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The Greatest No-Show. Sea Otters Guard Local Kelp Forest. The Return Of Toro Park.

Bryan Flores
Toro Park in Monterey County closed last year after it was ravaged by the River Fire. But the park has healed and reopens on Monday, just in time for visitors to see all the different wildflowers growing from the burn scar. Read on for more details.

Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup for 4/16/21. Here you'll find the top local stories of the week and a few select national stories from NPR.

Injections of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are on hold in California, following a joint recommendation from the CDC and FDA, after severe blood clots were reported in six U.S. patients who received the vaccine. With nearly 7 million doses of the vaccine already administered, the potentially deadly reaction is considered extremely rare. People who’ve already received the vaccination should contact their doctors if they experience severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of their dose. The J&J vaccine comprises less than 4% of total vaccinations in California, according to the California Department of Public Health. Both Monterey and Santa Cruz counties say this vaccine makes up a small percentage of local vaccinations so far, with counties mainly using Pfizer and Moderna. 

Credit Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System
André Mariel, who turned 16 in January and lives in Salinas, got vaccinated Thursday at Salinas Valley Medical Clinic (SVMC). Daniel Martinez, an SVMC medical assistant administered the shot. SVMC says it’s administered more than 33,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

After weeks of anticipation, vaccine eligibility opened up on Thursday to all Californians 16 and older. With excess vaccine supply, some counties started offering shots to this age group ahead of the official April 15 date. Locally, the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula is reminding the public that only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for 16 and 17-year-olds. CHOMP is urging parents and guardians to check which vaccine they’re getting before booking an appointment for a minor. Vaccine appointments in Monterey County can be found here. In Santa Cruz County, they can be found here. Here’s the link to the state’s sign-up system

Over the weekend, at two massive COVID-19 vaccinations clinics in Salinas, organizers experienced hundreds of no-shows. The two clinics on April 10 and 11 at Everett Alvarez High School had the ability to vaccinate 8,000 people. As organizers struggled to fill hundreds of slots in the lead up to the clinic, a decision was made by the county to expand eligibility to everyone 16 and older just for this clinic. The interest was immediate and all slots were taken within a few hours. But come Saturday, 380 people didn’t show up. That promoted the county to open up appointments again for the next day and even accept walk-ins. About 700 people didn’t show up on Sunday. The clinic was seen as a success though with a total of 7,889 residents receiving vaccinations over two days. County officials said the leftover vaccine was returned safely to Natividad hospital for use in clinics this week.

Natividad joined the Monterey County media briefing this week to explain why there were so many no-shows at this weekend’s mass vaccinations clinics. The hospital’s pharmacy clinical coordinator, Shade Alabi, said they’ve seen many examples of people making multiple bookings at either the same clinic or a variety of locations and not cancelling the appointments they don’t attend. Alabi said this can be problematic as the clinic will thaw Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and keep them in refrigerators in anticipation. Then, when they experience no-shows, they only have a certain amount of time to use the vaccines before they expire. (The Moderna vials last up to 30 days after they're taken out of deep freeze, five days for Pfizer). Alabi said so far there’s been no waste, but she’s urging the public not to double book and to cancel appointments if you can’t attend them. 

No-shows have also been a problem in Santa Cruz County. As officials reiterated the above message, they also said they’re pleased with how well the vaccination rollout is going in the county. Dr. David Ghilarducci, deputy health officer, said he’s, “So proud of our county and how well we’ve been able to utilize the limited vaccine supply.” As of mid-week, more than 72,000 residents are fully vaccinated, another 50,000 have received one dose. That adds up to nearly 200,000 shots given in Santa Cruz County. 

The progress is pointing towards some major milestones for herd immunity in the county. Current county estimates show the thresholds for herd immunity, a combination of natural infection plus vaccinations, falling at 60 to 75 percent of the population. Ghilarducchi said the county could reach the lower end of that threshold as early as mid-May. And he estimates that by the end of July, the county will be “deep into that immunity threshold.” 

Santa Cruz County public health officials shared this advice this week - don’t lose your vaccination card. Mimi Hall, the county’s health services director, recommends storing it in a safe place and also taking a picture of it and emailing it to yourself as a backup. Proving you are vaccinated may get you into sporting events and other large events. 

The state has increased capacity limits for activities and businesses. The changes mean large event operators are able to admit more people within their facilities; physical distancing is not required in places where all guests are fully vaccinated; and out-of-state visitors may attend activities or events if they are vaccinated. Here is a helpful chart that outlines capacity for different activities and business depending on their status in the state’s reopening plan, the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. 

COVID-19 Case Data at time of publishing:

Credit City of Monterey
Junior sailors will be able to jump aboard the Dennis the Menace Playground boat starting April 20. The playground at the El Estero Park Complex in Monterey will join other city parks and playgrounds in reopening. This past Thursday, group barbeque areas and picnic tables at the site (permit use only) reopened. The city is asking the public to ‘Play It Safe’ by washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing and sharing the space.  

