A person receives a vaccine
(via Pixabay)
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Morning Lookout: Another stimulus check, vaccine updates and a holiday gift guide for Santa Cruz

Good Morning!

It’s Monday, Dec. 21. We can look forward to a beautiful sunny day with a high of 60.

It’s finally the week of Christmas and Kwanzaa, like most other things this year, it will be like nothing else we’ve experienced because of surging COVID-19 cases and stay-at-home order. To make your life easier, we’ve put together a holiday gift guide to help you find uniquely Santa Cruz gifts for all your loved ones, as well as two stories to help you get your holiday dining fix via delivery and take-out.

But before that, some good news: Lawmakers in Washington have finally agreed to another economic relief package that includes extended unemployment benefits, another stimulus check and small business aid. Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden will get the vaccine later today in a televised event, and the LA Times reports that Gov. Gavin Newsom is going back into quarantine after a staffer tested positive.

We have a lot to cover — including our Lookout vaccine poll — so let’s dive in.

Another stimulus check, extended unemployment and small business aid

U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C.
(via Pixabay)

Congressional leaders over the weekend finally agreed on another COVID-19 aid package to extend federal unemployment payments and forgivable loans for small businesses — and to give direct cash payments to many Americans. Now, the focus turns to the House and Senate, which must approve the deal, and President Donald Trump, who must sign it for it to take effect.

Some early highlights of the deal:

  • 11 additional weeks of compensation for unemployed Americans
  • $300 a week per worker from the federal government in addition to standard unemployment aid from states
  • 11 weeks of unemployment benefits for contract and gig workers
  • One-time direct payment of up to $600 to Americans making less than $75,000. Children are eligible for $600. Unlike in spring, “mixed legal status families” would be eligible
  • $284 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses, with some set aside specifically for very small and minority-owned businesses that didn’t get an equitable share of the original loans
  • $13 billion for food assistance
  • $25 billion for rent payment assistance
  • $10 billion for child care assistance
  • $82 billion for schools, colleges and universities

Read more from our content partner, the LA Times, here.

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New testing site opens today

Santa Cruz County’s new COVID-19 testing opened today at 7 a.m. at Civic Auditorium, 307 Church Street. in downtown Santa Cruz. Appointments will be available Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The testing center, overseen by the state of California, will operate like the other state site at Ramsay Park in Watsonville. That means all tests are free, and available for anyone who wants them, regardless of whether they’re symptomatic. Appointments are mandatory. To make one, click here.

You can also check out our COVID-19 testing guide to see all testing sites countywide and their various requirements. Meanwhile, keep an eye on our COVID TODAY blog as we continue to track the virus in Santa Cruz County.

Vaccine updates

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)

Biden to televise vaccination: Later today, the Associated Press reports President-elect Joe Biden and future first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, are expected to receive the coronavirus vaccine. The inoculation will be televised as part of a growing effort to convince Americans that the vaccine is safe.

LOOKOUT POLL: With FDA emergency approvals in place, would you take the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines when they become available?

Who gets vaccinated next? The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted Sunday to determine the order of high-risk priority groups for Phase 1 of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. NPR reports that, per the CDC’s recommendation, next in line starting in January are:

  • Adults ages 75 and older
  • Teachers
  • Police officers, firefighters and correctional officers
  • Grocery store workers

Suspension of UCSC wildcat striker draws outcry

Carlos Cruz speaks through a megaphone at a rally outside the home of UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive on Wednesday.
Carlos Cruz speaks through a megaphone at a rally outside the home of UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive on Wednesday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

‘I feel like I’m the scapegoat’: Last winter, 29-year-old Carlos Cruz was among hundreds of teaching assistants at UC Santa Cruz to go on a months-long strike for a pay increase they said they needed to afford Santa Cruz’s high cost of living. Last month, Cruz was suspended for up to two years for his role in the wildcat strike. It appears to be the harshest punishment faced by anyone involved. If his appeal is denied, he believes it will end his academic career. The suspension of Cruz — a prominent voice in the strike — goes beyond the warning recommended by a campus conduct board, according to records reviewed by Lookout. And it has sparked an outcry from his peers, his union, his doctoral adviser, and a civil rights attorney who says he is being singled out. Read more from our Nick Ibarra here.

As a non-profit operating during a pandemic, the MAH is relying on gifts from the community now more than ever.

Holiday dining two-fer

Santa Cruz County restaurant owners aren’t giving up amid the pandemic, hoping special to-go holiday meals, take-and-bake options and whatever else their creative imaginations can cook up will get them through this latest moment of 2020 challenge. We recently profiled some in our “Delivery done right” feature, and even updated that feature today. In a second installment, our food contributor Amber Turpin today tells you about takeout options that include prix fixe menus, family pack BBQ and more. Read Amber’s story here.

Holiday gift guide: The best of shopping local in Santa Cruz County

Indigo towels
(Courtesy Slowcoast)

You’ve got just a few more days to wrap up your holiday shopping and wrap up all your gifts, and this year has been especially hard on local businesses that are fighting to stay afloat. Our Lookout Holiday Gift Guide is at the ready to help! The guide has something for everyone. For instance, if all you’ve got left on your shopping list is the stocking stuffers, we have a section for things $20 and under, including a luxurious eggwhite and chamomile soap, hand-dyed Indigo tea towels or hand-painted Christmas ornaments. Check out the full guide here.

Gift a Lookout membership

Meanwhile, if you’ve been enjoying this newsletter, our website and the news we’re bringing to you each day, consider treating yourself to a Lookout membership or gifting one to a loved one. (Our content won’t be free forever, after all, and we donate part of your membership to a civic cause of your choice.) We’ve gotten some questions about membership, so we’ve put together these FAQs to help you through the process. For those of you who are already members, thank you so much for the support!

Around the county . . .

Rare bird a surprise visitor to Santa Cruz County (The Pajaronian) https://pajaronian.com/rare-bird-a-surprise-visitor-to-santa-cruz-county/

Watsonville man charged with manslaughter after fist fight kills one (Santa Cruz Sentinel) https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2020/12/20/watsonville-man-charged-with-manslaughter-after-fist-fight-kills-one/

Reindeer Run continues sprint toward success (Scotts Valley Press Banner) https://pressbanner.com/reindeer-run-continues-sprint-toward-success/

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.

Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor