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January 17, 2021

Covid-19 cases surge despite regional lockdowns

CENTRAL COAST—An estimated 10 million people took to the skies over the Christmas holiday despite being urged by health officials, law agencies and politicians around the country, and locally, to stay at home and not continue to spread the coronavirus through gatherings.

Despite regional lockdowns around the state, the words superspreader, surge and second wave are becoming everyday terms.

On Tuesday, the total number of Covid-19 cases in California since the start of the pandemic inched closer to 2.2 million. Nearly 25,000 Californians have died with Covid-19. The state does not report the total number of Californians that have recovered from the disease, though hundreds of thousands have done so, including more than 5,800 of the roughly 8,200 Santa Cruz County residents that have tested positive.

County officials have reported that 83 have died with Covid-19 locally. There are more than 2,300 active cases in the county.

Santa Cruz County Public Health Officer Gail Newel recently expressed her deepening concern by noting that it appeared many people in the county had not grasped the breadth of the crisis, especially at area hospitals, in reference to ICU beds spilling over with Covid-19 patients.

Since the start of December, there have been seven or fewer available ICU beds in the county—there are 22 state-licensed ICU beds in the county, Newel said at a recent press conference.

Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker said staving off the urge to gather at parties and large family meals for upcoming New Year’s Eve is critical to slowing the spread of Covid-19.

“With ICU beds near capacity and the highest rates of infection since the start of the pandemic, it’s more important now than ever that families not gather outside their household,” he wrote in an email. “Gathering continues to be the highest risk activity and the primary source of spreading Covid. These next few weeks are going to be tough; don’t put your family and friends at risk.”

Huffaker said Watsonville Police officers will continue to enforce the stay-at-home order as they have since it went into effect in March. 

“Our focus over the last several months has been trying to achieve voluntary compliance with the stay-at-home orders,” he wrote. “As we approach New Year’s Eve weekend, we will continue to enforce on large gatherings that are reported or that our officers come across. Of course, our hope is that it won’t come to that and that our residents will be extra cautious given the large uptick in active cases.”

The City of Santa Cruz is asking revelers to stay home on New Year’s Eve, when thousands of people typically gather for an unsanctioned celebration that culminates with a countdown at the Clock Tower.

Doing so could be easier this year, as Pacific Avenue will not be closed to traffic, as it normally is for the revelry, and restaurants and bars will be largely closed, says Santa Cruz Police Deputy Chief Bernie Escalante.

A handful of officers will be on patrol, whose job will be educating the public of the importance of Covid-19 safety measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and staying home, Escalante says.

“We’re not anticipating a crowd, or even a fair amount of people to be downtown at all,” he said. “The large majority of citizens are pretty compliant, and for the most part our community has been very easy to deal with. Sometimes it just takes a friendly reminder.”

On Tuesday, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties eclipsed 300 combined Covid-19 deaths. 

The regional lockdown is up for re-evaluation on Jan. 8 for the Bay Area, the region in which Santa Cruz and Monterey counties are included.

In California, Covid-19 hospitalizations have climbed drastically, Gov. Gavin Newsom said. But with the first batch of 327,000 vaccine doses filtered out across the state over the past two weeks, Newsom said he was hopeful that lockdown restrictions might get pared down in the coming month.

As the year winds down and revelers search their attics or garages for party hats and 2020 gets its final curtain call Thursday night, Huffaker suggested an alternative to yet another gathering: “There are a number of virtual New Years Eve parties that people can tune into, including watching the ball drop in Times Square. I encourage people to celebrate the start of a New Year and new beginnings with their family safely at home.”


Managing Editor Tony Nuñez and reporter Todd Guild contributed to this story.

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