A COVID-19 outbreak at the Watsonville Post Acute Center has resulted in the deaths of multiple people.
A COVID-19 outbreak at the Watsonville Post Acute Center has resulted in the deaths of multiple people.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
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Morning Lookout: New outbreak at Watsonville nursing home, remembering Miri and more

Note: Please ignore today’s previous email as it was sent with an outdated subject line. Sorry about that!

Good Morning! It’s Tuesday, Dec. 29. It’s going to be a partly cloudy day with a high of 57.

This morning, we’re learning more about the life of Miri Villalobos, the 30-year-old Watsonville library volunteer who became the youngest person in the county to succumb to COVID-19. Meanwhile, a Watsonville nursing facility is reporting another outbreak of the virus with dozens of new cases.

Today, we’ll be keeping an eye on San Lorenzo Park, where protesters prevented Santa Cruz police from dispersing a homeless encampment on Monday. More on that in a minute.

There’s a ton to cover — including some important news about economic stimulus checks — so let’s get into it.

Remembering ‘Miri’ Villalobos, youngest person to die of COVID-19 in county

Miriam Villalobos, 30, died from COVID-19 complications on Dec. 17, 2020.
Miriam Villalobos, 30, died from COVID-19 complications on Dec. 17, 2020. She was the youngest person in Santa Cruz County to die from the disease.
(Villalobos family, via GoFundMe)

Miriam “Miri” Villalobos, 30, was a longtime Watsonville resident who volunteered at her hometown’s public library. After “rapidly” developing COVID-19, she spent 13 days in the hospital before succumbing to the virus, her sister Nahara tells Lookout.

“Throughout her lifetime Miriam was bound to her wheelchair but that didn’t stop her from achieving her goals and being an active member of the community,” Nahara Villalobos wrote on a GoFundMe page to raise funds for Villalobos’s funeral. “The people that we’re blessed to be able to know Miriam knew how she could be sweet, caring, and outgoing.” Read more about the heartbreaking case here.

Cases rise, deaths rise, hospital capacity falls

Miriam Villalobos was just one of the seven people whose deaths were announced by Santa Cruz County yesterday, bringing the county death toll to 83. Data released after a several-day hiatus revealed Santa Cruz County is hitting all-time highs in various pandemic trends:

  • Cases: There have been 8,202 cases of COVID-19 reported in the county since the pandemic began and 2,301 of those cases are marked “active.” That means nearly a third of all infections in the county are happening right now, an all-time high.
  • Positivity: The state of California’s estimation of the county’s 14-day average positivity rate has the county at 12.4%, meaning more than one out of every 10 people tested for the virus during that time tested positive. A Lookout analysis of daily case totals shows the county has seen an average of 161 new cases reported each day. This also is an all-time high, as the upswing in cases continues and is more than double the 14-day average on Dec. 1, which was at about 74 cases per day.
  • Hospitalizations: Six more people in the county required hospitalization for treatment of COVID-19, with a total of 296 people being hospitalized since March. State data reveals that the Bay Area Region, which includes Santa Cruz County, has 9.5% of ICU beds available. The Bay Area Region currently ranks third in ICU capacity rates behind only Southern California and San Joaquin Valley, which have all their ICU beds full.

Nursing homes continue to be hardest hit

Three of the seven deaths reported yesterday were connected to nursing homes experiencing outbreaks, county health officials said. One person was a resident at Heart and Hands Post Acute Care and Rehab Center in Live Oak, one person was at Montecito Manor in Watsonville and a third was at Valley Convalescent Hospital in Watsonville. So far, 57 of the 83 deaths, or 67%, have occurred at nursing homes.

47 residents, 11 staff members of Watsonville nursing home test positive

A new outbreak of COVID-19 appears to have begun on the Watsonville Nursing Center and Watsonville Post Acute campus on Dec. 23, according to messages posted online by administrator Rae Ann Radford. As of Monday, 47 nursing center residents had tested positive, with two of them being hospitalized. Eleven staff members had tested positive as well.

