Garima Desai, left, poses for a photo with her parents at Multnomah Falls in Portland, Oregon.
Garima Desai, left, poses for a photo with her parents at Multnomah Falls in Portland, Oregon, where she spent a summer as a Transportation Research Fellow.
(Garima P. Desai / Contributed)
Latest News

Morning Lookout: County’s COVID death toll rises, UCSC’s Rhodes scholar, and more

Good morning, Santa Cruzans!

Tulsi Kamath here. It’s Tuesday, Nov. 24, and today promises to be another partly sunny day with a high of 63. I’ve been getting some really great, constructive feedback since I sent the first newsletter yesterday. Please keep it coming! Also, as we continue to expand our work in Santa Cruz, if there’s something you think we should know, send it to to ensure it hits all our inboxes.

Let’s dive into this morning’s headlines.

Coronavirus: Another death, a lawsuit and our deep dive on testing

A nurse processes a COVID-19 test at the SALUD Para La Gente testing facility in Watsonville on Nov. 19, 2020.
A nurse processes a COVID-19 test at the SALUD Para La Gente testing facility in Watsonville on Nov. 19, 2020. With California experiencing a surge in new cases, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a 10 p.m. curfew for all counties in the purple tier, including Santa Cruz County.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County recorded its 28th COVID-19 death: A woman in her 90s who caught the virus amid an outbreak at a nursing care facility in Live Oak. This is a developing story that we’ll be updating throughout the day. Click here to read more.

Meanwhile, the family of a 94-year-old man who died of COVID-19 complications last month at the Watsonville Post-Acute Center has filed an elder-abuse and wrongful-death lawsuit alleging the facility was “both understaffed and inadequately trained in infectious disease prevention and control.” Donald Wickham, 94, who suffered from dementia, died Oct. 20 according to David Spini, the family’s lawyer. He was one of 15 residents of the Watsonville Post-Acute Center who died after contracting the virus. Read our story about the lawsuit here.

Presented by UC Santa Cruz

The University Library at UC Santa Cruz recently announced the online publication of the Santa Cruz County Historic...

Tamara Vides
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

The first case of coronavirus was reported in Santa Cruz County in mid-March. Since then, there have been a little more than 71,000 tests administered in our county. Some of the wait times have been excruciating. “Knowledge is so empowering. Just knowing whether you’re positive or negative brings peace of mind,” said Tamara Vides, Watsonville’s assistant city manager, who waited for several stressful days for her results in the early days of the pandemic.

Our Isabella Cueto and Mallory Pickett dove into the numbers and talked with the county’s health officer, Dr. Gail Newel and the director of the county’s testing task force, Dr. Cal Gordon, and they both echoed the same sentiment: 5 to 7 days of waiting is unacceptable. Read the full article here.

No money, mo’ problems

Branciforte Middle School Principal Casey O’Brien
Branciforte Middle School Principal Casey O’Brien is among educators worried about the effect of the defeat of Prop 15 on his school — and others.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The statewide failure of Proposition 15 earlier this month has stymied California public schools out of up to $11.5 billion in funding. By one estimate, Santa Cruz County’s largest district — Pajaro Valley Unified School District — could have received between $7 million and $13 million, annually by 2025. But now, administrators, teachers and their union reps are again looking toward an uncertain fiscal future.

With increased expenses and the likelihood of slashed state budgets, Santa Cruz City Schools Superintendent Kris Munroe says pay cuts and layoffs are expected for next school year. Notifications must be sent out to employees by March 15. Read the full story here.

Flying colors and a grounded attitude

Garima P. Desai is the first Rhodes Scholar ever selected from UCSC.
(Rhodes Trust / Contributed)

It’s been a good month for the California daughters of Indian immigrants (remember Vice President-elect Kamala Harris?). UC Santa Cruz is celebrating 22-year-old alumna Garima P. Desai today after it was announced that the Fremont-native was named the university’s first-ever Rhodes Scholar. Desai took an exceptionally humble view of her accomplishments — double majors, a 4.0 GPA, research credits and now a prestigious scholarship — when she spoke with our Nick Ibarra yesterday.

“I didn’t even know what a Rhodes Scholar was,” she said. She went on to explain that she plans on pursuing master’s degrees in economics and environmental studies at Oxford University — easy choices for her as she sees her work as her ‘dharma’ (sacred duty) and ‘seva’ (selfless service). Read her full interview here.

Cement Ship
(Courtesy Cement Ship)

Finally today, Wallace Baine tells you about your chance to toast Last Chance. All but a few homes in the remote community near Big Basin State Park were decimated by the CZU Lightning Complex fire. On Sunday, Shanty Shack Brewing in Santa Cruz will host a fundraiser to help the residents of Last Chance in the Santa Cruz Mountains rebuild.

Question of the day

Those are the highlights for you this morning. I leave you with a question for today: How is your Thanksgiving plan changing because of COVID-19 restrictions?

If you want to respond, send a news tip or give me feedback, you can hit reply to this email and your note will come straight to my inbox. I would love to hear from you!

We’re working on several stories today, including finding out more about the new COVID-19 death in Santa Cruz County and a piece from Wallace about the incredible strength of one musical group dealing with the fallout of the wildfires. You can find those stories plus much more later in the day on

Thanks for reading!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor