Santa Cruz County Enters Orange Tier; Latest COVID-19 Case Count

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, CA — More services can now increase indoor capacity after Santa Cruz County moved into the less-restrictive orange tier Monday.

The orange tier is the second-lowest tier in the state four-tiered, color-coded risk system and indicates a “moderate” COVID-19 risk level. Santa Cruz County is seeing reduced COVID-19 transmission levels, but cases are expected to increase into the winter months, the county said in a statement. Nationally, cases have already begun to rise.

The news came hours after county officials announced plans to ramp up testing for the coronavirus and said that an outbreak at a Watsonville skilled nursing facility appears to have subsided.

The following reopenings are now allowed in Santa Cruz County, with safety restrictions:

  • Restaurants (half-capacity indoors)

  • Worship houses (half-capacity indoors)

  • Gyms and fitness centers (25 percent capacity or 100 people indoors; whichever is fewer)

  • Movie theaters (half-capacity indoors)

  • Museums (half-capacity indoors)

  • Retail (full capacity indoors)

  • Bars, breweries and distilleries (outdoor operations only)

  • Wineries (25 percent capacity or 100 people indoors; whichever is fewer)

  • Amusement parks (outdoors only and 25 percent capacity or 100 people; whichever is fewer)

  • Family entertainment Centers (25 percent capacity)

  • Non-essential Offices (indoors with modifications)

  • Live-audience sports (outdoors, regional visitors only; 20 percent capacity)

Residents are asked to continue wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, staying home when sick and avoiding large group gatherings.

County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said during a Tuesday morning press conference that an outbreak at Watsonville Post Acute Center — one of seven skilled nursing facilities in the county — appears to have stabilized. No patients are currently infected and there have been no recent new infections, she said.

There were 74 residents of the center when the outbreak first began in mid-September, and 50 residents and 21 staff tested positive for COVID-19, she said. Fifteen deaths have been linked to the outbreak.

Newel said the center has followed all precautions and remained in consultation with county and state officials. The center is not accepting new patients.

“It’s a tragedy, but its probably unavoidable that this happened,” she said.

Mimi Hall, county Health Services Agency Director, announced plans to expand testing capacity in Santa Cruz County. Widespread testing is key to staying in a lesser tier, she said.

The county is seeking to add a testing site in Mid- to North County that can provide 165 tests per day, she said. Officials have also put in a request to the state health department officials to provide resources that would allow the county to double testing capacity at a Watsonville site and provide 330 tests there per day, for four days.

The University of California, Santa Cruz lab has expanded its efforts to regularly test on-campus students and staff, Hall said. The university continues to serve as a backup lab for the county and health system partners.

Newel urged residents to seek COVID-19 testing as soon as they start noticing associated symptoms and get a flu shot. People are more susceptible to COVID-19 if they have the flu. Some have already fallen ill with both the flu and COVID-19.

“Please, this year more than ever, it’s important to get your flu shot,” she said.

Locally, most people who test positive for COVID-19 have contracted the virus after being in close contact with a sick person, which is now defined as being within six feet of someone for a cumulative of 15 minutes over the course of 24 hours, she said.

In Santa Cruz County, the coronavirus continues to disparately affect Latinx residents in Watsonville, Newel said. A third of Santa Cruz County’s population is Latinx, but two-thirds of COVID-19 patients are Latinx.

People ages 20 to 34 are also more likely to contract COVID-19, she said.

With Halloween and Día de los Muretos days ahead, officials stressed that people should still take a pass on festivities and keep any celebrations as safe as possible.

They reiterated that newly released state guidelines on gatherings call for brief, outdoor, socially distant gatherings with a stable cohort of three households. Risk increases if food or drink is shared and it’s best to maintain distance from others in such situations.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 2,281 Santa Cruz County residents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Twenty-five have died.

There are currently 207 active known cases.

Here’s the breakdown by community:

  • Aptos: 122

  • Ben Lomond: 23

  • Boulder Creek: 23

  • Capitola: 65

  • Felton: 28

  • Freedom: 159

  • Santa Cruz: 556

  • Scotts Valley: 68

  • Soquel: 66

  • Watsonville: 1,600

  • Unincorporated: 33

  • Under investigation: 78

Learn more about Santa Cruz County restrictions and reopenings here.

This article originally appeared on the Santa Cruz Patch

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