Current positivity rates in Santa Cruz County’s low-income and disadvantaged communities are among the worst in the state and Bay Area region, according to data reported by the California Department of Public Health.
The county’s “Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate,” or test positivity rates in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods, was 22.7% on Wednesday, much higher than the overall county positivity rate of 12.3%. Only hard-hit counties in the Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions have higher Health Equity positivity rates.
The Health Equity number, according to the state, focuses on the positivity rate data of test results coming from census tracts that have “low health conditions” as determined by the state’s Healthy Places Index.
The county’s troubling health equity numbers underscore the impact the pandemic has had on Watsonville, a primarily Latinx community with three census tracts that are in the bottom fourth of the Healthy Places Index range.
More than half of the county’s 11,447 cases have been identified in Watsonville, despite the city accounting for less than a fourth of the county’s population. The county’s Latinx residents, about a third of its population, have also been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, making up more than half of the area’s cases.
There have been roughly 6,100 cases in Watsonville since the start of the pandemic, meaning about one out of every nine residents in the city of some 55,000 has had Covid-19.
That trend is not unique to Santa Cruz County. According to state data released Jan. 6, Latinx Californians have accounted for 55.1% of Covid-19 cases and 47% of deaths related to the disease. White Californians, the second largest demographic in the state, have accounted for 20% of cases and 31.6% of deaths.
To try to make up for this and other inequities, counties are required to implement a Targeted Equity Investment Plan detailing their efforts of how they planned to promote “an equitable recovery.” Santa Cruz County’s most recent plan detailed a five-pronged attack that sought to improve testing, contact tracing, isolation support, data collection and community engagement, especially in South County.
In all, that plan distributed about $8 million worth of grants and other investments to various organizations such as UCSC, Santa Cruz Community Ventures, Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust, the South County Communications Task Force and Salud Para La Gente.
Despite that, cases in Watsonville—and the rest of the county—have continued to rise. And county officials say the next two weeks will be the most trying time of the pandemic.
The current surge, which began in early November, is starting to plateau as cases county officials believe were spread during Halloween and Thanksgiving gatherings have slowed. But cases resulting from Christmas and New Year’s gatherings, says Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel, are beginning to arise.
“Our case counts and test positivity rates are extraordinarily high right now and we would expect those to rise in the coming weeks as we absorb a surge in cases from the holidays,” she said in a prepared statement. “It is extraordinarily important—more important now than ever—that people stay home if possible, wear masks if they do go out in public, and especially avoid gathering with others outside your household. Don’t put yourself and your loved ones at risk.”
There were about 2,800 active cases in the county Wednesday, and the death toll continued its climb to 111 county residents. More than 8,500 residents have recovered from the disease, and about 330 have required hospitalization. That includes the 79 patients in county hospitals as of Wednesday, 14 of which were in the ICU, according to state data.
There were no ICU beds available in the county Wednesday, a statistic that closely mirrored the rest of the Bay Area region, which will be under the stay-at-home order until conditions improve, the CDPH announced this week.