COVID-19 Outlook Improves In Santa Cruz, Testing Still Matters And Highway 1 Repairs Begin Next Week
Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup for 2/26/21. Here you'll find the top local stories of the week and a few select national stories from NPR.
This week the U.S. marked another heartbreaking milestone in a year of tragic milestones.A half a million of our fellow Americans have been killed by the coronavirus. On Wednesday, California surpassed 50,000 known deaths from the virus. It’s the first state to reach that number. Every death is the loss of a mother, father, child, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, best friend or neighbor. Every one of their deaths is more than a statistic, it's a tragedy.
But there is hope. There was good news this week in the fight against COVID-19. The FDA analyzed Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. Their report supports the company’s vaccine for authorization of emergency use. According to Johnson & Johnson, its vaccine is 66 percent effective in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 disease and 85 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 hospitalization and death. Today, a panel of advisers to the FDA will make an official recommendation about whether it should be given the green light. Compared to the other two vaccines currently available in the U.S., the Johnson & Johnson one only requires one shot. You can read more about the vaccine here.
Santa Cruz County health officials report the county recently reached a milestone in the vaccination process; more than 60 percent of county residents aged 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
In light of that milestone, the county is expanding access to COVID-19 vaccinations to all workers in education and childcare, emergency services, and food and agriculture industries. People who work in these areas must show proof of occupation in order to get a shot. The county health department will be working directly with eligible employers to arrange workforce vaccination clinics. These employers can begin the process by filling out the COVID-19 Vaccine Interest Survey available online here.
Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel is optimistic about the county’s outlook in its fight against the COVID-19 virus. She predicts the county will move up a tier in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy in the next three weeks. That would put the county in the Red Tier and allow restaurants and movie theaters to open with 25 percent capacity and gyms to operate at 10 percent capacity. (Currently, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties are all in the most restrictive Purple Tier. The state updates the tier listings on Tuesdays.)
Under the state’s new guidelines for youth and adult sports, all outdoor sports in Santa Cruz County can resume today. Counties with a case rate at or below 14 people per 100,000 qualify for the loosened restrictions. Sports like baseball and cheerleading can resume. High-contact sports like football can also resume but only if coaches and athletes 13 and older are tested every week.
Rent relief is headed towards Santa Cruz County residents affected by the pandemic. About $16 million in federal funds will be available.Those eligible for the financial aid include renters with a household income at or below 80 percent of area median income, with preference for those at or below 50 percent. Renters must demonstrate how the pandemic has created a financial hardship for them. The program is expected to launch next month. An application portal will be available online here. Landlords who take part in the program will become eligible for back pay. If a landlord declines to participate, the tenant can still get some aid.
The program is possible because Congress recently approved $25 billion in aid to help struggling families pay their rent. But some say it’s not enough.This week NPR reported that Black and brown families are more likely to be evicted than white families. A mother from Richmond, VA., shared her story about facing eviction. Read NPR’s report for more statistics on how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting families of color.
California has created interactive maps that show the status of school reopenings around the state.The maps include information for public, charter and private schools. The webpage also includes helpful information about heading back to the classroom. It’s been about a year since many California schools moved to distance learning.
In about three weeks we will mark one year since California’s first stay-at-home order went into effect. Beginning March 19, many local businesses had to close and reopen multiple times. And there are some businesses that never reopened, either because of restrictions or because of financial strain. KAZU’s Michelle Loxton featured a few of those businesses this week in The Ones That Never Reopened: The Pandemic’s Impact On Local Businesses.
We really need to keep testing for the coronavirus. That’s the message from public health officials in Monterey County this week as they urge the public to continue getting tested for COVID-19. They’ve noticed a drop in testing rates with some saying their illness isn’t too severe and others not wanting to risk income loss. Attention has also shifted to getting the vaccine. Dr. Caroline Kennedy, Monterey County Clinic Services Medical Director, says that won’t be the complete solution right away. She said vaccine hesitancy, limited supply of the vaccine and the fact that children can’t get vaccinated means testing continues to be an important way of stopping the spread of the virus. Dr. Edward Moreno, the county’s health officer, said testing provides valuable information for decision making and can identify whether highly infectious variants are circulating in the community.
As thousands of local agricultural workers head back to work in Monterey County for the upcoming harvest season and thousands more arrive from other states and Mexico, the county is preparing for the possibility of more cases. A web page has been set up by the Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association that aims to help local ag companies access information about the vaccine. On March 3 there will also be an online town hall. Vaccinations have already begun for local ag workers over the age of 65 and next week Wednesday eligibility will open up to all farmworkers. The county says it's also focusing on testing workers as they return to work and setting up alternative housing for those who need to isolate. Some local ag companies have developed their own employer sponsored testing, eliminating the need for workers to go to public testing sites.
COVID-19 Case Data at time of publishing:
Santa Cruz County Cases - 14,588 total, 183 deaths
Monterey County Cases - 42,199 total, 328 deaths
San Benito County Cases - 5,661 total, 59 deaths
Wednesday marked Pink Shirt Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about bullying. KAZU’s Doug McKnight interviewed Pinkie Weesner, a local anti-bullying counselor, about how the day got started. The back story is one of kindness and coming together. (If you’re wondering, her name is not related to Pink Shirt Day although it is her favorite color). Doug asked Pinkie about how bullying has changed during online learning and what parents can do to prevent it.
Tiger Woods is recovering from a “long surgical procedure” on his lower right leg and ankle. The golfer totaled an SUV Tuesday as he was driving down a steep road in Rancho Palos Verdes that locals there call dangerous. Even though a traffic investigation is ongoing, the Los Angeles County Sheriff said the department has ruled the crash as an accident. Woods will not face reckless driving charges. NPR has kept listeners and readers up-to-date on the crash.
Highway 1 is scheduled to fully reopen early this summer. A month ago, during a powerful January rainstorm, both lanes of the roadway at Rat Creek washed out. Crews have been on site every day since assessing the damage. Now, they have a plan to fix it. Caltrans will fill the V-shaped chasm in the highway and then build a new road on top. KAZU’s Erika Mahoney visited the site last week. You can read more about Caltrans’ repair plans and see some photographs of the damage here.
The Monterey Police Department is warning residents about a telephone scam where the caller claims to be a police officer and threatens to arrest the person who answers unless they pay money. The caller ID number indicates the call is from the local police department, but the number is “spoofed” and is actually coming from a different number. Police advise if you receive such a call to hang up immediately. Then, call your local police department, explain what happened, and ask if there is an officer trying to talk with you.
Do you have any thoughts on how to reduce homelessness in Monterey and San Benito counties? The Coalition of Homeless Services Providers wants to hear from you in a number of upcoming community input webinars. The sessions are part of the 10-year plan to end homelessness. The webinars will focus on emergency sheltering, housing solutions and homelessness prevention. Those interested in having their say can find more information here.
Sardines and other seafood -- the history of what’s been pursued and processed for thousands of years on the Monterey Bay. That’s the theme of the next “Wharf Walks” series. Taking place the first Sunday of every month, local historian Tim Thomas tells stories about how people have made their living fishing the Monterey Bay, including squid fishermen from China, abalone divers from Japan, and Sicilians fishing for sardines. Walking tours are limited in size with masks required. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next week,
The KAZU Team