Coronavirus

Coronavirus: Live Updates from Across Santa Cruz County

Live updates on the spread of the coronavirus and how the Santa Cruz County community is responding to it

Samples are tested for COVID-19. PHOTO: Steve Fisch, Stanford Medicine

Check back here for the latest news on the coronavirus and its impacts around Santa Cruz County. The most recent updates are added at the top.

For continuing in-depth coverage, visit: goodtimes.sc/category/santa-cruz-news/coronavirus/   

To learn about action you can take now, whether you’re seeking assistance or want to find ways of supporting the community, visit: goodtimes.sc/santa-cruz-coronavirus-resources/


March 31, 3:10pm: Smoke Shop closes again 

831 Smoke Shop has closed both of its locations after getting a visit from a Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputy, informing a store employee that the shop was a non-essential business operating in violation of the county’s shelter-in-place order.

Last week, GT reported that the shop had reopened, and it was selling products like rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, disinfectant wipes, toilet paper, and bottled water. The store’s owner Jacob Alquadri told GT News Editor Jacob Pierce that shoppers would also be able to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products. Now, the shop owner’s wife tells us that customers were only ever allowed to buy essential goods, like cleaning supplies, in the briefly reopened smoke shop—not any smoking products. The woman, who asked not to be named, says there must have been a miscommunication between the writer and the owner, who’s from Yemen, due to a language barrier.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Santa Cruz County has climbed to 49 as of this morning. There have been no new reported deaths since the county’s first, which happened on Saturday, March 28. 

In California as of Monday, March 30, there have been 6,932 positive cases of the coronavirus and 150 deaths, according to the California Department of Public Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there have been 163,539 cases and 2,860 deaths nationwide. Internationally, the globe has surpassed 750,000 cases and 36,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

March 30, 12:30pm: County’s first death from the coronavirus 

Santa Cruz County health officials confirmed the county’s first death from the coronavirus this weekend. 

The man who died Saturday was in his early 70s and had an underlying health condition, the county’s Health Services Agency announced Sunday. He had been admitted to a local hospital on March 19 with symptoms including fever and shortness of breath, County Health Officer Gail Newel said in a press release. Our sister paper, the Pajaronian, has more.

There are 45 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the county as of the most recent count provided today by health officials. 

Social distancing efforts appear to be helping slow the spread of the coronavirus. We have more on that in a story here

Here’s what else is happening lately in response to the coronavirus: 

  • The county’s METRO service is doing its part by issuing a reminder to riders that they should only be traveling for essential activities. Passengers may only board with belongings that are for essential activities. For more info, visit scmtd.com
  • Community Bridges has four Family Resource Centers that are providing support to people affected by the coronavirus. The centers are open on a drop-in basis to assist with accessing benefits such as unemployment, state disability, family and medical leave, CalFresh, and emergency enrollment in Covered California. More information about each center can be found at communitybridges.org/programs.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom launched an effort today aimed at rapidly expanding the state’s health care workforce. He called for all “health care professionals with an active license, public health professionals, medical retirees, medical and nursing students, or members of medical disaster response teams” to join the California Health Corps. More information on how to register is available at healthcorps.ca.gov. Newsom also signed an executive order to assist with the push for expanding the health care workforce “to staff at least an additional 50,000 hospital beds the state needs to treat COVID-19 patients.” 

March 28, 8:15pm: Expected surge in cases could strain local hospitals

Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel told KSBW on Friday that the local Health Services Agency is expecting a surge in cases of the new coronavirus that will exceed the current capacity of beds. There are 39 confirmed cases in the county, as of the tally provided Friday by officials. 

In addition to existing brick-and-mortar hospitals, the county has a temporary hospital facility in Watsonville that could be deployed, and it’s in the process of setting up alternate care sites. 

We’ve asked county leaders about the local capacity for beds and about the availability of COVID-19 tests. Officials have not yet responded. We’ll provide an update here when they do.

Over the past week, Yelp partnered with GoFundMe to create fundraisers for small businesses, given the strain that the pandemic is having on the economy. The arrangement drew a swift backlash after many business owners began to publicly ask why they weren’t contacted before the pages launched. Here in Santa Cruz County, fundraiser pages for both Zachary’s and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing have come down. Many others are still up.

We reported Friday that the state was closing several local state parks and beaches to vehicular traffic. The city of Santa Cruz added to those closures by blocking off parking lots on West Cliff Drive, including ones at Cowell Beach, Steamer Lane and Lighthouse Field. Residents may get out of the house for exercise, but the government requires everyone must keep at least six feet from one another when they do so. 

The Santa Cruz parks department is promoting ways to recreate remotely. For more information, visit cityofsantacruz.com/virtualrecreation

Lastly, the city’s Public Works Department has made announcements of its own. Through April 10, residents may leave out an extra bag of trash for garbage collection at no extra cost. The bag may go on top of or next to city trash bins. 

