A Year Of COVID-19, Looking Back And Looking Forward. Plus, Take Your Bird Feeder Down.

Mar 12, 2021

Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup for 3/12/21. Here you'll find the top local stories of the week and a few select national stories from NPR.

Tomorrow (March 13) marks one year since the City of Monterey declared a local emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Santa Cruz declared the emergency on March 10. It hasn’t felt like a year that “flew by.” It has been a year of suffering and lonely goodbyes, of great financial loss. It has also been a year of heroes and extraordinary generosity, determination and inspirational kindness. 

Monterey observed the anniversary with two events. On Tuesday, city crews planted three cherry trees along the recreation trail in Cannery Row. The next day, 500 plastic hearts were hung on the magnolia tree in Friendly Plaza outside Colton Hall. People are encouraged to use a permanent marker to write the name of a loved one lost or acknowledge someone on the hearts. The city plans to eventually gather the hearts and create a piece of art as a more permanent reminder of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Two of the three cherry trees planted along the recreation trail in Cannery Row. City officials said the trees should blossom in the coming weeks.
Credit Doug McKnight

Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula is taking down its COVID-19 triage tent today as hospitalizations for the coronavirus decline in the area. A year ago, the hospital treated its first COVID-19 positive patient in the tent, which was set up to reduce the spread of the virus. Since that day, March 12, 2020, staff assessed 1,633 patients in the tent. 

 

Coming up next week on KAZU, we mark the one-year anniversary of the state’s first stay at home order with a story that features five community members. They reflect on the past year and share moments they’ll never forget.

NPR wants to hear from you for an upcoming episode of It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders. They’re interested in hearing stories about the different ways people have cared for their friends and family and strangers through the pandemic. You can fill out the questionnaire here. A producer may reach out to you for a follow-up.

Santa Cruz County moved into the Red Tier in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy on Wednesday. The move to this ‘substantial’ tier is great news for many Santa Cruz County businesses, which are allowed to reopen and expand capacity. This includes:

  • Restaurants, movie theaters and museums which can open indoors;
  • Shopping centers and retail can expand to 50 percent capacity;
  • Gyms can open indoors at 25 percent capacity.
  • Businesses can find industry specific guidance for reopening here. 

Dr. Gail Newel, the county’s health officer, said Thursday there’s continued good news regarding less hospitalizations and deaths and more ICU availability. Still, with the economy opening back up, schools getting back in session and spring break ahead, Newel wants everyone to remain vigilant. Those who are not vaccinated yet remain at risk, especially the elderly and medically-vulnerable. 

The county received 1,300 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week. Since only one dose is required for the J&J vaccine, the county is targeting allotment to those who are logistically harder to reach, including homebound seniors, jail inmates, those experiencing homelessness, migrant farmworkers and truck drivers. According to the county, just over 80 percent of Santa Cruz County residents aged 75 and older have received at least one dose along with about 75 percent of those 65 and up. About 29 percent of those 16 and older have also received at least one dose. At this rate, county health officials said all residents will have access to the vaccine by early October. But with increased vaccine supply, it’s anticipated that date will move up.

Although county officials were concerned about a spring surge in coronavirus cases, national models are currently showing that’s unlikely. California hasn’t had an influx of the B117 variant that officials feared. Newel anticipates that unless there’s an unexpected surge, Santa Cruz County will move into the Orange Tier in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy in the coming weeks.

 

Monterey and San Benito counties remain in the most restrictive Purple Tier. However, Monterey County is very close to entering the Red Tier. This week, the county’s metrics almost met the criteria needed to drop down a level:

  • Case rate needed for Red Tier = 4.0 to 7.0 per 100k. Monterey County = 7.1 per 100k.
  • Health equity test positivity needed for Red Tier = 5.3 to 8.0. Monterey County = 5.1%.
  • Overall test positivity needed for Red Tier = 5.0 to 8.0. Monterey County = 3.1%.

With Monterey County inching toward the Red Tier, the Monterey Bay Aquarium announced it’s hopeful about reopening. The Aquarium’s Executive Director, Julie Packard, issued a statement late Thursday afternoon. “With this development, and the continued decline in cases of COVID-19 in Monterey County, I’m cautiously optimistic that Monterey Bay Aquarium will be able to open our doors in a few weeks—for the first time in more than a year,” Packard said.

