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Morning Lookout: COVID-19 research at UCSC, rail-trail ribbon-cutting and more

Good Morning! It’s Thursday, Dec. 10.

Sorry for the late newsletter this morning. We had some technical difficulties with sending it out. After our heatwave earlier in the week, it will be a more typical December day, mostly cloudy with a high of 59.

We’ve got a lot cooking this morning, including fresh news from UC Santa Cruz researchers about COVID-19 antibody testing, a vaccine update, an upcoming virtual event built around our “21 for ’21” series, and more.

Let’s dive in.

JUST IN: UCSC researchers develop faster way to detect COVID-19 antibodies — without sacrificing accuracy

UCSC professors Rebecca DuBois, right, and Jacqueline Kimmey are part of a team of researchers
UCSC professors Rebecca DuBois, right, and Jacqueline Kimmey are part of a team of researchers who developed a new method to detect COVID-19 antibodies.
(Carolyn Lagattuta / UC Santa Cruz)

The name takes a while to say: biolayer interferometry immunosorbent assay, abbreviated as BLI-ISA. But UC Santa Cruz researchers in a new research paper this morning say their newly developed method to detect COVID-19 antibodies is much faster and more accurate than the current gold standard for antibody testing.

Why it matters: Antibodies are the signature of a prior COVID-19 infection and potential persistent immunity. Having antibodies to the virus in your blood can provide protection from getting infected again.

What it means: If approved by the FDA, researchers hope the testing method can be used as a surveillance tool for the campus and surrounding community — perhaps in a similar fashion to the role played by UCSC’s on-campus COVID-19 testing lab. FDA approval could come during spring.

The quote: “If we get FDA approval of this, it would be a natural fit to be part of that, to help our campus and community, and I’m hoping to help however I can,” says Rebecca DuBois, a professor of biomolecular engineering.

Read Nick Ibarra’s report here.

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First vaccines on the way, but the rollout will be slow

California’s first shipment of vaccines will include 327,000 doses — supplying 327,000 people with their first of two needed doses — and is expected to reach hospitals between Saturday and Tuesday. But a very small number of people will receive the vaccine this year, with the initial shipment to California “likely to end up largely in hospital settings,” says Dr. Robert Schechter, a medical officer with the California Department of Public Health. Read the report from our content partner, the LA Times, here.

Working on the rail trail

What portions of the Coastal Rail Trail are open, which are in development and what’s the status of the project? Amid a virtual groundbreaking for a portion of the trail at 12:30 p.m. today, our Mallory Pickett will answer those questions and more in a special report we’ll publish this morning. Keep an eye out for it on our website.

21 for ’21: What now? What’s Next?

A flyer promoting the 21 for 21' event with host Wallace Baine

As part of our ongoing 21 for ’21 series, we are hosting an event next week with community leaders to reflect on the lessons of a painful and volatile year, and to look ahead at the promise and peril of the year to come. Our Wallace Baine will visit with four community leaders: activist Esabella Bonner, city economic director Bonnie Lipscomb, Ruby Vasquez of the Campesino Appreciation caravan and county supervisor Ryan Coonerty on where we stand on the cusp of 2021.

This event is free and we invite you to join us and be part of the conversation around recovery.

When: Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m.
Where: Zoom
Register for the event here

Meet Bella Bonner

Bella Bonner leads the march up West Cliff.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

One of the panelists, Bella Bonner, emerged as a young activist earlier this year to spur dramatic gatherings of diversity discussion and police reform. The 25-year-old, who quickly became one of the most recognizable voices on equity and social justice issues in Santa Cruz County, says the stirrings to spur change began developing nearly a decade earlier while she was still in high school. From organizing public events to blogging and public speaking, she’s set herself up to be an even more influential force in 2021. Read our Mark Conley’s full profile of her here.

Shop local for the holidays

Venus’ Wayward Bourbon
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

It’s been a helluva year and no one would fault you if you treat yo’ self or the ones you love this holiday season. Equally important is that we finish the year strong by continuing to support our favorite local businesses that may be struggling to survive the pandemic. Think Local is a great start. But we need to Buy Local more than ever. To that end, we have created a holiday gift guide that showcases some of the amazing products you could buy for the pickiest people in your life. The guide even breaks down suggestions by budget and interest.

For example, for the wine-lover in your life, you could consider a 2017 Pinot Noir Coast Grade made from grapes grown in Coast Grade Vineyard in Bonny Doon. If you prefer something stronger, Venus’ Wayward Bourbon is described as “unapologetically bold whiskey has a bit of a kick, but makes up for it with sweet caramel notes and a beautiful deep amber color.” Check out our full guide and how to buy the wine and bourbon here.

Holiday Lights (Pandemic edition)

Most of our holiday traditions are taking on a pandemic year spin. Earlier this week, the Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre announced their live rendering of The Nutcracker, which has thrilled audiences for two decades, will this year be turned into a movie that will be screened.

The Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds outside Watsonville are tuned into what is possible despite the raging pandemic. To bring some holiday cheer, the fairgrounds are throwing a completely pandemic-safe holiday light show that you can enjoy without getting out of the car. Similar to the famously popular Fantasy of Lights celebration that takes place every year at Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos, the fairgrounds event has transformed the site into a drive-thru scene, featuring nearly half a million individual lights that form a kind of maze on the grounds.

Read more about how and when you can go see the lights here.

That’s it for now. As we publish stories throughout the day, along with bookmarking our website, one of the easiest ways to stay on top of the latest news is to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor