Santa Cruz County Health Services AgencyOpinion 

County Health Department Pandemic Update

By Chris Finnie

On July 22, Dr. Gail Newel, Health Officer, County of Santa Cruz, and medical providers from different medical groups in the county gave updates on the status of covid-19 in our county.

As Dr. Newel noted, the medical professionals were unmasked because they were outdoors and vaccinated, and with room to distance, masks were optional.

Santa Cruz County Public Health Department mask update

However, she stressed that it was important for everybody else to get a vaccine. because the pandemic is not over. She’s expecting more cases in the fall, and the county is seeing rising cases already now. 80% of the new cases in state are the more contagious Delta variant, and we’re seeing that variant in Santa Cruz County as well in about 40% of new cases.

If you read, watch, or listen to the news, you’ve heard the term “the pandemic of the unvaccinated.” And speakers stressed that it’s true in California too. The case rate among unvaccinated Californians is 10 in 10,000. Among people who are vaccinated, it’s only 2 in 10,000. Only 2% of vaccinated Californians have gotten sick. Another doctor said those breakthrough cases are usually mild or asymptomatic. None of those patients have been hospitalized or have died. However, hospitalization rates among the unvaccinated are rising with the case rates.

Another doctor stressed that the shots are free and more widely available than ever. In fact, in many pharmacies, you can just walk in without an appointment. Dr. Newel urged people who want a vaccine to go to for information on where to go.

She expressed her hope that the number of vaccinated residents in the county will expand now that the shots are approved for children 12 and over. She also noted that the major source of transmission right now is in people under 30. Younger people tend to congregate in crowded places like bars, and they have the lowest rate of vaccination. But they can still get very sick and die–even if they were healthy before getting infected.

Currently, 60% of eligible county residents are vaccinated. The Clinical Director of Women’s Health at Salud Para La Gente said the vaccine is safe for pregnant women and actually good for breastfeeding babies. She suggested that women talk to their medical provider if they have questions.

A long-time pediatrician from Santa Cruz Community Health Centers talked about all vaccinations, saying shots for kids are safer and more effective than they used to be—including the covid-19 vaccines. He said the only reason they don’t have full FDA approval yet is that the approval process is so rigorous. But, if you look at how many people worldwide have had the shots, it’s been proven safe in a much bigger cohort than normal drug trials.

Dr. Newel also cautioned that symptoms from the Delta variant may be more like a cold or allergies, with sniffles and a sore throat that were not common in earlier variants. So it’s even more important that, if you feel sick, you stay home until you feel better or have a negative test result.

In response to questions from other reporters, speakers said that:

  • County Health is working with the farm bureau and agriculture director to make sure seasonal workers get tests and vaccinations. They’re even offering tests and shots on-site in the fields and packing plants.
  • 80% of Dominican Hospital staff is vaccinated. Doctors are at about 90%. They have no mandate yet, but they’re discussing the idea.
  • Dr. Newell says no business or school closures are planned in the future unless things “get very dire.”
  • Resistance studies show some people are cautious and want full FDA approval, which is probably coming soon. Others cite a lack of time. The rest are opposed to vaccinations.
  • The state is doing genomic testing on a random 10% of samples. UCSC is one of their labs and is also doing their own testing and some for the county for vulnerable patients. Having that local capability is really a benefit for Santa Cruz County, though results still take 2 weeks. So the results are more about trends than predictive.

In closing, Dr. Newel stressed that the county recommendation is that, even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings. Unvaccinated people should always wear them in public.

Reporters received a handout of upcoming vaccination clinics in the county. Local ones include clinics at Liberty Bank in Boulder Creek from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on:

  • Saturday, July 31
  • Saturday, August 7
  • Saturday, August 21

There are also several in Santa Cruz at Barrios Unidos and the Museum of Art & History. Go to for dates and times.

Chris Finnie has lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains for 25 years. She has contributed articles and columns to several local newspapers before landing at the San Lorenzo Valley Post at its inception.

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