The UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Lab is on the verge of an expansion and relocation.
(Carolyn Lagattuta / UCSC)
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Morning Lookout: New variant of COVID in California, incentives for reopening schools and more

Good Morning! It’s finally the last day of this year from hell. To close out 2020, we’re expecting a partly sunny day with a high of 57, but you can expect that to change early next week when the National Weather Service says a strong storm system will be headed our way.

This morning, we’re waking up to news that a potentially more contagious variant of the virus, that has been spreading rapidly across the U.K., has been found in California. Meanwhile, inoculations continue with the expectation that teachers will be next in line, though the recommendations have not yet been adopted by the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced a financial incentive to help elementary schools quickly get back to in-person learning, but Santa Cruz County educators are skeptical.

Before we get into all that (and more), a quick reminder: If you’re enjoying this newsletter, please tell your family and friends about our Lookout Newsletter Center, where they can sign up for all the newsletters we offer. Also, even though Christmas Day has come and gone, it’s never too late to gift a Lookout membership or become a member.

Let’s get through these headlines, through this day and into the next year.

Local cases drop slightly; hospitalizations up

A healthcare worker in PPE takes the temperature of a person at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility on Dec. 10, 2020.
Health care worker Gabi Sermeno from Santa Cruz Community Health takes the temperature of a person at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility on Dec. 10, 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Good news: There was a slight decrease in the number of active COVID-19 cases, from 2,301 on Tuesday to 2,191 on Wedneday, after weeks of upward trends. In another positive development, the state’s estimation of the county’s 14-day average positivity rate has decreased slightly from 13.4% to 12.9% since Tuesday.

Bad news: Meanwhile, 74 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County yesterday, an all-time high. Of those patients, approximately 15 were in the ICU, leaving only one bed available, according to a state dashboard. The availability of ICU beds in the Bay Area region, which includes Santa Cruz County, also has dropped. ICU bed availability stood at 7.5%, down from 10.4% on Tuesday.

Really bad news: Nearly all local skilled nursing facilities are reporting at least one active infection among either residents or staff. Valley Convalescent Hospital and Watsonville Nursing Center are dealing with particularly significant outbreaks.

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

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New, potentially more contagious coronavirus variant found in San Diego

Governor Gavin Newsom said yesterday that a new, potentially more contagious variant of COVID-19, which is spreading quickly in the United Kingdom, was detected in a patient in Southern California. A statement released by the California Department of Public Health said the patient is in San Diego and had no known travel history. The CDPH statement added that, “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 vaccines should provide immunity to this strain.” Read more about the mutated virus and what it means for California here.

The latest with the vaccine

Santa Cruz County: Staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities, firefighters, and other emergency medical staff are all being vaccinated in Santa Cruz County this week. Meanwhile, Newsom said that the next phase of vaccination, Phase 1b, “includes teachers as a priority,” but details won’t be finalized until next week. Bookmark Lookout’s Vaccine Watch for updates.

We also have a couple great reads from our content partner the LA Times for you about the vaccine:

State’s plan to help speed elementary reopening might have limited impact on local schools

Newsom unveiled a plan yesterday to give schools a total of $2 billion in state funding as a financial incentive to move more quickly to return elementary students to in-person instruction this spring. But at first blush, the plan’s impact on local public schools appears limited, according to Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah. Read more from our Nick Ibarra here.

What to do for New Year’s Eve? Watch KPIG’s live Coffis Brothers show

The Coffis Brothers
(Courtesy the Coffis Brothers)

So it’s New Year’s Eve during a pandemic. It’s safe to say most traditional New Year’s Eve festivities are likely canceled this year. How do you ring in 2021? Well, the good folks at KPIG (107.5 FM) have an option for you. Starting at 8 p.m., KPIG will welcome the Santa Cruz-based folk-rockers the Coffis Brothers Band, featuring the singer/songwriter sibling duo Jamie and Kellen Coffis. The band will play live in a free show, to be simulcast on KPIG, the station’s website and on its YouTube channel and Facebook page. Read more about this event from our Wallace Baine here.

Free bus service on New Year’s Eve, Day

Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District will provide free transportation county-wide, including over the hill via the Hwy-17 Express, all day on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Read more here.

Around the county…

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.

Bring on 2021! See y’all in the new year!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor