SANTA CRUZ – For many families and youth living near the Santa Cruz coast, Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer and one last opportunity to enjoy all that the county has to offer before fall’s responsibilities.
But for some who work in the medical field, it is the final stretch of an especially precarious length of time known as the “100 deadliest days,” where hefty responsibilities are already being felt.
The grim moniker refers to the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day, when the likelihood of traffic and other types of accidents causing traumatic injuries is known to increase, especially among teens.
“Everyone will be thinking about this and preparing,” Registered Nurse Tammy Green told the Sentinel ahead of the coming Labor Day weekend. Green is a 20-year veteran at Dominican Hospital and the manager of its Emergency Department. “We have all these people coming in to Santa Cruz to celebrate for one reason or another during this timeframe and it all culminates with this big long weekend.”
Green said her team typically receives 140 to 150 patients per day in the emergency room at Dominican Hospital, but she is expecting that number to reach closer to 180 in the coming weekend, potentially leading to extended wait times and an exhausted staff. Additionally, Dominican is one of only two hospitals in the county–the second being Watsonville Community Hospital–and neither have a certified trauma center. Should anyone suffer a severely traumatic injury, they will likely need to be flown or driven to the nearest trauma center in Salinas or Santa Clara.
The increased number of motor vehicle collisions is an area of extreme concern in recent years, as weekend commuters rush to the coast to escape the inland heat. According to data from Santa Cruz County Emergency Medical Services, the number of motor vehicle accidents in 2021 began to rise in May and increased to nearly 500 in August.
“Motor vehicle accidents definitely peak in the summer. There’s probably various reasons for that,” said Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer and Emergency Services Medical Director David Ghilarducci. He added that alcohol use and distracted driving are the most common risk factors, especially among teens traveling over the hill to enjoy the county beaches and winding landscapes. “Typically August is our worst month, as far as that goes.”
While data from this summer is not yet available, the trend broke slightly in 2021, but in unfavorable fashion. The number of motor vehicle accidents continued to increase through August and peaked in October, totaling almost 550 for the month.
Though traffic collisions are known for being especially severe, Green says emergency room visits often come from a wide spectrum of activities, ranging from ankle sprains to near drownings. Still, risk factors such as drug and alcohol use are all-too common and exacerbate the issue.
Green recalled a Labor Day weekend about five years ago in which the weather was warm and the surf was especially high, leading to an emergency room inundated with ocean-related incidents. “I looked down at the ground, and the entire nurses station had a trail of sand from all the people brought in from the beach,” she said. “The majority of them had alcohol involved.”
But the nurses at Dominican won’t be the only emergency response officials paying close attention to atmospheric conditions.
“Some years Labor Day can be a big nothing, depending on the weather,” said City of Santa Cruz Police Chief Bernie Escalante. “This weekend looks like it might be a little busier based off the weather projects not only here, but in the Central Valley.”
A prolonged late-summer heatwave is engulfing most of the state, with temperatures in the region ranging from the low 90s to well into the 100s in some areas. If previous years are any indicator, Escalante says this means an increase in the number of visitors and general activity along the coast.
Both public health and law enforcement officials recommended those engaging in holiday weekend activities do so in a responsible manner, as they cool off from the weekend heat.
In the hospital, Green will prepare by increasing staffing numbers in anticipation of what she expects the heat might bring.
“I’m nervous, I get nervous,” Green said. “This is an important message … we need to ask people: Be careful, be safe.”