SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, CA — Santa Cruz County was flagged Wednesday to join the state's monitoring list as COVID-19 cases climb more rapidly than before, another death is linked to the virus and hospitals are beginning to feel the impact.
Assuming current trends continue and the county remains on the flagging list for three days, the county will officially join the watch list. If Santa Cruz County remains on the watch list for three more days, additional restrictions will be coming to local businesses. Ninety percent of Californians are already under those restrictions, county Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said during a Thursday morning press conference.
There have been 878 cases of the coronavirus reported so far in Santa Cruz County, though Newel said that many additional cases must still be added to the case count. There have been 153 cases in the City of Santa Cruz.
More than two-thirds of the county's total cases have been reported in the past two weeks. There will likely be more than 1,000 cases come Monday, said Mimi Hall, director of the county Health Services Agency.
"Our staff is overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases that are increasing every single day," Newel said.
Newel also announced that the death of a fourth Santa Cruz County resident — a male in his 70s — was linked to the coronavirus. COVID-19 was a contributing factor, but not the primary factor, she said. He was hospitalized with cardiac issues and tested positive for COVID-19.
Hospitals are beginning to see the impact, she said. Twenty known COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized.
Most Santa Cruz County residents who have contracted the virus have been sickened by close, person-to-person contact, with people who are closer than six feet to each other for more than 15 minutes. Usually, those people are not wearing masks, Newel said.
Protests in the wake of George Floyd's death to not appear to have made a dent in the numbers.
Most of the new cases are in Watsonville — where 429 people have fallen ill — and surrounding areas, Newel said. Many new cases are among young adults, ages 18 to 34 years old. They're more likely to be working in essential jobs and want to interact with others.
"We know everybody is tired of shelter-in-place," Hall said. "Although the orders have been lifted, we really need everybody's cooperation to be diligent to think about those around you and think about your family members and your more vulnerable community members."
Newel urged the public to wear face coverings and keep six feet of distance from others if they must interact with people outside of their households. Stay home if you feel sick, cover your coughs and sneezes, and wash hands and clean surfaces often, she said.
Restrictions Likely Coming
When counties are added to the state monitoring list, it means state health officials are eyeing troubling COVID-19 statistics and offering targeted support to help counties make progress.
Assuming Santa Cruz County remains on the list for three consecutive days, more restrictions will be coming: the closure of indoor fitness facilities; indoor worship services; ceremonies such as weddings and funerals; office buildings for nonessential workers; personal care services such as nail salons; hair salons and barbershops; and malls, Newel said. These businesses may continue operating if they can move operations outdoors.
Restrictions will likely go into effect in about a week, she said.
Employers Called To Action
Several clusters have been found in workplaces, said Hall, Health Services Agency director. There has not been transmission between workers and the general public.
Cases have risen to the point that contact tracing on its own is no longer effective in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus, she said.
People often notify their employer first that they are sick, Hall said. The county is asking employers to try and determine who their sick employees may have been in contact with, and contact the county immediately.
The county is making the same request of health care providers.
Bolstering Testing, Hospitals
The county has used $1 million of its federal CARES Act funding to purchase more equipment to increase testing capacity through the University of California, Santa Cruz. The money should help the university double or triple its testing capacity, Hall said.
County clinics and others in the local health care system have also received funding to create multiple laboratory testing sites in Santa Cruz County.
While hospitals have been more impacted as of late, the load has been manageable, said Dr. David Ghilarducci, county Health Services Agency emergency medical services director. The main concern — intensive care unit capacity — is also at a manageable level.
Remdesivir, a drug used to treat COVID-19 patients, is in short supply, unfortunately, he said. Limited amounts are available to Santa Cruz County, which is purchasing as much of the drug as it can to give to patients.
The county is preparing to reactivate a surge care site and is looking to maximize unused hospital space, Ghilarducci said.
Supplies of protective gear for health care workers are still stressed, but the supply chain has much improved since this spring, he said. Some tension will remain there.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the county's current watch list status.
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