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April 23, 2021

Santa Cruz County likely moving to orange tier March 31

Continued decreases in case and positivity rates have Santa Cruz County on track to enter a less restrictive tier of the state’s Covid-19 reopening plan on March 31, County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said at Thursday’s weekly virtual press conference.

According to data released by the state Tuesday, the county’s positivity rate fell to 1.2%, and its case rate was down to 3.4 new daily cases per 100,000 residents—both metrics that fall under the orange “moderate” tier. 

Even more impressive, the county’s health equity positivity rate, which bottlenecks the overall positivity rate data to tests and results coming from census tracts that have “low health conditions” as determined by the state’s Healthy Places Index, was down to just 2.5%. Just two months ago that number was 20 percentage points higher, as Watsonville struggled to quell the virus following winter holiday gatherings.

Why exactly those numbers are declining so rapidly, Newel said, is not yet known at the local, state or national level. It is most likely due to multiple factors, she said, including vaccines and better personal decisions—fewer households might be mixing with no major holidays over the past three months. She also said Covid-19 could have a seasonal component.

“Well learn more with time, and history will tell, I’m confident, but at this point it seems to be multifactorial and uncertain,” Newel said.

County Deputy Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci called the drop “mystifying,” as the percentage of the county’s population that has been vaccinated is not yet high enough for it to significantly affect its case counts—about 35% of the eligible population has received at least its first shot.

“The vaccine is having most of its effect on our hospitals and admissions to our hospitals,” Ghilarducci said. “Our nursing homes are not generating hospitalized patients like they were.”

The move from the red “substantial” tier to the orange tier would come just one day before theme parks and outdoor live performances are allowed to welcome customers back with various capacity limits. The state is also expected to soon release guidelines for graduations and sleepover camps, Newel said.

Vaccines centers ramp up

The ‘vaccination hub’ opened on Thursday at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz is expected to be a key tool in quickly vaccinating the county’s population as more doses become available. County Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall said she could not publicly disclose the center’s daily vaccine capacity, but she did say it would be “substantial.”

Added Ghilarducci: “[Kaiser Permanente’s] allocation has really gone up quite a bit, so we’ll expect them to be a much larger player going forward.”

Vaccinations are available at that center by appointment only. Those interested in receiving their vaccine there can check eligibility and schedule an appointment by completing an e-visit at kp.org/covidvaccine.

The county has administered more than 120,000 vaccinations. That includes all vaccines given to residents by health care providers, federally recognized clinics, mass vaccinations centers and clinics and participating pharmacies.

At the current rate, Ghilarducci said, every county resident older than 16 will have been offered at least their first vaccine dose by Sept. 7. But they believe that supplies will increase significantly next month, and they could see that early fall date move up to mid-to-late spring.

The county is working with its local health care providers—Kaiser, Dominican Hospital-Dignity Health, Sutter Health and Watsonville Community Hospital—to triple its daily capacity before those doses start to roll in, Ghilarducci said. 

“We’re just waiting for the vaccine to arrive at this point,” he said.

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