The U.S. will withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, ending America’s longest war. That’s according to President Biden who made the announcement this Wednesday from the Treaty Room in the White House. You can read about the details of the withdrawal in this NPR article and also listen to Biden’s full speech.   

California’s failures on nursing home oversight are being highlighted in a new, ongoing series called Unprotected. The series is a collaboration between nonprofit newsrooms across the state, including our sister stations KPCC and KPBS. In this piece by LAist, reporters looked at Death And Neglect Inside A Troubled California Nursing Home Chain. In another story by CalMatters, an investigation reveals an opaque licensing process for California nursing homes, rife with indecision and contradictions. Coming up next week, KPBS investigates lax oversight of nursing home employees by the state.

Credit Michael Langhans
Kelp forests are crucial to California. They’re home to over 800 different animal species. But these forests are disappearing.

California’s kelp forests have been disappearing at an alarming rate. But the Monterey Bay has a kelp forest guardian — sea otters. Josh Smith, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Santa Cruz, has been researching the role sea otters play in the complex story of disappearing kelp since 2015. He co-authored a paper that was published last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. KAZU’s Erika Mahoney interviewed Smith about his findings and produced a story about the role sea otters play in our local underwater ecosystem. In case you missed the story, you can listen to it here and view some photographs of Monterey Bay’s kelp forest.  

Since February, container ships, oil tankers and other large vessels have been lingering too close to shore near the Monterey Bay, where there is greater risk of grounding in shallow water, colliding with other ships, and disturbing sensitive marine habitat. According to a statement from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, an average of eight to 12 ships at a time have been observed awaiting entry to the Port of Oakland. The slowdown is likely due to labor shortages and COVID-19 restrictions at the port.  A sanctuary spokesperson told KAZU News that the shipping companies have so far complied with requests from the U.S. Coast Guard to move to established shipping routes farther offshore. The coast guard is working on a marine safety information bulletin to forewarn ships of the delay at the Port of Oakland.

The Monterey-Salinas Transit app can now tell you how crowded their buses are. The app, called Transit, was recently updated to use crowd-sourced information to let riders know if a bus is “crowded,” has “some crowding” or is “not crowded.” MST hopes this will empower people to make decisions about social distancing. The latest updates to the app also include the ability for MST to send important information directly to riders via Transit’s home screen. Transit was launched in 2017 and allows riders to see nearby ride options and departure times. 

Santa Cruz street vendors have until April 26 to apply for a special permit to operate on Beach Street during the 2021 tourist season. It’s part of a new city pilot program that will issue permits at approximately six locations in the wharf area. City leaders said not all applications will receive a permit. So, they’re using a lottery system to distribute them. Details and the application process can be found here

Do you have thoughts about what attributes Santa Cruz’s next city manager should have? Well, the city wants your input. City council announced the launch of a nationwide search for their next city manager. Current manager Martín Bernal revealed his plans to retire early this year. The input survey is available in English and Spanish. Make sure you respond by May 1. The council hopes to appoint a candidate by August. 

How to not kidnap a fawn this spring — that’s the title of this next story. It may sound dramatic but the SPCA Wildlife Center for Monterey County says it receives tiny fawns mistakenly kidnapped from their attentive mothers every year. The SPCA says fawns spend the majority of their time curled up in a ball alone, part of their growing process. Their mothers leave them hidden in a safe space for most of the day, often only visiting them at dawn and dusk. So, the wildlife center says if you see a fawn by itself in a ball, leave it where it is and back away. A mother deer will not return if she senses people or dogs are too close. 

Here are the signs if a fawn is in real distress:

- Labored breathing

- Walking and vocalizing for over an hour

- Blood

- Clearly broken bones

- Lying on its side (rather than curled or on its stomach)

- A deceased mother on-site

Credit Bryan Flores
A photo of Toro Park taken in 2020 shortly after the River Fire tore through the area. Three-quarters of the over 4,000-acre park were scorched. After about eight months, the park is reopening Monday.

After about eight months of closure, Toro Park will reopen on Monday (April 19). The beloved park in Monterey County closed in 2020 after the River Fire burned about three-quarters of it, leaving behind unsafe conditions for visitors. Shortly after the fire, the operations manager for Monterey County Parks, Bryan Flores, described many parts of Toro Park as looking like “the surface of the moon” with trees and shrubs scorched. But the park has recovered and Flores now says it’s nearly impossible to know that a fire once tore through the area. That being said, Flores added the park is still healing and has these tips for visitors:

- Stay on the trails

- Don’t pick the wildflowers currently in bloom

- Don’t hang off or climb burned trees

Not following these guidelines could damage healing vegetation, cause erosion and disturb wildlife. 

Until next week,

The KAZU Team