Healthcare workers at COVID-19 testing facility in Santa Cruz County.
Healthcare workers at COVID-19 testing facility in Santa Cruz County.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
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Morning Lookout: State vaccine panel meets today, crab season conundrum and more

Good Morning!

It’s Wednesday, Dec. 23. We’re expecting a partly sunny day with a high of 61, which seems like perfect weather for the long-awaited start of commercial crab season today!

But, just like everything else in 2020, there’s a major hitch with getting crab boats in the water, so you might be a little crabby if you are craving some Christmas crab. More on that later.

As COVID-19 continues to surge in our county and state, a California state advisory committee is set to meet at 2 p.m. today to tackle who should be next in line to get vaccinated after health care workers and residents of nursing and long-term living facilities.

It’s also the last week on the job for a county clerk who is ending her career after one of the craziest elections in modern times.

There’s plenty to cover so let’s dive right in.

COVID-19 positivity rates, cases continue upward swing

Even as the vaccine is doled out to more people, we continue to see upward trends in COVID-19 cases, deaths, positivity rates and a downward trend on ICU and hospital capacities. Here are the latest figures for Santa Cruz County:

  • 3 new deaths as of yesterday, bringing the county total to 73
  • 1,928 known active cases
  • 60 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, of which 15 are in the ICU
  • 14-day average test positivity rate is 12.1%, now barely lower than the state average of 12.2%

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

Presented by UC Santa Cruz

The campus continues to make advancements in the areas of housing, transportation, and water conservation.

State advisory committee to decide today if educators to get vaccine in next phase

After frontline medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities receive vaccines, a consensus is emerging among health experts advising officials in California and nationally that teachers and other school staff be high on the priority list to be vaccinated next. An influential advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday that teachers, school staff and child care workers be next in line and California is expected to follow suit today when the state’s 60-member Community Vaccine Advisory Committee meets to discuss who should get the vaccinations after the first priority group. Read the story from EdSource here. For details on how to attend the meeting, click here.

Surprise! Congress takes steps to curb unexpected medical bills

Most Americans tell pollsters they’re worried about being able to afford an unexpected medical bill. This week, Congress passed a bill to allay some of those fears. The measure is included in a nearly 5,600-page package providing coronavirus economic relief and government funding for the rest of the fiscal year. Specifically, the legislation addresses those charges that result from a long-running practice in which out-of-network medical providers — from doctors to air ambulance companies — send insured Americans “surprise bills,” sometimes for tens of thousands of dollars. Read the full story from our content partner Kaiser Health News here.

No Crab for Christmas? Season opens today, but fishermen holding ground on price

Fresh Monterey Bay crab will have to wait for most people this winter.
(Courtesy John Teeple)

The commercial crab season officially opens today in the Monterey Bay area after it was delayed three separate times due to new state regulations to protect whales. But you probably won’t have crab for Christmas. Fishermen say the price they’ve been offered is too low, so they are standing in solidarity, on dry land, until they get a better one. “This whole thing is an absolute mess,” said Dave Toriumi, a local crab and salmon fisherman who has boats docked in the Moss Landing and Santa Cruz harbors. “We’re all going broke just sitting here.” Read our Mallory Pickett’s story here.

County Clerk Gail Pellerin calls it a career

This doesn't appear to be the last we'll see of Gail Pellerin.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

After more than 27 years — the last 16 of them in her current position — the woman who oversees the county’s elections is looking back at the wild election season of 2020 with lots of satisfaction and a little surprise as well.“It was crazy,” Gail Pellerin said like someone who just stepped out of the Boardwalk’s Giant Dipper, “but the November election was my dream election.” Our Wallace Baine profiles Pellerin’s career in a special “The Here & Now” column, which includes a touching story of how Pellerin helped one of his friends in need. Read Wallace’s column here.

Helping local restaurants with a holiday meal

While you probably can’t expect crab, you can still get some excellent local cuisine if you are not looking to cook this holiday weekend. 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. Our food contributor Amber Turpin has some takeout options that include prix fixe menus, family pack BBQ and more. Read Amber’s story here.

Presented by Santa Cruz County Bank

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

21 for ’21: Losing her home to fire helped Hallie Greene learn how to help others

When Boulder Creek native Hallie Greene lost her home to the CZU Lightning fire, she sprung into action to assist others who were perplexed about, and left vulnerable amid, the recovery process. “[They] showed me what the county had brought up for fire relief and it was like some garbage bags on the ground with masks and a tarp,” she said. “I hadn’t been through a disaster yet, so I don’t know what there should be, but I looked at that and thought, ‘Well, it should probably be more than that.’” Read Mallory’s profile of Greene here and catch up with other change-makers in our 21 for ’21 series here.

Feeling the “Love You Madly”

Speaking of wildfire recovery, organizers of the “Love You Madly” virtual concert are announcing that the Dec. 5 event, T-shirt sales and live auction raised a total of $110,000 for the Fire Response Fund, managed by Community Foundation Santa Cruz County. A online rebroadcast of the performance is set for Jan. 15, 2021, too. Here’s our recap of the star-studded show, which includes links to how you can help fire victims.

PG&E’s tree-toppling problem prompts other calls for other improvements

The Anderson’s address spray-painted on the end of a log in a timber deck of Douglas Firs cut down by PG&E
The Anderson’s address spray painted on the end of a log in a timber deck of Douglas Firs cut down by PG&E following the CZU Lightening Complex Fires in August of this year. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Critics say that PG&E and other electric providers should be focusing less on the cheap stuff, like cutting trees, and doing more to upgrade thousands of miles of old lines and aging equipment. Santa Cruz County officials have previously called PG&E crews’ tree-removal work “reckless,” worrying that it increases the risk of erosion and mudslides when winter rains begin. “Instead of doing the responsible thing and investing in their infrastructure, they want to just do vegetation management,” said Assemblymember Mark Stone, a Monterey Bay Democrat whose district includes Santa Cruz. Read the full story by Lookout’s content partner Cal Matters here.

Gift a Lookout membership

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 . . .

CHP officials searching for suspect in deadly Santa Cruz hit-and-run (KION)

Veterans’ centers struggling under Covid-19 restrictions (The Pajaronian)

Because of the holiday season, this is my final newsletter of this week. Don’t worry, we’re keeping tabs on the latest local news on our website, as well as posting news updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Happy holidays and I hope you have a restful, peaceful holiday weekend. See y’all on Monday!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor