A man wears a mask.
A patient is rushed to intensive care to be intubated and placed on a ventilator at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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Morning Lookout: COVID cases soar, city and county at odds on homelessness, surfing safety and more

Good Morning!

It’s Tuesday, Dec. 22, with the forecast calling for a mostly sunny day with a high of 61. Last night, clouds might have prevented some Santa Cruzans from seeing the rare “Christmas Star” (a convergence of Jupiter and Saturn) at its brightest, but if you missed the sight yesterday, you still have a chance to see it over the next few nights as it gets less bright in the sky. If you’ve got pictures (admittedly not the easiest photograph), we want to see them! Read about how to see the planetary conjunction and share your photos here.

Meanwhile, as we get closer to Christmas, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are continuing to skyrocket locally and statewide. The Associated Press reports this morning that this could be the deadliest year in U.S. history with more than 3 million deaths, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Locally, we’re reporting on a new development in the sweeping out of the San Lorenzo Valley Park homeless encampment and calls for a “flag system” to improve surf safety countywide.

Let’s ride the news waves now.

COVID cases, hospitalizations continue to surge

File images of nurses and doctors in surgery
(via Pixabay)

Santa Cruz County: COVID-19 cases are still skyrocketing in our county, as the stay-home order remains in place in our area until at least January. Two key metrics still show us faring slightly better than the rest of California, though:

  • The 14-day average testing positivity rate is at 11.7%, an all-time high. But this is virtually the same as the state average of 12%.
  • The 14-day average case count is at 150, also an all-time high, meaning that about 150 people have been testing positive for COVID-19 in the county every day for the past two weeks. This count is substantially lower than the state average value of 256.

Statewide: Over the past two weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased by 63%, 2,741 Californians have died, and ICU admissions have increased by 51%, Gov. Gavin Newsom said yesterday. As cases and hospitalizations continue to increase, Newsom said the stay-at-home order is likely to be extended in those regions, including Southern California, where it is set to expire by the end of December. The Bay Area stay-at-home order — which includes Santa Cruz County — expires Jan. 7, and Newsom did not indicate whether that will be extended.

Testing: As the virus continues to spread, the new community testing site at Civic Auditorium that opened yesterday is already fully booked — meaning no appointments are available for the next several days. The other state-run testing site at Ramsay Park in Watsonville doesn’t have appointments until Dec. 26. If you’re looking for a COVID-19 test, here’s a guide of all the sites in the county and their requirements.

In national news…

Deaths: The Associated Press reports that 2020 could officially become the deadliest year in U.S. history with deaths expected to top 3 million for the first time, due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic. Final mortality data for this year will not be available for months. But preliminary numbers suggest that the United States is on track to see more than 3.2 million deaths this year, or at least 400,000 more than in 2019. COVID-19 has killed more than 318,000 Americans and counting.

New strain? A new variant of COVID-19 that is potentially more infectious was discovered in the United Kingdom in mid-September, NBC News reports. Newsom said in his press conference yesterday that genetic surveillance in California has yet to find any evidence of the new strain here.

Read all our latest virus updates in our COVID TODAY blog.

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The show must go on: the performing arts have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cabrillo’s Dance,...

Break up San Lorenzo homeless encampment? ‘We would have advised against this,’ county health officer writes

Someone walks through the homeless encampment at San Lorenzo Park in Santa Cruz on Dec. 18, 2020.
Someone walks through the homeless encampment at San Lorenzo Park in Santa Cruz on Dec. 18, 2020. The city issued an executive order shutting down the 150-person camp by January.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

As the pandemic rages on, Santa Cruz city officials announced last week that they will be closing portions of San Lorenzo Park to disperse a homeless encampment. But, in a new development Monday evening, Lookout obtained a copy of an electronic message which shows that County Health Officer Gail Newel and her staff weren’t consulted about the city’s decision, and “if we had been, we would have advised against this,” Newel wrote. Read the full report from our Isa Cueto here.

Statewide: A similar problem is brewing south of us after a group of attorneys and advocates for homeless people complained that the city of Los Angeles was ignoring the advice of the CDC by cleaning camps and putting people in encampments throughout the city at heightened risk. Read that story from our content partner, the LA Times, here

Santa Cruz surfers call for flag system, make appeal to incoming supervisor

A surfer takes on massive swells on Dec. 8, 2020.
A surfer takes on massive swells on Dec. 8, 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

A byproduct of COVID-19 is that more people — in some cases with little experience — are headed to Santa Cruz beaches to surf. When one of the biggest northwest swells of the year lashed breaks from Pleasure Point to Capitola two weeks ago, the waves were soon accompanied by sirens. Lots of them. Veteran local surfers have grown concerned that a better system is needed to warn surfers, especially beginners, about water conditions. And they’ve turned to an incoming county supervisor Manu Koenig, who also happens to be a surfer himself, for help. Read the full story from our Patrick Riley and give us your thoughts on the issue here.

A fire, pandemic and death of a deputy: Sheriff Jim Hart reflects on a frenzied 2020

Some 30 years after Sheriff Jim Hart took on one of his first major incidents as a patrolman — the Loma Prieta earthquake — a frenzied 2020 has tested the lessons he learned in those early years. Much like the rest of the world, Hart’s year has not been easy, dealing with one crisis after another: a ravenous fire, a shooting that killed one of his deputies and injured another, a virus outbreak that sidelined a number of correctional officers, budget cuts and more. All against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to strain health care systems and resources, and calls for racial justice and against police violence across the country. Read Patrick’s interview of Sheriff Hart here.

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21 for ’21: Rabbi Paula Marcus on the art of staying hopeful — and connected

Rabbi Paula Marcus of Temple Beth El
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Before the annus horribilis of 2020, Paula Marcus was quite comfortable “out in the streets,” protesting and organizing on the social justice front. As the senior rabbi at Temple Beth El in Aptos, and one of Santa Cruz County’s most prominent spiritual/religious leaders, she felt a sense of duty to demonstrate and represent the values of her community. But denied conventional street activism due to the pandemic, Marcus turned to behind-the-scenes action, from leading a non-partisan postcard campaign to voters in swing states, to lobbying elected representatives on issues near and dear to her congregation. Read our Wallace Baine’s profile of Rabbi Paula here. You can also read a collection of other 21 for ‘21 profiles here.

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

So at this point, I’d expect that you’ve made your list and you’ve checked it twice. Now it’s time to put a bow on your Christmas shopping and get all the presents wrapped up and under the tree. But yes, with everything else going on, it’s easy to have missed one or two people in your life. We have the perfect solution to help you last-minute Christmas shop. Our Lookout Holiday Gift Guide has something for everyone. For instance, for the book lover in your life, you can just let Bookshop Santa Cruz do all the work with one of their Holidays in a Box that includes a favorite Christmas book, an ornament, and some hot cocoa. If your book lover prefers coffee over cocoa, you can treat them to an 11th Hour Coffee’s Dynamic Subscription that delivers a different coffee every week for a whole month. 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 . . .

‘Spreading holiday cheer’: MacQuiddy students gifted new Vans (The Pajaronian)

Kids did not spread coronavirus in Excel In Place program, officials say (Good Times)

Law enforcement prioritizing education over pricey citations (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.

Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor