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Hey, happy Friday night and hope you have some nice weekend plans in place.

A week of daily positivity rate drops across Santa Cruz County ended with a slight uptick that will make us wonder whether we’ll get the magic “back to the red tier” news next week.

The county was at 8.6 cases per 100,000 this week and needs to get under 7 by Tuesday in order to trigger a two-week timetable that should put us back in the red by March 16. More on that below.

On the vaccine front we learned that the FDA gave its blessing to the Johnson & Johnson version, which is expected to get final clearance this weekend. We also got news that the METRO is chipping in with free bus rides to and from vaccine sites and that California colleges are beginning to get into the vaccination action.

More on both below.

Has the COVID drop-off finally plateaued?

June 15 is the day California gets back to full business. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

COVID TODAY: After days of plummeting COVID-19 cases in Santa Cruz County, the trend was finally broken on Friday when the count increased … by one case. Thankfully, the number of hospitalizations and ICU bed availability both continued to improve. Tulsi Kamath provides a more detailed breakdown here.

Need a lift to your vaccine appointment?

Metro bus headed to Watsonville
A METRO bus in motion. The transportation system has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, stripping ridership down to a trickle. Credit: Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz

VACCINE WATCH: Santa Cruz METRO began offering free rides to people going to and from COVID-19 vaccine appointments on Friday. To get the free ride, passengers must show drivers proof of the vaccination appointment upon boarding. This “includes a photo, printout, or email of the confirmed appointment slot or vaccination card.” Go here for more on the program.

California colleges slowly begin vaccinating faculty, students

Sacramento State nursing student Amanda Clark administers a COVID-19 vaccine
Sacramento State nursing student Amanda Clark administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Denisse Ambriz, a graduate from the Master of Social Work program at Sacramento State University on Jan. 29, 2021. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

VACCINE WATCH: Chico State is one of at least three California State University campuses offering the coronavirus vaccine to faculty, staff or student employees. Other California colleges may soon follow as the state’s vaccine rollout continues and supply increases. But most colleges and universities say they’re not likely to require members of the campus community to be vaccinated — even as they plan to ramp up in-person learning. More from content partner CalMatters here.

More from here & elsewhere

FDA vaccine advisers recommend authorization of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine (CNN)
Why Americans shouldn’t turn their noses up at Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine (CNN)
Real or fake? Forged documents add another headache to COVID-19 vaccine rollout (LA Times)
As threat of mutant COVID variants grows, vaccinations and mask wearing remain essential (LA Times)
Parents desperate to get their disabled kids vaccinated face big hurdle: CDC guidelines (NBC News)
U.S. Coronavirus Cases Dropped Dramatically Since January, But Can We Keep Them Down? (NPR)
Black women feel outsize burden from the Covid-19 economy, survey finds (NBC News)
Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse, 5 assistants out for Friday’s game due to protocols (ESPN)

ASK LOOKOUT: We answer your questions . . .

Q: What more should we know about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

A: A head-to-head comparison of all the COVID-19 vaccines available to patients in the U.S. “is very difficult,” Dr. David Ghilarducci of the Santa Cruz County health department said this week, “but what I will say is that all of these vaccines, even the Johnson & Johnson are 100% effective in keeping you out of the hospital and and keeping you from getting seriously ill, and that I think is just a game changer for us.”

The LA Times, our content partner, reported that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and about 85% at preventing the most serious illness. Ghilarducci also pointed out that all the vaccines were tested during different points of the pandemic, and some of them completed trials before new variants of concern became widespread.

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

See you Monday!

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...