Coronavirus

Managing the Coronavirus Response Effort in Santa Cruz County

COVID-19 cases continue rising as officials urge social distancing

This nearly empty Main Beach on Monday is what county authorities are hoping for as they direct locals to avoid large gatherings and practice social distancing when they are outside. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

Stay home. Practice social distancing. Help flatten the curve. 

These are some of the messages Santa Cruz County health officials are sending out to residents amid the coronavirus outbreak. There were 24 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, in the county as of Tuesday, and that number is expected to continue rising as more people are tested. 

There are more than 44,000 cases of COVID-19 nationwide, according to data Monday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization said the global spread of the respiratory illness is an “accelerating” pandemic. 

Though Santa Cruz County and the state of California issued shelter-in-place orders limiting people to outings only for essential needs, state and local officials have been sending urgent reminders about just what that means and why it’s important for everyone’s health.   

The orders are aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus by giving it fewer opportunities for person-to-person transmission. When people do go out for essential needs like getting food and visiting the pharmacy, the orders require everyone to follow social distancing guidelines by remaining six feet apart. Such measures can help with what’s known as flattening the curve, or keeping the number of cases at a given time at a manageable level for the healthcare sector. Otherwise, the growing number of cases could exceed what hospitals are able to treat. 

There is already a global scarcity of some essential medical supplies due to the pandemic and hoarding by individuals, the county said Monday. The county is releasing nearly all of its stockpile of 27,000 N95 masks to healthcare facilities including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and emergency medical services providers on the frontline locally responding to the pandemic. Distribution of masks “will be done according to highest medical priority,” the county said in a press release. The county is setting up a drop-off site this week for people who wish to donate personal protective equipment such as coveralls, goggles, face shields, and respiratory masks.

Here’s what else has been happening around the county during the past few days in response to the coronavirus and its ripple effects: 

Beach Warning  

Local officials urged travelers to avoid crowding the county’s 32 miles of 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.” 

Helping the Homeless   

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 announced new triage centers to help homeless individuals who wish to get out of encampments.

The first such facility opened Friday 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 Good Times. 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 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 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.

Assistance Available    

Many local nonprofits and community groups have expanded their services to help those impacted by the coronavirus outbreak and the shelter-in-place orders. Community Bridges expanded its Lift Line services to all Santa Cruz County residents 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, from 8am-4pm Monday-Friday or 8am-3:30pm Saturday-Sunday. If possible, call one or two days in advance.

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.

Health Tips    

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. 

COVID-19 presents a higher risk for some groups, particularly people over 60 years old and people with certain chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and lung diseases.


Coronavirus Coverage

For continuing in-depth coverage of the new coronavirus and its effects locally, 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.

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