Quick Take:

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Good Morning! It’s Wednesday, Feb. 17. I am still pinching myself at the thought of it being 63 degrees and sunny today while my friends and family back in Houston are without power and will see a high of only 35 after getting several inches of snow. Californians are helping Texas out during the unprecedented arctic blast – more on that later.

Locally, we’re waking up to some big health care news, with our Patrick Riley reporting how the state has canceled a pandemic-driven policy that opened a path for hospitals to potentially assign more patients to nurses. This had been a big issue for nurses at Watsonville Community Hospital, who staged three protests about the issue in December and January.

In other health stories, we’ve learned that Kaiser Permanente, one of the three major health systems that serves Santa Cruz County residents, has more COVID-related safety violations than any other health care employer in the state.

On the criminal justice beat, the Captain of the Conception dive boat — on which 34 people died in 2019, including five people from Santa Cruz County — has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges. Also, Watsonville police are seeking the public’s help in solving what they believe are three unrelated shootings within a 48-hour span over the weekend.

There’s a lot more to cover, so let’s get to it:

Captain of Conception dive boat pleads not guilty to charges of seaman’s manslaughter

Dive boat captain Jerry Boylan
Jerry Boylan, the dive boat captain, is brought back to the U.S. Coast Guard station in Oxnard in October 2019. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The captain of the Conception, the dive boat on which 34 people, including five Santa Cruzans, died during a fire in 2019, pleaded not guilty yesterday to seaman’s manslaughter charges. Jerry Boylan, 67, entered the plea during a brief court appearance before a federal magistrate judge in downtown Los Angeles as relatives of those who died watched the proceeding over video. Read the latest from our content partner the LA Times here.

Fred the Fighter: How comic spirit stays alive for this five-time cancer survivor from Santa Cruz

Credit: Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz

Local comedian and writer Fred Reiss has beaten back cancer five times, but he knows the real enemy is not illness or death, but despair. In his The Here & Now column, our Wallace Baine talks with Reiss about how he keeps his spirits up through it all. Baine writes, in part:

“Though cancer has posed a mortal threat for years, you could say that Reiss owes his life — or, at least, his life’s path — to it. His first cancer scare — testicular cancer — was back in the 1980s when he was still in his 20s. It shook him enough that he decided to pursue his dream of moving to California to become a stand-up comedian. Since then, he has cobbled together a living “just being Fred,” as he puts it, touring as a stand-up comedian, working in radio, selling books and doing speaking gigs.”

Read the whole thing here.

HERE & NOW UPDATE: Folks are continuing to read and react to Wallace’s column about a group of anti-mask protesters who stormed a downtown Trader Joe’s on Saturday and posted a video of the incident that’s since gone viral. Here’s what Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills posted on Twitter:

COVID 2021 Updates

COVID wins: The hope — touted by leaders as being on the horizon — appears to finally be here. The county continues to make big gains on the vaccine front and the battle against the virus. Latest numbers reveal:

  • Santa Cruz County COVID numbers are approaching Red Tier status which would allow for less restrictions on local businesses. If the county meets all the thresholds required by next week, it would need to see those numbers hold steady for two more weeks before we would see the change.
  • More than 55,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents meaning about 20% of the county’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Read more local COVID updates from our Mallory Pickett here.

State backs away from assigning more patients to nurses following protests in Watsonville, beyond: A battle over a pandemic-driven change that opened a path for hospitals to potentially assign more patients to nurses has ended in a victory for nursing unions and health care workers, including those at Watsonville Community Hospital. State health officials earlier this month announced they will no longer accept any new expedited staffing waivers — and that all existing waivers would expire Feb. 8 — unless the state determines “there is an unprecedented circumstance.” Watsonville nurses took to the streets multiple times since December to protest the policy change. Read the full report by our Patrick Riley here.

READ ALSO: While you’re at it, also check out our Lookout Special Report that delves into Watsonville Community Hospital’s new interim management company, Prospect Medical Holdings, which has faced accusations nationally of providing poor patient care and has drawn the attention of Congress.

State fines Kaiser $499K for COVID worker safety violations: Kaiser Permanente has on multiple occasions failed to provide hospital employees the gear or training needed to protect them from COVID-19, according to 12 citations issued by California’s enforcer of workplace safety laws, Cal/OSHA. The agency has issued more citations against Kaiser than any other health care employer in California, fining it almost $500,000. In addition, Santa Clara County has separately penalized the hospital for not immediately reporting an outbreak in December. Read more from our partner, CalMatters here.

Statewide beat

Decrying ‘cancel culture,’ state senator seeks to make political affiliation a protected class: California State Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) has proposed legislation intended to curb so-called “cancel culture” by adding political affiliation to a list of classes — such as race, gender and religious creed — that are protected under California’s anti-discrimination laws. She introduced two bills, one of which she has dubbed the Diversity of Thought Act. Read more from our partner the LA Times here.

California vs. Texas — Power Outage Edition: Millions of Texans are without power on day three of unprecedented winter weather. Texas lawmakers — like Sen. Ted Cruz — who have taunted California’s weather-related outages in the past, are swiftly coming under fire for their words as Texans try to stay warm in sometimes sub-zero temperatures, according to a report by the Associated Press. Meanwhile, the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, issued an advisory yesterday asking Californians to ease off on electricity use to help people thousands of miles away, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Around the county . . .

Watsonville police seek public’s help in investigating 3 shootings within 48-hour span

Santa Cruz County Public Works pivots coastal parking proposal around public feedback (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

PVUSD to build celebrity-inspired teaching kitchen (The Pajaronian)

That’s it for today. If you’re enjoying our coverage, please tell your family and friends about our Lookout Newsletter & Text Center, where they can sign up for all the newsletters and alerts we offer. You can also keep tabs on everything we’re publishing through the day by bookmarking our website and following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor

Follow Tulsi Kamath on: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. Tulsi Kamath was the originator of Lookout Santa Cruz’s flagship Morning Lookout newsletter and its original Managing Editor.