Officials also want to remind city residents not to flush wipes, feminine products, diaper liners or plastic dog waste bags down their toilets. During the early phases of panic buying a few weeks ago, many wipes began flying off store shelves. Some wipes are touted as “flushable” or “biodegradable.” They are not. Such products can create sewer back-ups. They belong in the trash.

March 27, 5:25pm: UCSC student tests positive

UCSC leaders have announced the first positive case of COVID-19 in the university community. The student was last on campus March 16 and is doing well, according to the announcement.

School administrators are coordinating with public health officials to determine whether other members of the campus community may have been exposed. Earlier today, the county’s Health Services Agency announced that the number of local cases had climbed to 34.

The Washington Post and New York Times are both reporting that the U.S., which recorded its first confirmed case two months ago, now has more than 100,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, as reported by state health departments. The nation first passed 10,000 cases on March 19. On Thursday, the U.S. became the country with the most confirmed cases. 

President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act today to make General Motors manufacture ventilators to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

March 27, 11am: Some state parks closed

Anyone looking to drive into the woods in order to blow off some steam might want to make sure the roads are open first.

California Parks and Recreation began closing some public lands to vehicular traffic earlier this week. As revealed on the Santa Cruz County Twitter feed yesterday, that includes some local parks and beaches. As of this morning the affected spaces include Castle Rock State Park, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Manresa State Beach, Natural Bridges State Beach, New Brighton State Beach, Seacliff State Beach, and the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. 

Under the shelter-in-place orders that are in effect because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Santa Cruz County residents are allowed to leave the house for exercise, as long as they stay at least six feet from others.

As of yesterday, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency updated the count of confirmed local COVID-19 cases to 32, and the California Department of Health announced that the number statewide is up to 3,006. There have been 65 deaths statewide. The county has not reported any local deaths from the virus.

In case you missed it, non-essential businesses are still closed, but a local smoke shop reopened after it began selling medical supplies, cleaning supplies and bottled water. Also, our writer Wallce Baine talked with Bookshop Santa Cruz operator-owner Casey Coonerty Protti about how her business is coping with these times.

March 26, 10:45am: Protecting the front line 

Here’s a way to help the health care workers on the front line of the coronavirus response: Santa Cruz County set up an online system for anyone wishing to donate personal protective equipment. 

The equipment has been in short supply nationwide as health care workers treat the influx of patients with COVID-19. There are more than 68,000 cases in the country, according to the latest tally by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Santa Cruz County has 25 confirmed cases

Groups or individuals with extra personal protective equipment can fill out a form to start the process at santacruzhealth.org/ppedonate

Equipment they are seeking includes: 

  • Eye protection such as goggles and face shields;
  • Antibacterial and disinfecting wipes, typically alcohol or bleach based (unopened). No baby wipes;
  • N-95 and surgical masks (in unopened containers/boxes);
  • Medical gowns, including disposable gowns, as well as cloth surgical and hospital gowns in good condition.

Also, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC this morning that most Americans will be receiving stimulus checks within the next three weeks. After a unanimous 96-0 Senate vote to approve the measure, the House now has to approve the package before it goes to President Donald Trump’s desk. 

The cash transfers would come in the form of direct deposits from the federal government. Under the plan, a $1,200 deposit would go to most adults who make $75,000 or less annually, according to past tax returns. A $500 payment would also be sent to cover every child in qualifying households. The plan additionally includes more than $600 billion in business loans, beefed-up unemployment insurance, expanded health care funds and increased aid to state and local governments.

In case you’ve missed the recent coverage in our sister paper, the Pajaronian, Santa Cruz Superior Court started holding some judicial proceedings outdoors on the courthouse steps. Meanwhile, the California National Guard has been helping with Second Harvest Food Bank distributions. Suzanne Willis, Second Harvest’s development and marketing officer, noted that the officials are not there for immigration enforcement.

March 24, 5pm: Food Not Bombs, city of Santa Cruz spar over homeless responses

A war of words has erupted in Santa Cruz between the city and Food Not Bombs over the way each has responded locally to the COVID-19 pandemic that now stretches across the globe.

Last night, Keith McHenry spent $5,000 toward renting hotel rooms and handing out 81 vouchers for those rooms to local homeless people. In a blog post, Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills criticized McHenry, the cofounder for Food Not Bombs, for not complying with social distancing requirements mandating that everyone stay at least six feet from one another. He accused McHenry of staging a rally last night.  “Gathering in large groups is reckless, irresponsible, and is a crime we enforce,” Mills wrote. 

