9 dead, 61 positive in coronavirus outbreak at Santa Cruz Co. facility

Nine people have died and another 61 have tested positive for the coronavirus in a “serious outbreak” at the Watsonville Post-Acute Center, according to Santa Cruz County public health officials.

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The county did not say when the outbreak started, but it announced five of the nine deaths among residents on Wednesday. The outbreak is responsible for nearly half of the 19 total COVID-19 deaths in Santa Cruz County.

Of those who tested positive at the facility, 46 are residents and 15 are staff, public health officials said. The county has recorded 2,535 total coronavirus cases, according to the county’s COVID-19 data dashboard.

“Our condolences go out to these individuals’ families and friends,” Santa Cruz County officials said in a statement.

Officials with the California Department of Public Health have “conducted multiple site visits to provide assessments and recommendations” since the outbreak began, county public health officials said.

Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county’s deputy health officer, said in a statement that Post-Acute officials alerted county and state health officials “as soon as the first resident tested positive.”

“Our staff is focused on the outbreak and we will continue to work closely with (Watsonville Post-Acute Center),” Ghilarducci said.

Officials with the facility could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. A statement on the center website said the facility is taking “all necessary cautionary measures” and adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“Each day we evaluate all of our residents following CDPH and County of Santa Cruz guidelines to determine who meets the criteria to be transferred out of the unit,” said facility administrator Gerald Hunter in a statement posted to the facility’s COVID-19 webpage on Monday. “This is a positive first step in reducing the number positive cases in the facility.”

Officials with the California National Guard are providing “staffing support” at the facility, county public health officials said.

Since the start of the pandemic, staff from the county’s communicable disease and emergency preparedness units have worked with the seven skilled nursing facilities in Santa Cruz County to develop plans for potential outbreaks, public health officials said.

“Strategies on testing staff and residents, maximizing PPE and containment of infection were also included in the plan,” county officials said. “The plan is being put into action as (Watsonville Post-Acute Center) works to mitigate the impact of the virus.”

Health officials said that while the rate of new cases in Santa Cruz County “continues to decline,” skilled nursing facilities and long-term care facilities are still considered to be at elevated risk for coronavirus because of the “congregate living setting and the vulnerability of the population.”

County officials said on Twitter Wednesday that residents can “prevent further tragedies” by wearing a mask, social distancing from others, avoiding gatherings with people outside of their households, and isolating or quarantining if they become sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Lauren Hernández is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ByLHernandez

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