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: Grim COVID stats, 43 healthcare workers sick, 1 dead at SJ Kaiser, new laws

Good Morning! It’s Monday, Jan. 4 and if you’re heading out today, don’t forget that umbrella or raincoat. The forecast today calls for rain and a high of 57.

It’s finally 2021, and the new year couldn’t get here fast enough because of the pandemic and wildfires of 2020. But in all likelihood, the first few months of this year will continue to be challenging, bringing with them a final holiday surge in COVID-19 cases, mounting deaths and the challenges of rolling out a vaccine to hundreds of millions of people. Heck, we even felt some reverberations from a 4.3M earthquake near Pinnacles National Park over the weekend.

Covering COVID — and recovery — in 2021 will continue to be at the top of our list, as is evidenced by our coronavirus coverage and our 21 for ’21 series, profiling the community-builders that will shape and inspire Santa Cruz County in 2021. But to get to recovery and healing, we have to get through a few more months of precautions and closures.

We have a lot of grim numbers to get through this morning, not to mention a look at nine new state laws taking effect and an in-depth interview with UC Santa Cruz’s chancellor, so let’s get to it.

Falling ICU capacity, rising positivity

While Santa Cruz County didn’t update its coronavirus numbers over the New Year’s weekend (we’re expecting new numbers today) the state continued to show worsening COVID-19 numbers in the first days of 2021.

ICU Capacity: Bay Area Region ICU capacity, which includes Santa Cruz County, has dropped to 8.4%. Officials will reassess whether another stay-home order will be necessary later this week and will take into consideration a four-week projection of the region’s ICU capacity before lifting or extending the order.

Positivity rate: Meanwhile, the state’s estimated 14-day average of Santa Cruz County’s positivity rate is at an all-time high of 15%. This means for every 10 COVID-19 tests conducted in Santa Cruz County in the last two weeks, 1.5 tests came back positive on average. This is a 3.3% increase from the previous 14-day period.

As we learn more from county officials on the latest information about infections in Santa Cruz County, you can keep track of the latest virus developments in our COVID TODAY blog.

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Kaiser San Jose hospital worker dies after COVID-19 outbreak infects 43 people

An employee working the Christmas shift at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center has died after falling ill with COVID-19. The worker was one of at least 43 staff members who tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days, an outbreak possibly linked to staff members who wore an inflatable holiday costume to lift spirits. The staff member who appeared briefly in the emergency department Christmas Day wore an air-powered Christmas Tree costume, according to a report by KNTV-TV, the San Jose NBC station.

Read more from our content partner, the LA Times, about why officials think the costume created a “super-spreader” event here.

COVID fatalities in U.S. top 350,000. Refuting Trump, Fauci says deaths are ‘not fake’

Nationally, the U.S. hit a new grim milestone yesterday: 350.000 COVID-19 deaths. But even as the virus continues to surge and the death toll rises, President Donald Trump claimed that the country’s fatality count toll was “far exaggerated,” an assertion that was quickly refuted by the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

As a dreaded surge of post-holiday infections began to materialize in California and in other U.S. hotspots, public health experts warned that the first month of 2021 could be even worse than December. Read more from our content partner, the LA Times here.

More COVID reads:

How worried should California be about the new, potentially more contagious variant of coronavirus?

Some health care workers refuse to take COVID-19 vaccine, even with priority access

9 new laws went into effect on Jan. 1. What you need to know

Fewer laws than usual are taking effect in California this year, given that the coronavirus pandemic shortened and dominated the legislature’s 2020 session. But there’s still a lot you need to know, including laws about COVID-19 reporting requirements by businesses, new efforts to improve policing statewide and new rules expanding paid family medical leave. Our content partner CalMatters walks you through the most important laws here, including some really well-done one-minute explainer videos for each.

Talking times of tumult and triumph with UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive

Cynthia Larive stepped in as UCSC chancellor on the verge of a historically challenging year.
Cynthia Larive stepped in as UCSC chancellor on the verge of a historically challenging year.
(Carolyn Lagattuta / UC Santa Cruz)

In her first full year as UC Santa Cruz chancellor, Cynthia Larive has dealt with a career’s worth of crises. Larive took the reins in July 2019 and since then she’s dealt with student unrest and weeks of demonstrations last winter, the closing of UCSC campus in March due to COVID-19, and the CZU Lightning Complex fires forcing campus evacuations in August. The brief period has also been marked by several noteworthy successes. Read more about Chancellor Larive’s first year at UCSC in her Q&A with our Nick Ibarra here.

She fell in love with Santa Cruz beaches as a kid, then guarded the coast for more than four decades

Susan Hansch, right, was tapped by Peter Douglas, left, in 1999 to be his chief deputy.
Susan Hansch, right, was tapped by Peter Douglas, left, in 1999 to be his chief deputy. Quiet and behind the scenes, she’s an unsung hero of the coast, people who know her say. (California Coastal Commission)

Most people don’t know her, but Susan Hansch has been quietly saving the California coast for more than 46 years. Her love of the ocean began right here in Santa Cruz, first as a child and then at UC Santa Cruz. A unique law, willed into existence by the people of California, declared decades ago that the coast is a public treasure that must be shared by all. Read more about Hansch’s four-decade fight to protect the coast here.

Around the county…

Watsonville man arrested with loaded gun, drugs (The Pajaronian)

New loan, grant opportunities arise for small businesses (Scotts Valley Press Banner)

Aptos St. BBQ does Cali-style smoking, low and slow (Good Times)

That’s it for today. 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, in the spirit of “new year, new you,” consider becoming a Lookout member to ensure you’re in the know about all things Santa Cruz. We won’t be free forever!

Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor

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