 

The state recently announced changes to the Blueprint For a Safer Economy, which could help Monterey County reach Red Tier status (and would help Santa Cruz County reach the Orange Tier). The state says once two million people have been vaccinated in the hardest hit locations, or in the “Healthy Places Index Quartile 1,” the case rate for Red Tier status will shift to between 4 and 10 cases per 100k. As of Thursday (March 11), 1,971,784 vaccine doses had been administered in this category.

 

The state is also now allowing ballparks, stadiums and theme parks to reopen April 1 (if your county is in a certain tier). The reopenings will take place with significantly reduced capacity, mandatory masking and other public health precautions, said the CDPH. Capacity will depend on which tier your county is in:

  • Outdoor sports and live performances: Purple Tier = 100 regional visitors or fewer. Red tier = 20 percent capacity. Orange Tier = 33 percent. Yellow tier = 67 percent. (Last three tiers only for in-state visitors).
  • Amusement parks: Purple Tier = cannot reopen. Red Tier = 15 capacity. Orange Tier = 25 capacity. Yellow Tier = 35 percent capacity. (All with in-state visitors).

And beginning statewide tomorrow, breweries, wineries and distillers that don’t serve meals may open outdoors with modifications for counties in the Purple and Red tiers. Patrons must make reservations and adhere to 90-minute time limits. Service must stop at 8 p.m. 

 

Local COVID-19 Case Data at time of publishing:

Monterey Salinas Transit (MST) and Santa Cruz Metro are helping and rewarding people who get their COVID-19 vaccine with free rides. MST is offering a free day pass to anyone who’s been vaccinated. Just present your vaccination card to an MST customer service representative at the Salinas Transit Center, Marina Transit Exchange or Monterey Transit Plaza to receive the pass. Passes are available for each dose received. For questions email Monterey Salinas Transit or call (888) 678-2871. Santa Cruz Metro is providing free local rides to and from appointments. Again, riders must show the driver proof of their appointment.

 

California Governor Gavin Newsom gave his State of the State address on Tuesday. Our public radio sister stations gave some great analysis of the event. Check out KQED’s take here. They laid out Newsom’s priorities for the year: “Getting kids back to school, getting shots in arms and getting the economy back on its feet.” Check out CapRadio and KPCC’s take here. They have a full transcript of the speech, which was annotated by their reporters.

 

President Joe Biden delivered his first primetime address to the nation Thursday evening. KAZU carried his speech live on the air. Biden spoke about the devastating impact of the virus and also spoke to a path forward -- telling the truth, following the science and ramping up the vaccination process. He said the administration will make all adults in the U.S. eligible to get a shot by May 1, and pleaded with Americans to get vaccinated when they have the opportunity. If so, he said, there’s a good chance people will be able to enjoy small gatherings on the 4th of July. Biden said after this long, hard year, this would truly make Independence Day special -- a time to celebrate the country and independence from this virus.

 

Earlier Thursday, Biden signed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package after House lawmakers gave their final approval Wednesday. The legislation includes direct payments to Americans, extends unemployment benefits and expands a child tax credit. (For more details on what’s in the plan, click here.) The package also provides funding for local governments. The National League of Cities estimates that the City of Monterey will receive around $6.5 million, Santa Cruz nearly $15 million, and Salinas around $50.5 million.

This week, the House passed the VA Vaccine Act. Central Coast Congressman Jimmy Panetta is a cosponsor of the legislation. The bill aims to expand the Department of Veterans Affairs’ authority to vaccinate veterans, including those who are not in the VA healthcare system, and those that care for them. Panetta recently called on the VA to increase allocations to VA clinics outside of major cities. Soon after, the VA clinic in Marina began providing vaccines for Central Coast veterans.

Panetta also reintroduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act for the 117th Congress. Originally introduced at the end of 2019, the legislation aims to do a number of things: give agricultural workers the opportunity to earn legal status; reform the Ag worker visa program known as H-2A; and provide more protections for workers.The bill, when it was introduced last Congress, was only passed in the House. But with a new Congress Panetta said, “I look forward to continuing the fight for this bill, its passage into law, and its lasting benefits for the farmers and farmworkers of our communities.”

