EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated from a previous version first published on May 22.
WATSONVILLE—Four ‘clusters’ of Covid-19 cases have been identified in the Watsonville area, all of them associated with large family gatherings, according to Santa Cruz County officials.
There have been at least 205 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the county, 92 of which have been linked to the Watsonville area.
Officials said the recent loosening of restrictions and increased testing is part of the reason for the jump. A failure from the public to follow shelter-in-place orders also led to the spike.
County officials on May 22 said investigations on the so-called ‘clusters’ were still ongoing, but all have been attributed to close contact between households during family gatherings, including one celebrating Mother’s Day and another large assembly involving individuals who traveled from out-of-state.
Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel in a Thursday press conference called the gatherings “well-meaning” and declined to say how the virus started its spread through the families, citing HIPAA concerns. She did, however, say that asymptomatic or presymptomatic carriers are a common way for the illness to spread.
“I would hope that nobody who was actually symptomatic with the illness would go to the family gatherings,” Newel said.
Newel and County Health Services Department Director Mimi Hall did not offer any solutions to how they would slow the spread of Covid-19 during family gatherings, which they directly connected to Watsonville’s large Hispanic population. They did, however, say that they are looking to what other communities are doing to address the gatherings and ramp up their outreach efforts in South County.
“It’s so big in the Hispanic community to come together and have these family gatherings,” Hall said. “We’re using the community to tell us what they think will work.”
Hall said the county has also looked at practices implemented south of the border in Mexico and is providing that information for leaders in the Watsonville area.
The spike in cases came days before Newel updated her countywide shelter-in-place order on Tuesday to allow places of worship and in-store retail to reopen at reduced capacity. The County Board of Supervisors on Friday is also expected to apply for a variance that will allow it to reopen its restaurants for dine-in service.
Those advancements come as Gov. Gavin Newsom has quickly moved through Phase 2 of the state’s so-called resilience roadmap. Newel said that Newsom’s moves are happening more quickly than she feels comfortable with, but explained that county officials are trying to balance the economic devastation created by the shelter-in-place order and health and safety of the public.
“We’re going to give this a try, we’re going to reopen along with the governor, and see how our economy does and see how our public health data looks, and we’ll go from there,” she said. “Time will tell.”