-day average per county data was plus-21%, far below last week’s figure of 113%.

Though significantly lower, that number prior to the Omicron surge was often in the single digits. Additionally, this curve tends to lag by about a week or so, meaning that this 14-day average covers the approximate time frame of Jan. 10-23.

The county has a disclaimer posted at the bottom of its website, which reads, “Due to known data delays in COVID-19 reporting systems, data is preliminary and modeling is subject to change.”

COVID case rates in Santa Cruz County as of Feb. 2, 2022
(Via County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency)

The So What: Local health leaders have cautioned that even amid skyrocketing positives, official numbers might be underestimating how steep the upward trend is because the results of many in-home tests never get reported.

The highly infectious Omicron variant is thought to be dominant in the ongoing surge; however, because county officials have not sequenced all known positive cases, a breakdown of cases by variant was unavailable.

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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 our neighbors in Northern and Central California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, the state as a whole is also currently in the red tier.

As of Wednesday, 73.2% of Santa Cruz County residents were fully vaccinated, a minimal increase from the week prior and slightly lower than the statewide figure of 69.4%. 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 83.9% and 82.4%, respectively; Monterey and San Benito counties stood at 69.7% and 73%, respectively. Marin County was at 85.4%, the highest rate in the state.

Current cases, hospitalizations and deaths: The most recent update to the county dashboard saw a jump from 6,677 active COVID-19 cases to 10,143, with the steep increase attributed to testing backlog. Hospitalizations, which health officials have said typically lag behind case rates by about two weeks, have decreased, with 32 county residents reported hospitalized Friday — down from 44 last week.

Local COVID-19 patients are treated at either Dominican Hospital or Watsonville Community Hospital. Dominican spokesperson Kevin Kimbrough said Wednesday that there were 24 COVID-positive patients, down three from the week prior. Of those, he said seven were fully vaccinated and boosted, nine are partially vaccinated and eight are unvaccinated.

According to a hospital representative, Watsonville Community Hospital had five COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, of whom two were not vaccinated. Four were female and one was male, and they ranged in age from 23 to 98, with three of the patients 60 or older.

Covid cases

Geographic breakdown: South County communities saw the biggest increase in cases reported since last week, with Watsonville’s rising from 2,011 to 4,410 — some 43.5% of all county cases. Freedom’s figure jumped by more than 300 to 517, meanwhile. The city of Santa Cruz had more than 27% of the county’s cases — 2,762 — with Aptos (622) also eclipsing 500 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% 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 has opened at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds and is available to the entire community. 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 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 the 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.

Covid cases

The city of Santa Cruz has also expanded its testing capacity, and recently closed a temporary encampment at Depot Park to make room for the testing site there.

Another change amid the Omicron surge is official guidance on masking. County officials recently 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 Wednesday, appointments were available as soon the next day at local pharmacies, where previously availability had been two weeks out or longer.