Coronavirus

Two More Residents Die of Covid-19; County Reports Case Undercount

County officials say technical error led to undercount of Covid-19 cases

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

Two Santa Cruz County residents died Tuesday due to complications from the novel coronavirus, Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel announced during a Wednesday press conference.

The fatalities bring the county’s death toll to six. Newel said Covid-19 was the leading factor in the latest deaths—unlike two previous reported deaths in which the disease was a contributing factor. 

Newel said one of the county residents who died did not seek medical care while they had the disease. She did not release any other details about the deaths.

“Don’t take any risks with this disease,” Newel said. “It can be fatal.”

According to the county’s data dashboard, there were 825 known active Covid-19 cases as of Wednesday morning. But Newel said the current count is not accurate because of a “glitch” with the state’s reporting program, CalREDIE. The online platform, Newel said, has had problems with uploading the mass volumes of Covid-19 test results over the last seven to 10 days. In the meantime, all positive Covid-19 lab results will instead be sent via fax to local county health offices.

In a Tuesday press conference, the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the state is missing up to 30% of positive results from the last seven to 10 days because of the technical error. 

Newel said that number is much lower in Santa Cruz County because many testing and processing sites in the county do not use CalREDIE to report their results. She guessed that roughly 100 cases have gone unreported in the county.

Before she was informed of the error in an emergency call with state officials on Monday night, a recently-flattening case rate curve had given her optimism that the county was on the right track.

“Now we know that’s probably because of the faulty data that we’ve been receiving,” she said.

Local health officials are following more than 20 “outbreaks” across the county, Newel said. Six of the seven skilled nursing facilities have had at least one case, which fits the county’s definition of an outbreak for those facilities.

Newel said two shelters, three first responder units, five residential care facilities and five businesses—including three in the agricultural industry—are also dealing with outbreaks. Also, two inmates in the county jail system have tested positive—both of them new intakes into the jail—and are now in isolation.

To help protect the ag industry during its summer season, Newel said the county has leased the Roadway Inn—a 90-room hotel in Watsonville—to help isolate farmworkers and their families who have tested positive for or been exposed to Covid-19 if they cannot do so in their homes.

Getting a test and receiving timely results remains a problem, Newel said, as supplies to conduct and process tests remain scarce. But the county recently made a $1 million investment into UCSC’s processing site, which could increase that site’s daily capacity from 250 tests to roughly 900, according to Newel. However, the equipment purchased with the allocation has not yet arrived and will still need to undergo quality testing before it is utilized.

The county’s contact tracers are struggling to keep up with the number of positive test results—roughly 50 a day—that the county is recording. So Newel said the county is using some of its federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act so that county clinics and health partners such as Salud Para La Gente in Watsonville can hire contact tracers who will begin case investigations.

The county’s contact tracers will focus on the most vulnerable populations such as those in a shelter, elder care and migrant housing, Newel said.

County employees also continue to deal with furloughs because of mass revenue lost as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Newel brushed off questions asking about the impact the furloughs have had on staff’s response to the pandemic, but was critical about the numerous gaps in the public health landscape that have arisen since Covid-19 started its spread.

“If we spent our health care dollars in different ways, in prevention, in public health, we would be in a very different situation with this pandemic than we are,” Newel said.

UPDATED Aug. 6, 5:30pm: This story was updated to reflect that the county’s previous report of all seven skilled nursing facilities having cases was incorrect. Valley Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center in Watsonville has not had a Covid-19 positive case.

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