As of April 4, there are 15,363 cases of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County, including 200 deaths and 14,975 recovered. For updated information on vaccine eligibility, please check the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (HSA) website.
As of April 4, UC Santa Cruz has a 0.08 percent seven-day positivity rate. Three students are in quarantine and two are in isolation. For more information, please visit UCSC’s Tracking COVID-19 website.
One year after the first shelter-in-place was ordered in Santa Cruz, the county is easing COVID-19 restrictions as vaccine rollout continues. Despite the positive momentum, health officials urge Santa Cruz residents to remain cautious.
As of March 31, Santa Cruz county has vaccinated about 20 percent of its total population, according to the CDC. This includes individuals under 16, a population that is not approved for vaccination. The county’s pace is faster than state and national rollouts, which have currently vaccinated 16.1 percent and 16.4 percent of their total populations, respectively.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said that up to 90 percent of the total population in the country may need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity. This refers to when a large number of people become immune and the spread of a disease is limited. At its current pace, it’s projected that 90 percent vaccination could be achieved by July 26.
While vaccinated Californians await guidance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) about what COVID-19 restrictions do and do not apply to them, county health officials are urging all residents to continue practicing social distancing, mask wearing, and adhering to safety guidelines in light of the county’s move into the Orange or Moderate Tier, effective March 31.
A press release from the County of Santa Cruz Health Agency Services states that under the new tier, retail establishments can operate at full capacity while restaurants, places of worship, movie theaters, and museums can now operate at 50 percent indoor capacity. Bars, breweries, and distilleries can now operate outdoors, while wineries can now operate at 25 percent indoor capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Additionally, gyms and fitness centers can increase indoor capacity from 10 percent to 25 percent.
While exciting to many, the increased re-openings are concerning to health officials.
“[Having] in-classroom learning at the same time as youth sports at the same time as spring break, with many people traveling and opening the economy, it’s a concern, especially watching surges happen elsewhere in the nation,” said health officer Gail Newel. “I’m worried that we’re opening a lot simultaneously.”
Santa Cruz is currently experiencing 4.8 new cases per 100,000 people, as well as a positivity rate of 1.8 percent, which is significantly lower than other counties in California. However, there have also been three confirmed cases of the more transmissible UK variant in the county. While concerning, Newel said extensive contact tracing took place and transmission was not widespread in these three cases.
Newel urged residents, and UCSC students returning from spring break in particular, to continue adhering to the travel advisory that recommends residents stay within 120 miles of their home, and to self-quarantine for ten days if you go travel outside of that.
This comes as Governor Gavin Newsom announced on March 26 that California will expand vaccine eligibility to residents 50 and older on April 1 and all residents 16 and older on April 15 due to an increase in vaccine supplies. At the March 23 Santa Cruz City Council meeting, Director of Planning and Community Development Lee Butler also said that the county has started offering vaccinations to unhoused individuals, including those at the Highway One and Nine encampment.
“Right now, folks are eligible [but] that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to get the vaccine, because the supply is still far short of the demand,” Newel said.
Newel said the county is prepared to scale up vaccination efforts as they will be receiving significantly increased vaccine allocations from the state – doubling current allocations by April 20th and tripling by early June – to help meet this demand.
At UC Santa Cruz, over 2,500 staff and student employees have been vaccinated. As the county begins offering vaccinations to those over the age of 16, the school will stop offering vaccination appointments in the month of April, said Medical Director Elizabeth Miller.
Students who have been living on campus have returned this week from spring break, along with more students who have been approved for housing. The campus has had two positive cases of COVID-19 since spring quarter began, but has had no cases of campus wide spreads, according to UCSC Director of News and Media Scott Hernandez-Jason. However the campus is actively checking the number of cases as concerns over another surge grow.
“We closely monitor campus cases and the figures reported by the county,” said Hernandez-Jason in an email. “We’ve seen how rapidly the situation can change, and we will take appropriate steps if we begin to see another surge.”
As vaccination availability ramps up, plans are being set for students on campus for fall 2021. According to a newsletter sent out on March 23 by Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Herbie Lee, there is going to be more in-person instruction in the fall than previously thought.
The school expects most classes will be held in-person. However classes with more than 150 students will stay online or be offered in a hybrid format. There will still be opportunities for students to learn remotely, while still working toward their degree.
These plans are not set in stone, but are based on there being almost no new daily cases on campus and wide vaccine availability. The newsletter also cautioned a quick change in plans during fall quarter.
“We must be prepared to pivot to remote delivery of instruction should conditions warrant,” the newsletter reads. “As we face the new challenges that fall will bring, we thank you for your flexibility, resilience, and partnership and for your commitment to the continued success of our students.”