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SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz County health officials say the county is ready to reopen dine-in restaurants and hair salons, and now it’s up to the county board of supervisors and the state department of public health to decide.

Since the start of the local COVID-19 emergency in March, Santa Cruz County has had two cumulative COVID deaths and no more than four confirmed COVID patients in hospitals on a given day since April 7, according to the county. In deciding what parts of the local economy to open, the county health officer has had to weigh the risk of disease transmission and deaths with the crushing effect the shutdowns have had on the local economy, school children and workers.     

The board of supervisors will hold a special meeting 9 a.m. Friday to discuss the county’s attestation form. The form is a 130-page document that describes the county’s preparation with tests, protective equipment supply, plans to increase hospital capacity and other factors.    

The board is expected to approve the form. The next step is for the state department of public health to approve it. Approval could come as early as Friday or next week, said Dr. Gail Newel, the county health officer. If approved by the state, dine-in restaurants could open with rules such as reconfigured spaces to allow six feet of distance. 

Hair salons and barber shops could open, but only for hair services, not facials, shaving or waxing, for example. Schools would stay closed until Gov. Gavin Newsom gives instructions.

According to the form, which was finished and released late Thursday:

  • The county has had a surge of 58 new confirmed COVID cases in the last 14 days. That’s below the state’s threshold of 68 new cases in that time period. Health officials said Thursday that most of the surge came from four clusters of cases that stemmed from Mother’s Day family gatherings in South County. A new case cluster could easily bump the county over the threshold. Health officials will monitor case numbers and other criteria. They plan to close restaurants and hair salons again or increase other restrictions if needed.
  • The county does not yet have 41 contact tracers, which was previously the target. The governor lifted that requirement last week — now the county just needs its board of supervisors to approve a statement from the health officer that the county has enough contact tracers. The county has enough tracers to contact each positive patient within 24 hours and their contacts within 48 hours, but the recent surge in cases has challenged staff. County health leaders expect to have 43 contact tracers by June 5.  
  • Testing sites in the county can now serve 572 people a day, county officials said. The state requires a minimum 412 tests per day for Santa Cruz County. Health officials said Thursday that anyone in the county can get an appointment to get tested at the OptumServe test site in Ramsay Park in Watsonville. Call 1-888-634-1123 or visit the website to schedule.
  • The three hospitals in the county have a total 51 ventilators, 310 inpatient beds and 30 intensive care beds. The county could expand to a total 473 inpatient beds and 48 intensive care beds, if needed. That meets the state requirement. “Additional ventilators might be available from state or national stockpiles,” according to the form. Local hospitals have disposable ventilators and anesthesia machines that could be used in an emergency.
Santa Cruz County health leaders will monitor 14 critieria to determine whether to increase restrictions on activities and business. (Santa Cruz County)

If the attestation is approved by the county board and the state, Santa Cruz County would join the majority of counties in the state in “full Stage 2” of the governor’s roadmap to reopening.

Thursday, at least 46 of 58 counties in California have filed an attestation, according to the California Department of Public Health website. That count does not include Lassen County, which retracted its attestation after an increase of cases. 

Of the nine Bay Area counties, only Sonoma, Solano and Napa counties have filed. San Benito and Monterey counties also have filed. Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have not announced plans to file.

Santa Cruz County health leaders plan to keep the 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily beach closures, in part to discourage tourists from visiting.

Click on the chart for interactive features. (Graphic: Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local | Source: California Department of Public Health)

Pressed by Santa Cruz Local about Santa Cruz County’s pace of reopening, Newel said Thursday that the county was not “behind” others in the state in reopening. Three weeks ago the county was far from meeting the criteria, she said. When the governor loosened the criteria May 18, the county scheduled a meeting with state officials for May 21.  

“So we very much have been working fast and furious over the holiday weekend and so here we are,” Newel said. 

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 discussed a recent surge of cases at a news conference Thursday at the county’s Emeline Avenue campus. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)

The county’s Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall said it wasn’t just a matter of filling out paperwork. 

“We have a lot of concerns. So, we don’t consider ourselves behind. And every county stands alone,” Hall said. 

While the county has had a relatively low number of cases and deaths, the county neighbors one of the state’s epicenters for the disease, Santa Clara County. Santa Cruz County’s low number of contact tracers is also a concern, she said.

“We empathize with the community. We empathize with the economic devastation that has happened. And we’re trying to balance that with our ability to respond to increased cases,” Hall said. “We feel like we have that ability today. We’re very trepidatious, but we’ll see what happens.”

Newel said Thursday that this week’s reopening of religious services, cultural ceremonies and political protests were by far the riskiest activities approved so far. Those activities can have up to 100 people, as long as the building’s capacity is 400 or more, and guidelines are followed.

Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county’s deputy health officer, said the recent clusters of cases related to Mother’s Day gatherings illustrate how tenuous the success Santa Cruz County has had so far in battling COVID-19.

“It just takes a few cases to really blow it up,” Ghilarducci said.

Dr. David Ghilarducci, Santa Cruz County deputy health officer, described the county’s success at battling COVID-19 as ‘hard fought’ and ‘tenuous’ at a news conference Thursday at the county health services agency. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)

Discussion of the attestation form was previously scheduled for the June 2 board of supervisors meeting. Friday’s special meeting was requested by the board of supervisors and the County Administrative Officer when it became clear that the attestation form would be done Thursday, Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall said Thursday. 

Non-essential travel would still be prohibited. Most gatherings, even outdoors, still would not be allowed. Social distancing requirements would still stand: Maintain a 6-foot distance from people, wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, quarantine when ill and wear a face covering when at a place of business or on public transportation.

To watch Friday’s meeting, and comment, visit the board of supervisors meeting portal. The meeting will also be held in person at the board of supervisors chambers, 701 Ocean St., fifth floor, in Santa Cruz.

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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.