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Santa Cruz Joins Stay-At-Home Order. COVID-19 Vaccinations Underway Locally. Redwoods Receive Love.

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Richard Green
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Healthcare staff members who work in COVID-19 units at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital took a moment to pause after their vaccinations. Dr. Vadim Leyenson, Dr. Kelsey Gray and nurses Jessica Schloemer and Sheri Motsenbocker (left to right).

Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup for 12/18/20. Here you'll find the top local stories of the week and a few select national stories from NPR.

Monterey County started the week under a new stay-at-home order. Santa Cruz County joined it on Thursday.That’s because ICU capacity in the Bay Area dropped below 15 percent on Wednesday, triggering the state’s Regional Stay Home Order. Santa Cruz County didn’t voluntarily opt into the order (unlike Monterey and some other Bay area counties), but will now have to adopt a list of restrictions. Restaurants can only offer takeout, hair salons and other personal care services must close, and hotels can only accept bookings for essential travel. Staying open are parks and schools with waivers. These restrictions will be in place until at least January 8.

More than half of the state’s ICU capacity is filled with COVID-19 patients, according to the California Department of Public Health. On Friday, the state listed the Bay Area region at 12.8% ICU capacity; Greater Sacramento at 14.5%; Northern California at 21%; San Joaquin Valley, which includes San Benito County, at 0%; and Southern California at 0%.

ICU capacity in Santa Cruz County has reached 0 percent multiple times over the last three weeks, Dr. Gail Newel, the county’s health officer, said Thursday. Neighboring counties are also strained, which means the ability to transfer patents to other hospitals is limited. The county must be as self-sufficient as possible right now, Newel said. But she added the county’s two acute care hospitals, Dominican and Watsonville Community Hospital, have met the needs so far and implemented their surge plans. Staffing remains a top concern, which is why health officials are urging everyone to do their part and follow the new order.  

The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office is looking for compliance not civil penalties for people and businesses that violate the stay-at-home order. District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni said the office will attempt to contact the person or business and explain the regulations first. 

The holidays are an especially difficult time to not be with those we love. The new order means traditional holiday parties are off the table and visits with friends and family have to be delayed. NPR compiled a helpful guide about how to celebrate the holidays safely

Monterey County Behavioral Health is holding a series of listening sessions to obtain feedback on what is working for the community and how the service can better serve the community. The agency is particularly seeking information about the effects of COVID-19 on mental health. Dana Edgull, Behavioral Health Services manager, noted anxiety, depression, stress, post-traumatic stress as well as suicide are on the rise. The next listening session will take place Saturday at 10 a.m. via Zoom. Two more sessions are expected in January. Click here for mental health resources in Santa Cruz County.

There is good news -- the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel became a little bigger and brighter after the first people in the U.S. were vaccinated against COVID-19. It comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the end of last week. On Monday, Helen Cordova was one of the first people in the state to receive the vaccine. She’s an ICU nurse in Los Angeles. Locally, the vaccine arrived in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties early this week. 

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Credit Shmuel Thaler, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Santa Cruz County officials received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday. Frontline healthcare workers are the first to receive doses. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses to hit the 95 percent effectiveness level demonstrated in clinical trials.

You might have a lot of questions about the first COVID-19 vaccine and the ones to follow (like the Moderna one, which advisers recommended for emergency use on Thursday.) NPR answered these FAQs

For many, it could be a bit of wait before you get to the front of the vaccine queue. That means testing for the coronavirus remains a top priority (along with social distancing, masks and other safety protocols). UC Santa Cruz announced some good news in that department. The UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory reported a significant increase in the number of tests it processes, routinely running more than 800 tests in a day, with weekly totals often exceeding 3,000 tests. KAZU’s Michelle Loxton spoke with one of the lab’s co-founder’s back in May about the lab’s creation and goals.

And sticking with UCSC professors, who’ve been busy this week, one of their arts professors has created an interactive web project that documents the spread of COVID-19 inside prisons, jails and detention centers. Called EXPOSED, the project uses quotes, audio, clips and statistics from across the United States as a way of showing the sheer scale of the crisis. The project is like a time capsule of sorts full of harrowing stories from prisoners and their families. On March 9, 2020, Rick Storm, a prisoner at the Idaho State Correctional Institution, said, “There is a lot of fear and uncertainty just like in the real world. Except in the real world you have a better chance of getting an answer or the proper medical treatment.” It’s one of the quotes showcased in this project.

NPR’s Ailsa Chang and Mary Louise Kelly shared a remembrance of Hollister performer and humanitarian Noe Montoya on All Things Considered on Thursday. He died on Thanksgiving at his home in Hollister. He had tested positive for the coronavirus a week before. Music was a big part of Montoya’s life and his singing is featured in the remembrance. 

COVID-19 Updates as of Friday morning:

The most recent homeless census identified about 2,400 homeless people in Monterey County. But experts say that’s an undercount. The census was also a year ago and after months of COVID-19, that number is expected to grow. It’s estimated that 35% of Monterey County’s homeless are women and 25% are families. This January, the Monterey Peninsula is getting its first shelter specifically for single homeless women and families with children, including single fathers. KAZU’s Erika Mahoney reported on the new shelter and what it will mean for the community. She interviewed a woman who opened up about her own story of experiencing homelessness.

In 2020 election news (yes, we’re still talking about last month’s election), a majority of the electors in each state, on Monday, followed the popular vote and selected Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President. As NPR reported, with the Electoral College votes now complete, a wave of Senate Republicans are now acknowledging Biden is president-elect. But don’t think election news will simmer down with this vote. Attention now shifts to Georgia where early voting is underway for the two Senate seat runoff elections, which will decide who takes control of the Senate in January.  

President-elect Biden has been busy picking those he wants by his side next year. Getting a lot of attention on Tuesday was his choice for U.S transportation secretary -- Pete Buttigieg, who ran against Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. Biden said the 38-year-old is "a new voice with new ideas." If confirmed, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary.

Biden has also chosen Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the Department of the Interior, which manages natural resources, national parks and oversees treaties with Indigenous people. If confirmed, she would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico. On Twitter, she wrote, "Growing up in my mother's Pueblo household made me fierce. I'll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land."

In international news, 14 people were convicted on Wednesday as accomplices in the 2015 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and a Jewish market. It's been nearly six years since Islamist extremists led attacks across Paris and 17 victims were killed over three days. In this story, NPR shares how prosecutors asserted that the defendants aided the primary assailants with money, vehicles and other logistical support. 

The ancestors of our food crops deserve respect and protection. That’s the headline finding of a new report that NPR’s Dan Charles shared with us this week. The story explains how hundreds of native North American plants are often dismissed as weeds but really are botanical treasures, “now facing increased threat from climate change, habitat loss and invasive species.” We’re talking about the distant cousins of the cranberry and pumpkin or the wild ancestors of the onion and sweet potato. 

Our redwoods are beloved! So beloved that people from around the world have donated over $500,000 towards recovery efforts in Big Basin Redwoods State Park after this summer’s major wildfire. The CZU Lightning Complex burned through the entire park destroying buildings and toppling trees. Save The Redwoods and Sempervirens Fund, the two conservation organizations who collected the donations, said money has already gone towards staffing and equipment costs to remove hazardous trees. More will go towards the park’s reopening, which they hope will give visitors the opportunity to witness the healing power of nature.    

Our weekly news roundup will pause for the next two weeks due to the holidays. We hope everyone has a safe break.

Until next week,

The KAZU Team

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