Hi, folks: We’re over the Wednesday hump, and it was day for wrapping our heads around the “V” word — and unfortunately we don’t mean those upcoming Valentine’s Day plans.

The news from Gov. Gavin Newsom that the South African variant had touched down not just in California, but right over the hill from us in Santa Clara County, was a bit unnerving. As you’ll hear from our deputy health officer, via Mallory Pickett, in COVID Today, that news only intensifies the need for vaccination.

Meanwhile, in other variant news, Lookout has learned that the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz is gearing up to begin routinely sequencing the genetics of virus samples for the first time. If any of the variants are here, it’s better to know than not to know, right?

Before we dive into the headlines, we appreciate you being a valuable part of our news community, and we want to thank you with a special discount to become a Lookout member. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be limiting the number of free articles non-members can read, and we want to make sure you don’t miss out. Rest assured, this newsletter, Morning Lookout and all our other newsletters and text alerts will still be free.

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If you’re already a member, thank you for supporting us! Secondly, share this THANKS discount with friends and family so they can save on membership, too.

Don’t forget to tell those who should be in the know to sign up for this newsletter and my text alerts here. They can also just text “Covid” to (831) 508-7524.

The headlines . . .

DON’T MISS THIS: Our pandemic life event

Clockwise from left: Jennalee Dahlen, DNA, David Ghiarducci and Paula Marcus
Credit: Kevin Painchaud, Event Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County

Lookout’s COVID 2021 series of events continues, with our free “People in the Pandemic” event set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Like all of us, our panelists — Yoso Wellness Spa owner Jennalee Dahlen, Santa Cruz County EMS medical director Dr. David Ghiarducci, comedian and events producer DNA and Rabbi Paula Marcus of Temple Beth El in Aptos — have seen their ups and downs because of COVID-19. Lookout journalists will talk with each of them individually and also as a group. Between medicine, religion, wellness and comedy, we’re anticipating a lively discussion in which you’ll be able to ask questions via Zoom chat. To register for the event, simply click here.

UCSC to begin testing for variants

The UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Lab is on the verge of an expansion and relocation.
The UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Lab is on the verge of an expansion and relocation. Credit: Carolyn Lagattuta / UCSC

EXCLUSIVE: Genetic sequencing of virus samples sourced from the UCSC campus and partner clinics is set to begin by the end of February, providing a new surveillance tool that has the potential to detect variants and chart the pandemic’s progression here. Mallory Pickett and Nick Ibarra have the details here.

What does the South African variant’s presence mean for us?

Director pharmacy Gayle Butler, left, and nurse Cherry Costales, center, prepare Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
Pharmacy director Gayle Butler, left, and nurse Cherry Costales, center, prepare Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 7. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

COVID TODAY: Two cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa were reported in the Bay Area today, the first to be reported in California. One was in Santa Clara County, the other from Alameda. The Santa Clara case was in someone who had recently traveled internationally, but followed public health guidelines to self-quarantine for 10 days after their trip. The Alameda case remains under investigation, according to a joint press release from both counties. Mallory Pickett explores what that could mean for Santa Cruz.

More from here & elsewhere

California now has the most COVID-19 deaths, though fewer per capita than most states (LA Times)
Why experts aren’t panicking about new coronavirus variants (LA Times)
Two masks may be better than one in reducing COVID exposure, CDC report finds (LA Times)
Fully vaccinated people can skip Covid quarantines, CDC says (CNN)
More Americans say they’re willing to take a Covid-19 vaccine, but supply issues remain (CNN)
Electronic Health Records May Be Delaying COVID-19 Vaccinations (NPR)

ASK LOOKOUT: We answer your questions . . .

Q: What is known about how the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines work against the South African variant?

A: Clinical trials for Pfizer and Moderna were completed before the emergence of the new variant in South Africa, but lab tests demonstrate that the vaccines still produce antibodies against that variant — though the amount of antibodies is reduced. Because both of those vaccines are so effective against severe disease, doctors and scientists are hopeful that even with a reduction in antibodies they will still work well. (An analysis of the different vaccines and their effectiveness against the South African and other strains is available from STAT news here).

Have a question for us to try and get answered? Submit it here or just reply to this email.


Thursday at 2 p.m. county health officials will hold court on the latest COVID and vaccine news. Be On The Lookout for a link if you want to watch live. Pass along questions and we’ll try to incorporate them into our reporting.

Until Thursday…

Mark Conley
Deputy Managing Editor

Follow Mark Conley on: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Mark joins Lookout after 14 years at the Mercury News and Bay Area News Group, where he served as Deputy Sports Editor on a staff that covered three...