California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) hosted an internal, virtual town hall last Friday to talk about the safety of their East Campus Housing community. The university and campus police wanted to clear up rumors about a recent incident. According to CSUMB's University Police Department Chief Earl Lawson, on February 10, a campus police officer was assisting the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office with an eviction at an East Campus residence. The CSUMB police officer located an illegal firearm in the back of a moving truck. While clearing the apartment, officers observed some items of concern including weapon parts, chemicals, tools, and wires. Erring on the side of safety, they evacuated neighbors and contacted the Monterey County Bomb Squad who found no bomb making materials. Officers seized several weapons, including a handgun, plus weapon parts and tools for assembling homemade guns with no serial numbers (also known as “ghost guns”). They also saw a swastika taped to the apartment wall and a photo of Adolf Hitler. Police said they have no evidence the suspect is affiliated with any hate groups.

In a statement to KAZU News, Chief Lawson said, “I and every member of the University Police Department agree there is no place for racism or anti-Semitism on the CSUMB campus or anywhere in our society.” He added the investigation is ongoing.

The suspect was booked into Monterey County Jail, charged with multiple weapons violations and is awaiting trial. The individual, a former student, no longer lives on campus and is no longer eligible for student housing.

 Less than two years ago, a gunman killed five staff members of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland. A new series from NPR’s Embedded podcast looks into what happens after the world and press move on from these tragic events. Soon after the shooting, Capital reporter Selene San Felice told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “This is going to be a story for how many days?” The podcast follows San Felice and other staff members in the years following the shooting.  Ten years ago, an earthquake and tsunami hit the coast of Japan, igniting explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Photographer Munemasa Takahashi led the “Lost & Found Project,” a volunteer effort to collect pictures left in the debris. The goal? To return them to their owners and preserve memories. Read more about the Lost & Found Project and view some of the images, from weddings to ski trips. UC Santa Cruz is seeking reapproval for a housing project that would reduce housing pressure in the community by allowing an additional 2,000 current students to live on campus. The Student Housing West project was first approved two years ago, but lawsuits prevented the campus from meeting its original timeline to build more housing. Prior to the pandemic, the university said it was housing more than half of its undergraduate class (about 9,300 students). Amid a lack of local housing stock, high rental prices and more people moving to the area because they can work remotely, the university said there is an urgent need for student housing. If the project is approved, the campus hopes to start construction as soon as possible.

A Pine Siskin suspected to have salmonellosis receives care at Native Animal Rescue in Santa Cruz.
Credit Erika Mahoney

  Spring is in the air but local wildlife rescue centers are asking community members to temporarily take down their bird seed feeders and bird baths. Feeders and baths are spreading a deadly disease among a native songbird called Pine Siskins. These small brown birds with yellow on their wings have been turning up in dire conditions at the SPCA for Monterey County and Native Animal Rescue in Santa Cruz County. They’re suffering from a salmonella outbreak, which is spread through droppings or saliva when Pine Siskins gather at bird feeders and bird baths. KAZU’s Erika Mahoney visited the SPCA to learn more.

KAZU is a media sponsor of Cal State Monterey Bay’s celebration of the 300th Anniversary of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. The music is on the Golden Record aboard both of NASA’s Voyager spacecrafts, which are destined for the Milky Way. Join Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and the Music and Performing Arts Department at Cal State Monterey Bay along with its partner organizations as they mark the anniversary during live-stream events at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on March 24. Read more about why the Brandenburg Concertos are significant to the Monterey Bay area.

Heard on Morning Edition this week: The Planet Money team bought a vintage superhero called Micro-Face. Micro-Face was languishing in the public domain and the team thought he was the perfect hero for a public radio network. Why? Well he happens to wear a mask with audio super powers and has a microphone attached to his face. You decide for yourself… is Micro-Face the perfect public radio superhero?

As a heads up, we will pause the weekly news roundup for the next two weeks as we enter KAZU’s spring membership campaign. You can support KAZU and the newsletter here.

Until then,

The KAZU Team