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SANTA CRUZ >> Dozens of Santa Cruz Local listeners and readers have sent us questions on the coronavirus for Santa Cruz County health officials. We asked some of those questions Thursday at a news conference at the Santa Cruz County Health Service Agency’s Emeline Avenue campus.

The health officials in the room were: Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel, Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall and Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci.

Question from Johnny Mack McNicholas: “I want to know why the health department is keeping secrets. Where do the virus patients live? Where have they recently been? The county isn’t protecting privacy; it’s covering itself by releasing as little as possible.” 

We’ve heard similar frustration from other listeners. Thursday, Kara Meyberg Guzman asked: The county tracks the number of cases in each city, but that information has not been released. What criteria does the county use in determining when to release information on location of confirmed cases?

Response from Dr. Newel: “We are trying to respect patient privacy and I hope you can all respect trying to respect patients’ privacy. And I hope that you can all put yourselves in the shoes of being a COVID-19 infected person and not wanting press or others to invade your home or your privacy while you’re not feeling well. 

“I think we can all empathize with someone who might be ill and not wanting to have extra attention or to be treated differently than anyone else in the community. 

“We made a decision that once we reached 100 cases, we will be releasing more granularity in our data. We have done that on our data dashboard with further breakdown of things like age, underlying medical conditions, geographic area.”

Newel said the county has compiled the number of cases in each city, but her department will not release that data until every city in the county has at least five cases.

Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel speaks at a news conference April 16, 2020 at the county’s health services agency. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local file)

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Question from Santa Cruz Local member Kathy Mekis: Tourism is a primary source of revenue for Santa Cruz. What does safe tourism look like this summer?

Answer from Dr. Newel: “Safe tourism remains within five miles of your home. That’s the easy answer. And that’s still our stance. You should recreate within a short distance of your own residence, while you’re sheltering in place.”

Question from Santa Cruz Local member Peter Gelblum: Can any part of the contact tracing be done by trained volunteers? [Contact tracing involves identifying everyone who may have come in contact with an infected person.]

Answer from Mimi Hall: “It is possible, but it is a very specific kind of training. And one of the plans the state has is to have the state actually provide that for us, through their workforce. The governor’s plan is to have a workforce of 10,000 contact tracers in about a month’s time … UCSF has already done the pilot testing of training. And they’ve trained 90 out of 222 potential contact tracers. And so when the kinks are worked out of that, we’ll probably either roll that out on a statewide basis or have that training shared with counties.

“But to answer your question, yes, it’s possible, but contact tracing is a very specific kind of investigation. It’s not something that like, you hire someone, and say ‘Oh, this is what we do.’ And the people that are suited for that are usually people who are used to investigations, like social workers, investigators for DA’s offices, probation officers. The state’s being very selective about that. But we believe there will be this capacity for the workforce.”

Submit your questions on the coronavirus in our survey or by email to [email protected]. We answer your questions in our newsletter, our podcast, our website stories and our COVID-19 resources page.

Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. ​Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.