Coronavirus

Health Officer: Covid-19 Cases Surging in Santa Cruz County

Public Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel addresses media on Thursday, July 16. PHOTO: JACOB PIERCE

Santa Cruz County’s Covid-19 case count surged this week, and the number of active cases now significantly exceeds the number of recoveries from the disease.

According to the county’s coronavirus page that tracks data on the pandemic, there are 382 active cases, and 321 people have recovered from the disease.

“There is a significant increase in our case rate,” Santa Cruz County Public Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said at a Thursday morning press conference. “The trend is definitely a steeply rising curve. So we believe that the county is joining the rest of the state of California in entering a surge.”

Newel believes it’s possible that recent events, like the memorial for a slain sheriff’s deputy Damon Gutzwiller and protests, may have contributed to the Covid-19 surge, although she didn’t say that contact tracers have specifically confirmed that. Newel does not think the county is seeing test results yet stemming from activity over the July 4 weekend. In any case, the potential for community spread is now quite high. “There are people out and about in our community who don’t even know they have the disease,” she said.

Newel reiterated the following social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of disease:

  • Do not gather outside your household unit, in line with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders to stay at home;
  • If you do gather, it is safer to do so outdoors than it is indoors;
  • Keep any and all visits as brief as possible;
  • Try to maintain a six-foot distance from others;
  • Wear face coverings in public at all times, unless you’re outdoors and far away from other people

Newel says Santa Cruz County is now teetering close to the thresholds that would require many more industries to shut down. At this rate, she expects that to happen within about two weeks, based on the metrics she’s watching.

Newel says she’s not, however, considering issuing new restrictions on beaches.

“The beach decision was complex, with a lot of factors,” she says. “A big factor was that it didn’t make sense to close the beach to disincentivize tourism when the state of California’s promoting tourism and allowing tourism. If the state takes a different tune and closes down tourism, then it may make some sense to do some beach restrictions. But that’s not on the table now. I want to be clear about that before my email inbox fills up with hate mail again.”

Newel said that Santa Cruz County still has one of the lowest per-capita rates of Covid-19 in California. She thanked the community for its commitment to social distancing guidelines for making that happen.

“The community’s willingness to play their part has resulted in us having very low case rates—and more importantly, low hospitalization and especially low death rates,” she said. “The fact that we’ve only had three deaths to date where Covid was a factor is really remarkable. We stand out in the state as one of the safest counties.”

The news around the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve quickly. Pajaro Valley Unified School District has signaled that classes will begin online on Aug. 17, and Newsom may make a big announcement tomorrow about education statewide.

All the while, Santa Cruz County’s increase of new cases is steepening.

“This county is no longer on a flat curve,” Newel said. “We did a great job of keeping our curve flat for six months. Those six months were very important. They bought us time to get ready for the surge. It gave us time to get enough PPE, to learn more about the virus, to allow our providers to learn more about how better to treat it, how better to diagnose it, how the disease is spread. So they are an important six months, but the flat-curve days are over. So even though we are better than our neighboring counties, relatively speaking, we are definitely heading into a surge.”

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