Coronavirus

Memorial Day Weekend Presents Covid Test Case for Santa Cruz

When the county will open up and how hospitals are coping

Robust testing is key to containing the coronavirus. PHOTO: DENNIS MOYNIHAN, QUEST DIAGNOSTICS

The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and Memorial Day Weekend is about to start.

Normally, all of that would make for crowded beaches, traffic-filled streets and busy restaurants. However, when it comes to containing the Covid-19 pandemic, the traditional fun in the sun presents a worst-case scenario, explains Dr. Gail Newel, the public health officer for Santa Cruz County, where beaches have been partially closed for about three weeks.

“Of course, we’re concerned about beaches, and we’re concerned about tourism during the warmer summer months, which traditionally brings huge crowds into the Santa Cruz County area,” Newel said at a press conference Thursday. “We considered closing the beaches altogether over this coming Memorial Day Weekend.”

Beaches are still closed countywide from 11am-5pm to walkers and joggers. Santa Cruz County beaches stay open for surfing, swimming and water activities. The beaches are closed at all hours for lounging, barbecuing, sitting, and partying. Beachgoers must keep six feet from one another at all times. In consultation with law enforcement, county leaders and local city officials, Newel decided not to enact a full closure on county beaches this weekend, like she did over the week of Easter.

Instead, she is opting to see how Memorial Day Weekend goes. The stakes are high, with the Fourth of July weekend hanging in the balance.

“If it goes really well, we might be able to keep things open for Fourth of July, but we’ll see how things go this weekend,” Newel said. “I know that tourism is a huge part of our culture and our economy, but that is perhaps our greatest danger from a disease perspective. The governor’s stay-at-home order is still very much in place, and Californians are expected to remain local in their own homes and communities until the governor relaxes those, which will be probably many weeks or months in the future, if not longer. It’s a very important part of disease control to control non-essential travel, including that for tourism.”

There have been 186 known Covid-19 cases in Santa Cruz County, according to information provided Thursday evening by county health officials. Two people in the county have died from Covid-19, and 128 have recovered. According to an online graph on the county’s coronavirus response site, Thursday represented the biggest jump in new cases the county has seen to date. Statewide as of Thursday, there have been 86,197 Covid-19 cases and 3,542 deaths, according to the California Department of Public Health

FOR VARIANCE REASONS

Like most of California, Santa Cruz County is getting ready to continue proceeding with its coronavirus response and reopenings. Newel said she’ll issue a revised version of her shelter-in-place order that will go into effect at 11:59pm on Tuesday, May 26.

Aligning with state guidelines, the new order will allow for the opening of more businesses. That includes office spaces, car washes, pet grooming, and expanded childcare, as well as outdoor museums and open galleries in public spaces—all with modifications. California is currently in stage two of its four-stage reopening strategy.

Also, Santa Cruz County is getting ready to file an attestation and apply for a variance, allowing the county to enter a more advanced portion of stage two, said Mimi Hall, director of the county Health Services Agency (HSA).

Last week, the HSA did not meet the contact tracing and testing requirements necessary to qualify for a variance. Earlier this week, the state of California loosened the requirements. As a result, Santa Cruz County now meets them. Hall said HSA administrators plan to submit the needed paperwork for the variance to the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, June 2, for a vote. The variance would additionally need approval from the California Department of Public Health before taking effect.

If approved, the variance would allow for the opening of shopping malls, swap meets, in-restaurant dining and schools—all with modifications. The county does not have the authority to open up additional sectors of the economy.

“Many people have questions about lots of other items, such as personal services and movie theaters,” Hall said. “None of those are currently in stage two of the state. They’re all in stage three, and our health officer does not have the ability to open those up before the state.”

Santa Cruz County now has robust enough testing to proceed with more reopenings, but the county is still ramping up test capacity toward where Hall and Newel say it needs it to be. Hall said the goal is for everyone in the county to be able to get a test, whether they are symptomatic or not.

Hall also said that the county will soon quadruple the size of the contact tracing team to 60 contact tracers over the next month. The contact tracing team follows cases of Covid-19 and works to contain its spread. 

PROTECTIVE MEASURES

Local supplies of personal protective equipment are mostly quite strong.

Local hospitals now have 30-day supplies built up, Hall said, and skilled nursing facilities all have two weeks’ worth of supplies. The county, she added, has been getting big shipments of nasopharyngeal swabs—5,000 at a time, which is welcome news, as they are essential for testing.

However, Deputy Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci said the county’s supply of gowns is low. Supplies became especially constrained, he said, once dentists returned to work and started requesting gowns from the HSA.

“We just don’t have them, and they’re not available,” he said. “I’m going to publicly ask all of our healthcare providers, to the extent possible, to obtain linen-type gowns or reusable gowns that can be laundered. Obviously, disposable gowns are the standard way of doing this, but they’re just in short supply.”

The county does take in some shipments of gowns, which the HSA distributes, Ghilarducci said, but dentists are at a lower priority right for receiving them. He understands dentists have concerns about risk of exposure, given that they reach into the mouths of their patients, although he noted that offices should be screening patients ahead of time.

Ghilarducci added that some local firefighters have discovered a “reasonable substitute” by wearing rain jackets and then decontaminating them once they’re done using them.

PUT A RING ON IT

County Spokesperson Jason Hoppin says that, if someone spots anyone who they believe to be violating the county’s health orders, they should call the county’s coronavirus call center at 831-454-4242.

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