McHenry says it wasn’t a rally, at all. “It was survival,” he tells GT. McHenry says that homeless people came out to the clock tower on the corner of Water Street and Pacific Avenue to get his hotel vouchers. More than an additional 100 showed up who he was not able to give vouchers to. McHenry says he has been trying to get homeless people to keep six feet from another, but he adds that it can be difficult because many of them can be very distrusting. Consequently, they view the pandemic as a hoax. “It’s a big pain in the ass, getting people to social distance,” he says.

McHenry says the city should be more concerned with complying with social distancing at the Salvation Army’s Laurel Street shelter than bugging him about his group’s gatherings.

McHenry also runs through a list of people who he believes he will be feeding after the crisis continues and triggers a global crash, a chain of events that he considers an inevitability. “I’ll be feeding Mills and his family if they stick around Santa Cruz,” McHenry says. “I will be feeding Martín Bernal and his family—and Justin Cummings. I’ll be feeding him.”

March 24, 12:30pm: Eviction moratoriums approved

The Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency announced more cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the total number of local cases up to 24. The county has not reported any deaths from the virus.

This morning, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors passed a moratorium on evictions for commercial and residential tenants. The Watsonville City Council passed similar protections last night, and the Santa Cruz City Council will consider such a measure later today.

In terms of comparatively good news, Keith McHenry announced that the Santa Cruz Chapter of the California Homeless Union Officers and Food Not Bombs housed 81 people last night in local hotels. Food Not Bombs spent $5,000 yesterday on hotel rooms for the homeless, McHenry reports. He says the group needs another $5,000 today. For information, including how to donate, visit foodnotbombs.net.

March 23, 3:30pm: Being beach savvy; divvying out protective equipment      

There are now 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, according to the tally provided today by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency. 

As the virus continues spreading, Santa Cruz County officials urged travelers to avoid crowding the beaches. Outdoor exercise is allowed and encouraged as long as it follows social distancing guidelines, officials noted, but “large gatherings are a violation of local and state orders meant to protect the health and safety of all Californians.” Violations are subject to citation and arrest. 

“Santa Cruz County is a popular destination for college students during this time of year,” Sheriff Jim Hart said in a press release. “However, the County is asking everyone to adjust their routines in order to protect everyone’s health including their own, as well as the operations of our critical health care infrastructure.” 

The shelter-in-place orders issued in Santa Cruz County and statewide are aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 30,000 people nationwide and hundreds of thousands globally. 

The county is releasing nearly all of its stockpile of 27,000 N95 masks to local healthcare facilities including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and emergency medical services providers. Distribution “will be done according to highest medical priority” amid a global scarcity of masks. Personal protective equipment that healthcare providers need, including gowns, coveralls, goggles, face shields, and respiratory masks, is in short supply.    

March 20, 4:25pm: Triage facilities for the homeless, reevaluating evictions, and more    

It can be difficult for Santa Cruz’s homeless residents to comply with social distancing guidelines calling for everyone to stay at least six feet from one another.

With that in mind, the city of Santa Cruz has announced new triage centers to help homeless individuals who wish to get out of encampments—as reported by the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The first such facility opened today at Lot 17, across the street from the Kaiser Permanente Arena. A similar facility will likely open on Coral Street, near the Housing Matters campus. Others could soon be on the way. The Lot 17 site has tents with adequate spacing between them. Individuals do not need to be showing symptoms in order to be admitted. The idea is to get the homeless out of encampments. 

“There’s a recognition that obviously we have to protect members of the homeless community that are out and about and who could potentially be hugely impacted by the virus—as well as impact the wider community,” City Manager Martín Bernal tells GT. Bernal credits Susie O’Hara, assistant to the city manager, with leading the charge on this issue.

Although the homeless are exempted from shelter-in-place orders, Gov. Gavin Newsom and local health officials have been talking all week about finding ways to protect them.

Some individuals may be moved to other facilities, like hospitals or hotel rooms within 72 hours, if they need additional attention. The city has also installed hand-washing facilities around town.

“What we’re really trying to do is protect the health and safety of our community and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” says Mayor Justin Cummings.

Other news:

• The Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency posted on its website that there has been another confirmed case of COVID-19 in the county, bringing the total number of known cases locally up to 15. The county has seen no reported deaths from the virus. Statewide, there have been 1,006 positive cases and 19 deaths, according to the state health department. 

• The strict shelter-in-place order—mandating that residents stay home, unless absolutely necessary for “essential” activities—just got a lot bigger. Last night, Gov. Newsom issued a statewide shelter-in-place order, similar to one that was already in effect in Santa Cruz County and surrounding areas. 

• Community Bridges announced Thursday that it is expanding its Lift Line services to all Santa Cruz County seniors over the age of 60 and people with disabilities, regardless of income. The program provides free transportation for grocery store trips and essential medical appointments. To schedule, call Lift Line at 688-9663, Monday-Friday 8am-4pm or Saturday-Sunday 8am-3:30pm. If possible, call one or two days in advance.

