The COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna. (Photo via Joseph Lemieux/Flickr)

Santa Cruz County health leaders say things are looking up for the county in terms of COVID-19.

Case rates, hospitalizations and deaths are down, while vaccinations continue to increase, County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said on Thursday.

With the metrics looking better, Newel said the county could even move into the state’s less-restrictive red tier by next week, which would allow indoor dining and movie theaters to resume operations at 25 percent capacity, gyms reopen at 10 percent capacity and K-5 schools to welcome students back to campus.

“But more likely will be in the red tier on the usual track in either two weeks or three weeks from now,” Newel said. “We need to have red metrics for two weeks prior to going into the red tier.”

Currently the county would qualify to move into the red tier with two out of three metrics the state uses: the positivity rate, which is a seven-day average of all COVID-19 tests performed that are positive, and the health equity metric, which measures positivity rates in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

However, the county’s adjusted case rate, which is at 8.6 cases per 100,000 residents, must be under 7 per 100,000 for the county to move into the red tier.

Nevertheless, Newel and other county leaders remain optimistic, especially as vaccination efforts ramp up in the county.

On Monday, the county expanded vaccine eligibility to workers in education and childcare, emergency services and the food and agricultural industries.

The county has also vaccinated 63 percent of residents 65 years and older with at least one dose, said Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county’s EMS medical director and deputy health officer.

“I’m projecting, at least at the current pace that we’ll reach that 80 percent mark in mid-August, so that’s really fantastic news,” Ghilarducci said. “The approved vaccines offer protection of promise or return to normalcy once we get enough people vaccinated. We think that’s about 80 percent for about herd immunity.”

On March 15, vaccine eligibility will expand again. At the state’s directive, anyone over the age of 16 who has at least one severe health condition will be able to sign up for a vaccine appointment.

Severe health conditions include cancer, stage four or higher kidney disease, pulmonary diseases necessitating oxygen, Down syndrome, a weakened immune system due to an organ transplant, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart conditions like coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathies.

County leaders are urging eligible residents to sign up for vaccination appointments through the state’s website at, through their employer or through their health care provider.