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COVID Surge: Santa Cruz Health Officer Says County's Stay-At-Home Order Likely To Last 'Well Into January'

SANTA CRUZ (CBS SF) – Santa Cruz County is likely to remain under a coronavirus-related stay-at-home order "well into January," the county's health officer said Thursday.

The state's stay-at-home order will go into effect in Santa Cruz County at 11:59 p.m. Thursday after the amount of available intensive care unit beds in the 11-county greater Bay Area fell below 15 percent of maximum capacity.

Dr. Gail Newel said that Santa Cruz County's low ICU bed availability is due in part to its reliance on intensive medical care at medical centers in adjacent counties such as those at Stanford University and the University of California at San Francisco.

"Locally, our ICU capacity has at times over the last three weeks been zero," Newel said Thursday during a briefing on the pandemic. "We have known since the beginning of this pandemic that Santa Cruz County is one of the jurisdictions that has a very low ICU bed availability per capita."

The stay-at-home order will last a minimum of three weeks as mandated by state public health officials. After those three weeks, the region's ICU capacity will be reassessed weekly until it rises back above 15 percent.

The order will temporarily close businesses and facilities like museums, wineries, hair and nail salons, campgrounds hotels and limit indoor capacity at retail stores to 20 percent, according to Newel.

Schools that have already resumed to in-person classes will be allowed to continue with standard health precautions like social distancing and mask wearing.

Restaurants will only be allowed to offer takeout and delivery and places of worship will be allowed to hold religious and cultural ceremonies outdoors only.

While state and local officials have encouraged residents to remain active and exercise outside while the order is in effect, it also prohibits all gatherings between members of different households.

Newel and Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci both warned residents to avoid gathering with others for Christmas and other holidays during the second half of December, warning that doing so could further strain the county's capacity for hospital and ICU patients.

"ICU capacity will continue to be a problem going forward," Ghilarducci said. "We're certainly very worried about the coming several weeks, especially after the Christmas holiday."

Ghilarducci added that the county's current supply of coronavirus vaccine, which is being administered to health care workers in the region, is not enough to contain the virus' current rate of spread.

The county expects to open a new coronavirus testing site Monday in the city of Santa Cruz in an effort to bolster its testing capacity amid the wave of new cases and hospitalizations.

While the exact location has not yet been finalized, the site will be operated by OptumServe Federal Health Services, which the state has contracted with.

OptumServe also operates a testing site at Ramsey Park in Watsonville, offering testing by appointment seven days per week with the capacity to test more than 300 people per day.

Newel said she understood the difficulty that staying at home during the holidays presents, noting that this is likely the first Christmas of her lifetime that she won't spend with her mother.

"This holiday will mean a lot of sacrifice for all of us," she said. "But next holiday is going to be all the sweeter because we know how much we treasure the people that we love."

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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