• Congressmember Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel) will host a telephone town hall on the local and federal response to COVID-19 tonight at 6pm. Healthcare professionals and members of the Small Business Administration will join him. Click here to sign up or visit panetta.house.gov for more information.

• Santa Cruz METRO is making changes to its schedule effective Monday, with all service running on the Saturday-Sunday schedule until further notice. For full schedule and timetable information, visit scmtd.com.

• Both the Santa Cruz City Council and the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to consider moratoriums on evictions for commercial and residential properties at their March 24 meetings. The city is encouraging people to participate online or via Community Television since there will be limited seating due to the public health requirement that people maintain a six-foot distance from others. Public comments can be sent to the city clerk for inclusion during the meeting. For more info, visit: cityofsantacruz.com/government/city- council/council-meetings.

• The Sentinel reported that 99 Bottles will be closing indefinitely. Owner Mia Bossie cited COVID-19 as the reason. “There’s just no way we’re going to survive this,” she told the Sentinel.

March 19, 3:45pm: The community mobilizes     

Santa Cruz County officials set up a call center to help answer residents’ questions about the coronavirus outbreak. You can call 454-4242 from 8am-6pm, Monday-Friday. Residents will be directed to the appropriate resources when calling that number. 

Citing “overwhelming call volume,” the county is asking people to refrain from calling the County’s Public Health Division or Communicable Disease Unit. People can visit santacruzhealth.org/coronavirus for up-to-date information that may answer many questions. 

A free webinar will be held Friday, March 20, at 3pm to provide guidance and resources for businesses. The webinar will be shown on CommunityTV and streamed on the County’s Facebook page, or it can be viewed here: zoom.us/j/589373809

Volunteers created a hub of information to help with technical support for students who are learning at home and residents who are working from home. They are offering support with networking or technical issues, and they are looking for people willing to help provide this kind of assistance. To learn more, visit cruz.one.

Community Foundation Santa Cruz County created a Local Response Fund with a focus on assisting residents facing financial hardships caused by the public health emergency. The fund will provide financial support for groups in Santa Cruz County that serve vulnerable populations amid the COVID-19 response. 

Tax-deductible donations can be made at cfscc.org/donate/COVID. Donations will be accepted as long as the need continues. Contact the Community Foundation at 662-2061 or [email protected] for help making a donation.

March 19, 2:30pm: Life during shelter-in-place     

The Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency announced that, as of Wednesday, there are now 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county. 

In case you missed it, our sister paper the Pajaronian ran a guide of what is and isn’t allowed while the shelter-in-place order is in effect. We’ve added this to our continually growing list of resources about the coronavirus and understanding the impacts locally.  

Also, while the sheriff has the authority to make arrests and issue fines of up to $1,000 to people violating the shelter-in-place order, he says doing so will not be the priority of his deputies. Santa Cruz Superior Court announced changes, including the delay of all criminal, civil and probate cases until April 17. Santa Cruz METRO buses are still running. As we reported Wednesday, some grocery stores have introduced senior-only hours at the beginning of each shopping day.

March 17, 4pm: First responders prepare    

Fire departments in Santa Cruz County are testing quick response vehicles to “better respond to calls and protect residents and first responders,” according to a county press release. This will help all local fire agencies be ready if there is increased call demand.

Before residents call 911, county health officials are asking people to:

  • Consider home isolation and self-treatment if experiencing mild symptoms like cough
  • Call a local clinic or your primary care physician for instructions on treatment

March 17: More confirmed cases    

The total number of confirmed cases in Santa Cruz County reached 13, according to health officials. The latest tally is continually displayed on the county Health Services Agency page

March 17, 7am: Police operations     

Santa Cruz City Police said they are adopting “preventative operational protocols” to help ensure the health of personnel and the community. Their guidance includes: 

  • Officers may ask to speak with complainants outdoors when possible and will try to keep a distance of 5-6 feet between people. 
  • Officers will have the discretion to handle some complaints by phone.  
  • Some thefts, frauds, or minor incidents (that are not in progress) may be triaged over the phone and determined if an additional in-person response is needed. 
  • Written statements can be emailed to officers. 

March 16, 7:45pm: Business resources  

In response to the shelter-in-place order across the county that required any non-essential businesses to close, the City of Santa Cruz’s Economic Development Department is compiling information to help businesses. Business leaders can find resources about emerging state and federal programs providing assistance in the wake of the public health emergency. The U.S. Small Business Administration will be providing disaster loans for businesses in the county.  

March 16: Shelter-in-place issued    

Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel issued a shelter-in-place order directing residents to only leave their house for essential activities such as trips to the grocery store, bank, gas station, hardware store, and pharmacy. The order is in effect through April 7, though it could be extended. Read the full order

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