“We have been able to secure some additional staff from staffing agencies that will be starting [Tuesday] to help meet our staffing needs,” Radford wrote.

Read more, and keep track of the latest virus developments in our COVID TODAY blog.

The situation is even worse down south

Gov. Gavin Newsom recapped California’s dire COVID-19 condition in a press conference yesterday, painting a bleak picture for this holiday season. The governor said California could see “a surge on top of a surge arguably on top of a surge as it relates to the holiday movement and the travel that we’ve experienced all across this country.” Some highlights of what he said:

  • Staffing issues: Newsom said 1,028 additional staff had been deployed to 116 facilities to help health care workers who are drained and in some cases, sick themselves. The new staff will come from the California National Guard and the state’s health corps program. The state has also approved 86 staffing waivers, allowing hospitals to exceed the staff-to-patient ratios set by state law. As hospitals increasingly seek these waivers, the California Nurses Association and local groups have raised concerns, arguing that assigning more patients to nurses is dangerous for both.
  • Partnering with pharmacies: Most nursing home residents will start receiving their first shots through CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, which will deliver and administer the vaccine. It will take about three to four weeks to give nursing home residents their first dose. Staff and residents in assisted living, residential care and other types of long-term care facilities will follow.

Read the full story from our content partner CalMatters here and stay tuned to our website today as we seek more answers about vaccine distribution in nursing homes here.

Pending vaccine decision: California is also expected to announce as soon as Wednesday who will follow right behind health workers and those in skilled nursing facilities in the vaccine line. The state’s panel of experts making the call is currently considering people 75 years and older, education and child care workers, emergency services workers, and food and agricultural workers. You can read everything we know and don’t know about the vaccines so far here.

Stimulus checks are coming. How much will you get and when?

President Trump signed a $2.3 trillion spending bill Sunday — despite his own late objections — that funds the government and includes $900 billion in stimulus provisions for struggling households and businesses. The government is also sending checks directly to many Americans for a second time this year. Read FAQs about the stimulus checks from our content partner the LA Times here.

Protesters form wall to protect homeless encampment at San Lorenzo Park; police stand down

Protestors hold up a fence in an effort to block Santa Cruz police officers from entering San Lorenzo Park
Protestors hold up a fence in an effort to block Santa Cruz police officers from entering San Lorenzo Park to clear out a homeless encampment on Dec. 28, 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Meanwhile, in the midst of the burgeoning pandemic, Santa Cruz city officials are continuing to try and sweep a homeless encampment in San Lorenzo Park — a move that County Health Officer Gail Newel has said she wasn’t consulted about.

Yesterday, as police moved in to the park to conduct the second sweep of their phased approach to dispersing the unhoused, they were met by a wall of protesters. Rather than clash with protesters and encampment residents, Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills said his department chose to deescalate the situation and delay action. Read more from our Isabella Cueto here.

Months after devastation, CZU Lightning Complex fire finally declared over

Four months after it began, the devastating CZU Lightning Complex fire has been fully controlled and no longer presents any danger of reigniting, Cal Fire announced yesterday. The fire was “contained” on Sept. 22 after killing one person, torching 86,509 acres and destroying 1,490 structures — most of them homes in rural Santa Cruz County. Read more here.

Around the county…

Santa Cruz legend Snail reunites, releases first album in four decades (Good Times)

Christmas Eve fire in Watsonville displaces 20 (The Pajaronian)

New Scotts Valley Mayor Timm, Vice-Mayor Reed hone in on 2021 (Scotts Valley Press Banner)

That’s it for today. If you want to keep track of everything we’re posting throughout the day, please bookmark our website, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to ensure you’re getting the latest news from around the county.

And even though Christmas Day has come and gone, it’s never too late to gift a Lookout membership or become a member.

Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor