The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrive at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz County on Dec. 15, 2020.
The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrive at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz County on Dec. 15, 2020.
(Shmuel Thaler / Pool photographer)
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Morning Lookout: First vaccine doses to be doled out, nurses plan to protest, talking recovery and more

Good Morning! It’s Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Another nice day ahead of us with a high of 61. As we close in on the winter solstice, our days are getting pretty short, with today’s sunset at 4:53 p.m. By this time of year in Alaska, where I grew up, we’d have just about five hours of daylight, so I’ll take these Santa Cruz winters any day!

Speaking of darkness, did your power go out yesterday evening? Turns out 63,000 other PG&E customers were impacted, too. Here’s what we learned from PG&E.

Meanwhile, we have a lot to cover today after Santa Cruz County officials got an early package delivery yesterday, bringing Pfizer-BioNTech’s life-saving vaccine to our area. The first frontline health care workers will be receiving shots later today. And fittingly, on the same day that we step into the recovery phase of pandemic life, we’re hosting our 21 for ‘21 free public forum to talk about the economic and social recovery of Santa Cruz County in the coming year.

Unfortunately, Californians are waking up to statistics that show the biggest number of single-day deaths from the coronavirus were recorded statewide yesterday. Ours was one of six counties to set a death record.

Here’s what you need to know about the pandemic . . . and everything else:

History about to be made

The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrive at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz County on Dec. 15, 2020.
The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrive at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz County on Dec. 15, 2020.
(Shmuel Thaler / Pool photographer)

The white, 45-pound box delivered by FedEX to the Santa Cruz County Public Health Department arrived a day early on Tuesday. It contained, packed in dry ice, the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine — 1,950 in total — and the shipment was distributed between Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz and Watsonville Community Hospital. See photos of health care officials at Dominican handling the vaccine and storing it in sub-zero temperatures here.

Today, the long-awaited vaccine will be administered to the first Santa Cruzans: frontline healthcare workers at the two hospitals. The county’s vaccine distribution plan, mirroring the state’s, will roll out the life-saving drug first to health care workers most at risk and residents of long term care facilities and nursing homes. Check out what we know about the county’s plan here.

Presented by Santa Cruz County Bank

BirchBark Foundation’s Executive Director, Michelle Frampton, shared how the pandemic and recent wildfires affected...

Nurses to demonstrate against staffing requirement change

Even as some nurses at Watsonville Community Hospital will be getting vaccinated today, they are sending a message that the COVID-19 battle is far from over and plan to protest possible staffing changes that could result in extreme strain on ICU nurses.

On Friday, the California Department of Public Health announced that hospitals can apply for an “expedited” waiver allowing one ICU nurse to manage up to three patients, instead of up to two. Amid the surge in COVID-19 cases, nurses will demonstrate outside Watsonville Community Hospital this afternoon to urge their hospital not to apply for the waiver. Demonstrations also might happen at nearby Dominican Hospital; Hazel Hawkins, in Hollister; and Salinas Valley Memorial and Natividad Medical Center, in Salinas. Read Nick Ibarra’s full report here.

New testing recommendation kicks in as nurses share struggles

Meanwhile, one bit of relief for nurses might come in a new recommendation issued by the California Department of Public Health that asks hospitals to test all inpatients and health care workers for the virus once a week. Before now, hospital workers who didn’t have access to testing through employer-sponsored health plans had to jump through the same hoops as the general public to get tested.

“There’s been some pushback statewide on this, [but] … our hospitals feel they can do it. The testing capacity in these hospitals has grown,” said Dr. David Ghilarducci, medical director of Santa Cruz County’s emergency medical services. Still, the testing guidance from the state isn’t a requirement. And, so far, some health care systems are short on specifics as to how they’ll get it done. Read the whole story by Isabella Cueto and Mallory Pickett here.

Stay plugged in: We’ll be covering vaccine developments and the nursing protests today on our COVID TODAY blog. And later today, we will bring you a demographic breakdown of all the deaths that have occurred in our county so far, most of which are attributed to outbreaks at nursing homes. Check back on our website for that story and more.

Talking recovery: Sign up for our free forum tonight

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

Even as we’re still in the thick of it, all eyes are on recovery and healing in 2021. As we continue our 21 for ’21 series that profiles change-makers who will be instrumental in rebuilding Santa Cruz in the coming year, we want to invite you to be part of the discussion.

Our Wallace Baine will speak with community leaders this evening to reflect on the lessons of this year and talk about plans for the next. Sign up for tonight’s event here.

Our panelists

Top row, from the left: Bonnie Lipscomb, Ruby Vasquez. Bottom row, from the left: Ryan Coonerty, Bella Bonner
Top row, from the left: Bonnie Lipscomb, Ruby Vasquez. Bottom row, from the left: Ryan Coonerty, Bella Bonner
(Images by Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz. Image of Coonerty from public Facebook profile)

All of our panelists have either been featured in our 21 for ‘21 series already or will be soon. Here’s tonight’s lineup:

Bella Bonner: She broke into limelight as one of the loudest and most recognizable voices in Santa Cruz County during the police brutality protests following George Floyd’s death. But her voice was developing much earlier than that. Read about Bonner here.

Ruby Vasquez: When the pandemic began, the Pajaro Valley educator saw that the standard for “essential workers” meant low-income farmworkers in South County were also on the frontlines. But they got little recognition and she couldn’t stand by without helping them. Read about Vasquez here.

Bonnie Lipscomb: This year, she and her team at the City of Santa Cruz’s Economic Development office had to set aside business-as-usual and create new models to help businesses survive 2020. With no model to turn to, the emergency led to innovative solutions to help local business owners stay afloat. Read about Lipscomb here.

Ryan Coonerty: As a county supervisor, Coonerty was among those in the driver’s seat making policies that impacted the lives of Santa Cruzans during the pandemic. His profile will wrap up our 21 for ’21 series on Jan. 1.

In non-pandemic news . . .

From Watsonville: A roadmap for downtown development in the South County city is taking shape. Based on the work done so far, the city could end up with a downtown that has six neighborhoods, each pedestrian-friendly and with a distinct personality. Read Isabella Cueto’s report here.

From Santa Cruz: In his latest “The Here & Now” column, our Wallace Baine deftly explores the potentially cascading effect of removing the last mission bell from a city intersection. Read the whole thing here.

From Natural Bridges State Park . . . and the entire West Coast: The number of monarchs observed on the West Coast has plummeted from millions in the 1980s to fewer than 10,000 this year. Only 500 butterflies were observed in Natural Bridges during this year’s Thanksgiving count. Our Mallory Pickett tells us what it all means.

Around the county . . .

Watsonville man sentenced to 104 years in prison for trafficking Gilroy woman (The Pajaronian)

SLVHS student honored for years of fundraising for cancer awareness (Scotts Valley Press Banner)

That’s it for now. A quick reminder, as we publish stories throughout the day, try bookmarking our website, and one of the easiest ways to stay on top of the latest news is to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Also, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about how a Lookout membership works and how you can gift a membership for the holidays. We’ve put together some FAQs about our membership program to help you through the process.

Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor