.Vaccines, Variants And Masking

Santa Cruz Health Officer Lisa Hernandez announces new mask mandate and answers questions about Covid

This week, the latest FDA-approved Covid vaccine is anticipated to hit hospital and providers’ shelves across Santa Cruz County. Scientists and health officials say the new vaccine will better target the latest Covid variant.

On Tuesday, county Deputy Health Officer Hernandez announced that the county’s masking mandate will expand starting Nov. 1 to include everyone in a skilled nursing facility, healthcare workers who work in acute care hospitals and surgery centers, and outpatient settings in places like dialysis and chemo infusion centers.

In Santa Cruz County, the latest data shows that in the beginning of September, about 13% of people who tested for Covid in hospitals had positive results. But not everyone who has Covid takes a test, so that might not reflect the number of people who have it in our community, says Hernandez.

The county measures Covid in wastewater, because “everyone poops,” Hernandez says—this method allows the county to get a more accurate read on how much of the virus is in the county. Hernandez says there’s been an uptick in Covid as we head into fall, but it’s similar to what we saw this time last year.

Still, Hernandez says she wants to be proactive, especially for those people who are at higher risk of contracting Covid: particularly, older citizens and people who are immunocompromised.

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“So far we’re seeing the impacts of more disease but we’re not seeing unusual things in the general public in terms of the severity of the disease,” Hernandez says. “I will say we are seeing deaths in older individuals, especially in skilled nursing facilities.”

That’s ultimately what led Hernandez to issue a mandatory masking in August for healthcare workers in senior centers and what led to her decision to expand the ordinance on Tuesday.

“The focus for myself and many public health officials is really on the highest risk individuals in our community,” Hernandez says.

Good Times asked Hernandez what’s different about this variant, what to expect from the new vaccine and more.

Good Times: It’s hard to keep up to date with the most recent Covid variants. What would you say is the most important thing for people to know when it comes to different variants and Covid right now?

Lisa Hernandez: Covid mutates, that’s what a variant is. We are going to see variants happen with Covid for the foreseeable future. What we’re seeing is that if there’s going to be a change in the behavior of the virus, it’s more likely going to be more contagious, not more severe. So that’s good news, right?

We are going to see more people potentially getting Covid and some of that will be due to the change in the variant. Some of it also might be due to change in our own behavior. If someone has Covid, they’re more likely to give it to more people than the other variants have shown. And, again, we’re still trying to understand if it is just the variant or is it that people have or not, are not using the tools that we know work.

We have tools to help us protect against transmission. We also have tools for the fact that Covid does, unfortunately still cause severe disease, causing people to be hospitalized, causing people to feel really terrible. And also causing people to die.

GT: What are the protocols people can use to protect themselves from Covid? Have they changed since the start of the pandemic, are they the same?

LH: So, what people should keep in mind is to use the things that we know work. Staying home when you’re sick. Washing your hands still matters, covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, those are big things. And then the other things that are important, such as getting vaccinated, so we just had the approval from FDA and the CDC for the new vaccine that we’re going to be available soon. Then a lot of folks that end up getting Covid are also eligible for medicines to reduce their chances of getting severe disease.

GT: What’s different about this vaccine, who is eligible to get it and why should people?

LH: Yeah, so the new vaccine is a monovalent vaccine. The other vaccines were bivalent, so they had the variants of the original virus that started circulating almost four years ago. What has changed in the new vaccine is it only has a single variant in the formulation, and it seems to cover and be protective against what’s circulating at this point. The vaccine was approved for anyone six months and older. And if you haven’t received a vaccine in the past two months, then you can get the updated vaccine.

GT: Some of the tests that the government provided cost-free are now expired. Does Covid still show up on an expired test?

LH: There is a FDA website for the Covid test, where you could see which tests were still good, this works, which tests were still valid. It’s: www.fda.gov/medical-devices/coronavirus-covid-19-and-medical-devices/home-otc-covid-19-diagnostic-tests#list

GT: What are the most up-to-date protocols for someone who has Covid or who has been exposed to Covid?

LH: If you test positive for Covid, you should stay home for five days. As long as you’re improving and you’re without a fever for two days, then you can not isolate anymore. And it’s recommended that for the additional five days that you mask. So you are essentially either isolated and or masking for a total of 10 days.

GT: Are there any notable differences between Covid or the flu that somebody could recognize?

LH: It’s really hard to say. It used to be that people early on would think, Oh, if I lost my sense of taste or smell, it’s definitely Covid. But it’s really hard to tell based on symptoms alone. So testing is the best way to confirm a diagnosis.

GT: Do you see a world where we would return to a mask mandate for the general public?

LH: I hope not.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Oh gotta love commiefornia lmao glad we escaped from the mass psychosis going on there.

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  2. Oh they definitely want to go back to full mandates. The fact that they’re doing even this much AGAIN is ridiculous. Every virus changes every year, and this one ain’t special. If they do go back to mandates, the only way to stop this is noncompliance.

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  3. What I’d like to know is, is she actually up-to-date on the science? Because the Cochrane review that came out recently shows that the evidence for masks is inconclusive at best. Why are mandates still being brought up here as if they’re super effective? We need transparent, unbiased studies on masks, including potential harms before our Public Health officials just decide this stuff.

    I tried to post the actual link but a spam detector stopped it. You might have to search around a bit but the review itself is worth the read. I encourage everyone to read it for themselves.

    This doesn’t make sense, especially as more info comes out about this.

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Aiyana Moya
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