Water Worries In Santa Cruz. Mask Mandates For California Schools And Recall Ballots Go Out.
Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup for 8/13/21. Here you'll find the top local stories of the week and a few national stories from NPR.
This week, state and local governments continue to wrestle with the two biggest threats facing California: the highly infectious Delta variant, and climate change-induced hot, dry weather that is the crux of ongoing drought and devastating wildfires.
The Dixie Fire that started July 13 has become California’s second largest wildfire in history, and has destroyed over 1,100 structures. As of today, the fire has burned just under 518,000 acres, and is 31% contained.
As we near the one-year anniversary of the devastating CZU Fires, the skies in the Monterey Bay region, thankfully, remain mostly clear of smoke.
In response to the relentless Delta variant, more and more employers are requiring their employees to get vaccinated. And though there is still not a mask mandate for Monterey Bay counties, health officials from Santa Cruz County continue to strongly recommend masks for everyone in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. This week, they explained why they’re hesitant to mandate masks. More on that below.
California is the first state in the nation to require school teachers and staff to either get vaccinated, or get tested. The policy, announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, applies to teachers and staff in both public and private K-12 schools, who will now need to either show proof of vaccination against COVID-19, or proof of regular negative tests. The deadline for full compliance is Oct. 15.
Some districts, including Oakland, San Francisco and Long Beach, announced similar vaccine mandates earlier in the week before Gov. Newsom announced the state policy.
Why haven’t health officials in Monterey Bay-area counties imposed a mask mandate? Santa Cruz Public Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel provided some answers at a press briefing on Thursday, saying the data doesn’t clearly show whether another mandate would be helpful. “I don’t think an order will necessarily change the behavior of our residents. I think the same folks who are not wearing a mask now probably wouldn’t wear a mask if I issued the order,” Newel said.
“We’re tired,” said Mimi Hall, the director of Santa Cruz County’s Health Services Agency. “With limited resources...where do we best focus those resources and energies, including staff capacity to where they're going to save the most lives?” Hall said.
Newel also said that imposing a mask mandate, and trying to enforce it, will distract from their primary effort: get people vaccinated.
Currently, 58% of Santa Cruz County is fully vaccinated, with the lowest rates in the zip codes of north county, near Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek. Newel said hospitals in Santa Cruz County are near capacity, and the vast majority of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. The main issue isn’t the lack of ventilators or hospital beds, said Deputy Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci, but the lack of healthcare workers, who are facing burnout and taking time away from work after a grueling 18 months.
California voters will begin receiving mail-in ballots for the recall vote on Gov. Gavin Newsom next week. The election date is Sept. 14. There are two issues on the ballot: should the governor be recalled and, if so, who among the 46 candidates running against Newsom should replace him? Tune in to KAZU on Monday during Morning Edition and All Things Considered to hear reporting from KAZU’s Scott Cohn about the recall election in Santa Cruz County.
Do you want napkins with that? Soon you’ll have to ask. A new ordinance passed unanimously by the Santa Cruz County Supervisors on Tuesday requires restaurants to forego straws, eating utensils, napkins and other single-use take out accoutrements, unless the customer requests them. Supervisor Manu Koenig said the bill is intended to reduce the “tsunami of plastic waste” created by food orders during the pandemic. He said trash cans across the county — including those in front of the county building after lunch — are often overflowing with waste that ends up in the ocean. The ordinance is the latest push in an ongoing county effort to reduce single-use plastics. The new rule will go into effect in March of next year.
Solar panels are now required for new commercial and apartment buildings. The California Energy Commission voted to require all new commercial and high rise residential buildings to include solar power and battery storage beginning Jan. 1, 2023. The 5-0 vote sends the proposal to the state’s Building Standards Commission. It’s expected to include the requirement in an overall revision of the building code in December, joining a provision adopted last year that mandates all new homes and apartment buildings up to three stories high to have solar power. That provision took effect Jan. 1 of this year.
Santa Cruz may enter Stage 2 water restrictions soon, according to a statement from the city’s water department. Santa Cruz city residents have been in a “Stage 1 Water Shortage Warning” since early summer. That allocates 42 gallons of water a day for each person — roughly half of the statewide average of 80-100 gallons. A “Stage 2 Water Shortage” could be declared within the next six months, unless fall weather brings significant rainfall. “In the eight years I have been with the City, we have only had one ‘normal’ year of rainfall,” said Water Director Rosemary Menard. The shift to Stage 2 would penalize customers who use more than they’re allocated.
Menard said customers should sign-up for WaterSmart to track their water usage and receive alerts for unusual spikes in usage that could be caused by leaks or open taps. Loch Lomond, the city’s only drinking water reservoir, currently sits at just over 60% of capacity.
That’s it for this week, until next time,
The KAZU Team
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