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August 11, 2020

Santa Cruz County COVID-19 testing still limited as cases increase

SANTA CRUZ—More than 175 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in Santa Cruz County, and 24 of them have come back positive. 

That’s according to county Health Services Director Mimi Hall, who at Tuesday morning’s Board of Supervisors meeting said that the county is still limited in its testing capacity and is instead using its available tests on targeted populations.

That includes people who are hospitalized, deemed high risk for severe illness from coronavirus and hospital workers who have been exposed to the virus.

“There’s a huge demand for testing, and in an ideal world we would have broad availability of testing… but we don’t have that capacity, so from the very beginning of this we have approached this as community spread,” Hall said.

Hall said further testing would require increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE), which is in short supply both locally and nationally. That equipment, Hall said, should be reserved for a possible healthcare surge in the future as more cases come forward.

The County recently received a stockpile of 27,000 N95 masks—5 percent of which will be reserved for unanticipated future critical needs—that will soon be distributed to local hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, federally qualified health care clinics and urgent care facilities, emergency medical services responders and in-custody medical providers. 

The stockpile includes 10,000 N95 masks recently donated by Facebook. 

The distribution of masks will be done according to highest medical priority, county officials said. 

Each site that receives a portion of the distribution will determine how it will implement the equipment. County officials encourage those providers to follow guidelines implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our expectation is that when everybody receives this, everyone will be really good stewards of the supply,” Hall said. “We’re putting the power in their hands.”

Halsen Healthcare CEO Dan Brothman said Watsonville Community Hospital is well stocked and that staff there does a daily county of their PPE gear.

On Tuesday this included 20,000 gowns, 15,000 masks and 8,795 of the specialized N95 masks, according to Brothman, whose company owns WCH.

A subcommittee is working on finding additional supply lines, he said.

Brothman said that the N95 masks are a scarce resource throughout the U.S., and so they are reserved for critical needs.

“We’re trying to use those only when we need them,” he said.

The hospital also has 930 cases of hand sanitizer, and an additional 55-gallon drum that was donated by a distiller, Brothman said.

While the County stockpile is now depleted, the state and federal government are expected to send additional supplies. Over the last week, the state began receiving shipments from the national PPE stockpile, and has requested an additional 20 million N95 masks, 10 million surgical masks, 600,000 surgical gowns, 600,000 face shields, 600,000 gloves, 300,000 goggles and 100,000 coveralls.

In addition, the County is in the process of establishing a drop-off site for local institutions and individuals to donate surplus PPE. A site, hours and list of acceptable items will be published this week. 

Hall also said the department’s operations center has expanded to 62 positions, and that officials are creating a clinical care task force made up of infectious disease specialists and other healthcare professionals. That task force will help hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers wade through the coming weeks.

Neighboring Monterey County, meanwhile, has tested 271 people and has 20 confirmed cases as of Tuesday morning.

Editor’s note: Reporter Todd Guild contributed to this report.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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