Monterey County Must Stay Home. Vaccine Arrival Gets Closer. Possibility Of Dangerous Debris Flows.

Dec 11, 2020

Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup for 12/11/20. Here you'll find the top local stories of the week and a few select national stories from NPR.

That’s it. We’ve decided to put 2020 in one of the 10,000 empty Amazon boxes along with a zillion Zoom invites and a dozen bad DIY haircuts. Then, put them all out for trash day. We are not waiting for the New Year. 2020 we are done with you!

This year limps to a close similar to the way it began in March with stay-at-home orders, an economy in bad shape and a desperate longing for normal. But at least now we have a vaccine on the horizon.

Beginning Sunday at 10 p.m., Monterey County residents will be under a stay-at-home order that aligns the county with the state’s new “Regional Stay Home Order.” This means no haircuts, no exercising indoors and no in-person dining -- take-out only. Capacity at grocery stores and retail shops has been further reduced. It all comes at a particularly hard time for retail with the busiest shopping season now underway. The holidays are also supposed to be a busy time for restaurants and bars.

The closures likely entail more layoffs. They come as federal unemployment benefits are set to expire -- the day after Christmas. Congress is trying to come up with a deal all while the unemployment numbers are getting worse and worse. Last week, more than 850,000 people filed new claims, a sharp increase from the previous week.

The City of Monterey is expecting a setback in hotel tax revenue as the stay-at-home order goes into effect and hotels can’t accept guests for non-essential travel. The extent of the projected cut and a revision of the city budget will be discussed at next week’s city council meeting.

Playgrounds in the City of Monterey will remain off limits despite a change in the state’s stay home order. The state first ordered playgrounds closed, but later reversed course allowing them to open after criticism that children need somewhere to play outside. Even so, Monterey has decided to keep the playgrounds out of bounds. City Manager Hans Uslar said the decision was made given the current spike in hospitalizations throughout the county.

Monterey County hospitals are at a breaking point.

“We've seen a rate of increase unlike anything we saw in the summertime or even back in March when the pandemic first arrived in Monterey County,” Dr. Martha Blum with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula said mid-week.

Hospitalizations are at an all time high. Although local medical experts say they can get creative when it comes to turning hospital beds into ICU beds, the main problem is overworked doctors and nurses. 

“It's almost impossible to acknowledge and thank the health care providers who work in the hospitals right now,” Dr. Radner said. “This has been months and months in very scary times. They're worried about themselves, their families. People are coming in and working extra shifts and doing just an incredible job.”

As of Friday, Santa Cruz County has not yet issued a similar stay-at-home order. In the Bay Area region, it joins Napa, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma counties in not opting into the new order early. The order is mandatory when a region drops below 15 percent ICU capacity. As of Friday afternoon, the state said the Bay Area was at 16.7 percent, meaning it’s likely only a matter of time before it drops below 15 percent. The majority of the state is under the new order, including every major city. The only California regions above 15 percent ICU capacity are Northern California and the Bay Area… again, for now.

COVID-19 Updates as of Friday morning:

FDA advisers voted to recommend emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The panel met Thursday and the vote came down to 17-4 with one member abstaining. NPR’s Noel King spoke with NPR’s Joe Palca during Morning Edition Friday about the meeting and why some had concerns. The panel, which is made up of infectious disease doctors and statisticians, looked into whether the vaccine was safe and effective. Now that they’ve answered “yes,” it’s expected the FDA will approve the vaccine’s use within days. And that would mean health care workers could begin getting shots next week. It’s expected the authorization of Moderna’s vaccine will follow shortly.

Santa Cruz County has submitted their vaccine plan to the California Department of Public Health. The plan outlines how the county will manage and distribute the vaccine locally. A limited first delivery of the vaccine could arrive as early as next week, the county said. That first delivery is for local hospitals. High-risk health care workers and first responders are first in line. Distribution to the public will occur through primary care doctors, clinics, pharmacies and the county. Drive-through sites and pop-up facilities could be used for mass distribution. Considering it could be some time before the vaccine is available to everyone, people should continue to wear masks, wash hands and stay six feet apart from others.

Monterey County Health Officer Dr. Edward Moreno outlined the process for receiving the vaccine during a media briefing Wednesday. The state will decide how many doses each county gets. Moreno said all hospitals in Monterey County have placed their orders and that each has identified health care workers most at risk. The CDC works with Pfizer to order and deliver to the hospitals. Moreno said the Moderna process is similar. Both vaccines require two doses. The state has instructed hospitals to use up all of the vaccine and not save anything for a second dose. Further shipments will include first doses for those who haven’t received it yet and a second dose for those who have.

California’s new exposure notification system is live. The phone app, which will alert you if you’ve possibly been exposed to COVID-19, is called “CA Notify.” It uses Bluetooth to see if you’ve been in close contact with someone who tests positive for the coronavirus. According to the state, “CA Notify” doesn’t gather your identity, contact information or location. The app is available in app stores and is part of iPhone updates -- you just need to enable it.

This week, the California Immigrant Relief Assistance Coalition released an extensive assessment of the needs of undocumented immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Paying housing expenses was the most urgent need, the report found. More than half of the 91,000 respondents said they also suffered from hunger. The report concluded that the state-funded Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants program, which provided around $500 to more than 150,000 undocumented individuals, fell far short of the need. It’s estimated California is home to about two million undocumented immigrants, and many are working on the frontlines of the pandemic.

California’s first Latino attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has been nominated to be the next secretary of health and human services. Becerra, known for filing lawsuits on behalf of Californians against the Trump administration, would play a major role in the Biden administration’s fight to contain COVID-19. Some have criticized the nomination because Becerra doesn’t have a background in health. But as NPR reported, Becerra has been an advocate for women’s health and, as a son of an immigrant, he understands immigrant communities. Learn more about Becerra’s past and future here.

The nomination means California Governor Gavin Newsom now has not one but two spots to fill. He will have an opening when Becerra leaves to join the Biden Administration and when the U.S. Senate seat is vacated by soon-to-be Vice President Kamala Harris. Political watchers are already wondering who Newsom will pick to fill Harris’ spot. Secretary of State Alex Padilla is shaping up to be a top contender. If that happens, Newsom would have three spots to fill. This gives the governor a rare opportunity to shape the future political landscape of California.

The winter season in California normally brings with it the hope of rain after a dry summer. But the recent wildfires in the Monterey Bay region mean this rainy season will be accompanied with a significant risk of life-threatening debris flows. KAZU’s Michelle Loxton reported on the many local communities at risk and how they can prepare.

An aerial photograph taken in the Big Sur area by the team that looked into potential post wildfire debris flows this winter.
Credit Kevin Cooper

As California continues to recover from the devastating 2020 wildfires, there’s concern coastal redwoods could face new challenges growing back in a warming climate. NPR’s Eric Westervelt traveled to a local gem in our backyard, Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The park, which is California’s oldest state park, looks completely different now after the CZU Lightning Complex fire ripped through the forest. Although wildfire is part of forest regeneration and redwoods are very resilient, scientists worry warmer temperatures and decreased fog will make rebounding tougher.

In this year of staying home, books, movies and TV shows feel like they’ve taken on a new level of importance in our lives. This week, a Fresh Air critic revisited the stories that transported our minds. Check out his list here.

And speaking of stories, NPR’s Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz read tales in Hanukkah Lights: 2020. It’s an annual tradition that started in 2001. This year’s hour-long listen features five original stories that reflect this year. Hanukkah, which began at sundown on Thursday, is a time to celebrate light and faith.

Until next week,
The KAZU Team