By Jondi Gumz
On Aug. 24, with the state seeing the fastest increase in COVID-19 cases due to the more contagious Delta variant and a state order for healthcare workers to vaccinate, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted to require COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing for county employees.
“This is a significant statement by the Board on the importance of vaccinations to protect the health and safety of our community,” Board Chair Supervisor Bruce McPherson said. “Our employees have demonstrated leadership through their already high vaccination rates, and the Board encourages every community member to follow suit if they are able to obtain a vaccine.”
At the time of the vote, Santa Cruz County ranked 13th among California’s 58 health jurisdictions for vaccination, with 68.7 percent of eligible residents fully vaccinated and 77.7 percent with at least one dose.
The vote gave employees 30 days to comply with the mandate or submit to weekly testing.
Employees who do not comply will face leave without pay or termination.
An employee who refuses to vaccinate or test weekly “will be deemed to have subjected co-workers to unnecessary safety risks,” according to the staff report from the County Administrative Office. “Appropriate action may include a leave without pay for non-compliance or termination based on the circumstances. Simply allowing the employee to continue working would not be an acceptable option.”
Due process in the form of a Skelly hearing is required for permanent employees who have a constitutionally protected interest in their job.
Palacios did not have an estimate of the cost to carry out this mandate.
Potentially the state could provide testing kits for free. If not, the cost of the kits is estimated at $40 or more, with the cost of testing administrators estimated at $70 to $100 per hour.
County government is the second largest employer in Santa Cruz County; UC Santa Cruz is the largest.
As of Sept. 1, Santa Cruz County has vaccinated 68.7 percent of the population with at least one shot, and 61 percent are fully vaccinated.
Cases Slow Down
Three deaths were recorded in August, bringing the number of fatalities in the county to 210. All three who died in August were unvaccinated and had underlying conditions.
The number of COVID cases dropped from 923 to 871, according to the county dashboard, which is updated on Monday and Thursdays. New cases are mostly in north Santa Cruz County.
The 14-day change, a metric that is updated on Wednesdays, showed cases down 1 percent — a big change from increasing 64 percent, and then 23 percent earlier in the month.
The number of hospitalizations, which had been as low as 12, rose to 21, with five people in intensive care, and 3 ICU beds available.
On Aug. 23, federal regulators granted full approval to the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which means the fact sheet people get will no longer describe the vaccine as experimental.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had granted the Pfizer vaccine emergency use authorization in December after a clinical trial of 44,000 people 16 and older were followed for a median of two months after their second shot. Half got the shot, and half got a placebo, the FDA said, with the vaccine 91 percent effective.
To get full approval, Pfizer followed 12,000 people for at least six months, the FDA said, and more studies will be required to assess the risk of heart damage as higher risk was observed for males under age 40, with the highest risk for those age 12 to 17.
The Pfizer vaccine will now be marketed as “Comirnaty.”
FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock, in announcing the approval, said, “We recognize for some, the FDA approval may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated.”
To help meet demands for free COVID-19 testing, Santa Cruz County Public Health and OptumServe has added a third testing lane at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, bringing daily testing capacity to 594.
Hours are Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 6:45 p.m., with closures from 11 a.m.-noon and 4-5 p.m.
Walk-ins will be accommodated if possible, but to guarantee your test, make an appointment at lhi.care/covidtesting/.
On Sept. 1, a second lane was added at the Ramsay Park OptumServe testing site in Watsonville, boosting daily testing capacity to 396.
Hours are Wednesday-Sunday from 7 a.m. to 6:45 p.m., and closed from 11 a.m.-noon and 4-5 p.m. Make an appointments at https://lhi.care/covidtesting/
Starting Sept. 10, County Public Health will open a mobile testing bus which can handle 84 tests per day, at Community Bridges’ Mountain Community Resource Center in Felton. Hours will be Friday-Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the foreseeable future.
For information on rapid-turnaround tests see www.santacruzhealth.org/coronavirus under “Get Tested” link. Some sites may charge a fee.
For local information on COVID-19, call (831) 454-4242 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The OptumServe mass vaccination site at 250 Main St., Watsonville, which closed Aug. 29 to transfer operations to County Public Health, will reopen Thursday, Sept. 9, and The site wprovide Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Hours will be Thursdays, 9 a.m. –1 p.m., Fridays, 2–6 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m. –1 p.m. and Sundays, 2–6 p.m.
Once reopened, appointments may be made at www.MyTurn.ca.gov.Walk-ins will be accommodated when possible.
For other vaccine locations, see www.santacruzhealth.org/coronavirusvaccine
Indoor Mask Mandate
On Aug. 21, the Santa Cruz County Health Officer mandate for face coverings to be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status took effect.
“While vaccination remains the best and most effective tool in preventing COVID-19, the Delta variant spreads quickly among the unvaccinated and may even be passed between vaccinated persons, although their symptoms are usually mild, said Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel. “Face coverings will provide added protection until everyone is able to be vaccinated, especially children.”
The order is to sunset once community transmission levels return to “moderate” (Yellow level), as determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. See https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view.
San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties had already ordered face coverings indoors to stop the spread.
The indoor mask mandate applies to all businesses and governmental entities, which must require employees to wear masks and post signs that are clearly visible and easy-to-read at all entry points for indoor settings informing the public.
The state’s mandate for full vaccination or weekly testing of all teachers and support staff is to be fully implemented by Oct. 15.
In a case highlighted by the federal Centers for Disease Control, an unvaccinated Marin County elementary school teacher tested positive in May, with 22 of the 24 students, all ineligible for vaccine, getting positive test results.
For those in the two rows seated closest to the teacher’s desk, eight of 10 were positive compared to four of 14 in the three back rows. The outbreak “highlights the importance of vaccinating school staff members who are in close indoor contact with children ineligible for vaccination as schools reopen,” according to health officials who investigated.
Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Education Faris Sabbah said all unvaccinated school employees are being tested at least weekly in compliance with the recent statewide order.
COVID Cases by Town
As of Aug. 30
Aptos: 988 • Ben Lomond: 192 • Boulder Creek: 256 • Capitola: 542 • Felton: 214 • Freedom: 1,058 • Santa Cruz: 4,809 • Scotts Valley: 578 • Soquel: 444 • Watsonville: 8,626 • Unincorporated: 317
Under investigation: 316
County COVID Deaths: 210
As of Aug. 30
90 and up: 56 • 80 to 89: 63 • 70 to 79: 46 • 60 to 69: 27 • 50 to 59: 5 • 40 to 49: 8 • 30 to 39: 5
White: 116 • Latinx: 75 • Asian: 15 • Black: 1 • Amer. Indian/Alaskan Native: 1
Yes: 164 • No: 46
Male: 105 • Female: 105
Source: Santa Cruz County Public Health