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Morning Lookout: Hospitals close to triaging patients, federal aid for Cabrillo students and more

Good Morning! It’s Wednesday, Jan. 6. Expect some intermittent clouds and a high of 60 today.

This morning, we’re learning that Santa Cruz County, much like the rest of the state, isn’t keeping pace with the vaccine distribution timeline initially put in place by public health officials. Meanwhile, COVID-19 patients are flooding local hospitals, putting health care workers at risk of having to triage patients based on their prospect of recovery. On the economic front, Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing a $4.5 billion statewide business stimulus package, and some 1,500 Cabrillo College students appear to be in line for additional financial aid in response to the virus.

In non-virus news, a court hearing is set for today in a contentious battle between homelessness advocates and the city over the sweeping of San Lorenzo Park encampments; impacts of the CZU Lightning Complex fires continue to reverberate with some evacuees still living at the Watsonville fairgrounds; and the county has updated its maps identifying which mountain dwellers would need to evacuate in the event of a debris flow.

With that, here we go.

Santa Cruz hospitals ‘close, but not quite at stage’ of triaging patients

File image of a woman in a hospital bed
(via Pixabay)

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to surge to all-time highs in Santa Cruz County. The latest numbers:

  • 86 people hospitalized for COVID-19 countywide
  • 18 of the 86 people are in the ICU
  • 8 new deaths announced for the period between Dec. 20 and Dec. 29 bringing death toll to 91
  • 7 of the 8 people who died were residents of nursing homes
  • The Bay Area regional ICU capacity dropped from 7.9% to 5.9%

Hospitals scrambling to cope with surge: In Santa Cruz County, hospitals are “postponing elective surgeries, moving staff, increasing numbers of patients per provider, attempting to discharge stable patients earlier than normal, and expanding treatment areas,” county emergency medical services director Dr. David Ghilarducci told Lookout. Read more of the latest updates in our COVID Today blog here.

Presented by Santa Cruz County Bank

Botanic and Luxe opened their doors in the spring of 2016 in downtown Santa Cruz and quickly became a local staple and a...

7,800 vaccine doses now here, but getting them into arms proves difficult

Just as has been the case statewide, distributing coronavirus vaccines in Santa Cruz County has been a slog, with officials here citing staffing shortages and storage challenges as among the reasons for the delay. According to a rough timeline from the state, the people in Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout were meant to be vaccinated by the end of 2020.

Here is where we stand in Santa Cruz County right now:

  • There are 15,500 people in Santa Cruz County that fall in Phase 1a (10,000 hospital and other health care staffers, 400 EMTs and paramedics, 4,900 nursing home residents)
  • The county has received 7,800 vaccine doses — enough to vaccinate little more than half of the people in Phase 1a
  • 3,505 doses have been administered so far from the county’s allotment. Nursing home doses are being administered through a federal partnership, and it’s unclear how many have happened.

Read more about the challenges that are causing hold-ups in inoculation in Santa Cruz County in this story by our Mallory Pickett.

Also, read more about everything we know about the vaccine rollout in Santa Cruz County here

Newsom proposes $4.5 billion in state help for businesses and jobs

Promising to help small businesses and unemployed Californians hit hard by the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom previewed a $4.5-billion stimulus program yesterday that includes a variety of grants and tax incentives, many of which would require swift legislative approval to take effect. The plan includes $575 million for small businesses, allocated in grants of up to $25,000 for the state’s smallest companies that are struggling as a result of the pandemic-induced recession. The governor also will ask lawmakers to approve what his advisors call a “California Jobs Initiative,” a $777.5-million effort to create new jobs and stabilize those that have been jeopardized by the pandemic. Read more about what’s included in the governor’s budget proposal in this LA Times story.

More COVID reads:

Its freezer kaput, this NorCal hospital had two hours to give out 600 vaccine shots

Two dozen cases of new, potentially more contagious variant of virus in California

A non-COVID read: Hospital prices just got a lot more transparent. What does this mean for you?

With federal relief on its way, Cabrillo students slated for new round of $500 grants

After Lookout broke the news Monday that Cabrillo College enrollment is down 18% and continues to plummet amid twin disasters, we have now learned that the community college expects a multimillion-dollar boost from the new federal stimulus, with at least $2 million earmarked for direct emergency grants to its neediest students. Some eligibility details remain unclear, but Cabrillo College President Matt Wetstein said at least 1,500 students can expect to receive the support this spring — to the tune of about $500 each. Read more from our Nick Ibarra here.

Latest in battle over San Lorenzo Park homeless encampments

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)

Later today, a hearing will be held for a contentious fight between homelessness advocates and the city after Santa Cruz City Manager Martín Bernal ordered the sweeping of San Lorenzo Park encampment last month. Last week, a judge granted a temporary restraining order forcing the city to pause sweeping the encampment after city officials were met by protesters each morning. Today, Magistrate Judge Susan Van Keulen will decide whether to continue the restraining order as the lawsuit proceeds. Check back in later on our website for the latest updates on this story.

Santa Cruz County leaders consider helping fire evacuees staying at Fairgrounds

With some evacuees from the massive CZU Lightning Complex fire still staying in RVs at the Fairgrounds in South County months after the blaze torched hundreds of homes, Santa Cruz County supervisors are looking to get a better grasp of the situation and potentially explore ways the county might help them. Somewhere between 12 and 15 RVs are still at the Fairgrounds near Watsonville. But while the $900 monthly rent the RV owners pay to stay there is the lowest such fee in the county, some residents worry about evacuees struggling to make ends meet. Read more about what the county supervisors are considering and what else transpired in yesterday’s County Board of Supervisors meeting here.

How to check if you’re at risk of debris flow: County revises evacuation map

Another consequence of the wildfires is the threat of debris flows in the fire scar areas. The winter rainy season so far hasn’t produced conditions that might spark any massive movement of earth in the Santa Cruz Mountains so far, but county officials are still keeping close watch on where potential debris flows might strike. To that end, the county has updated its searchable online debris flow fire evacuation zone maps. You can check to see if you live in a debris flow hazard zone in the map here.

Around the county…

Locals join efforts to recall Gavin Newsom (The Pajaronian)

After helping with the pandemic, their jobs are in jeopardy (Good Times)

El Pájaro Community Development Corp. receives grant to launch Women’s Business Center (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

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. You can also keep tabs on everything we’re publishing through the day by bookmarking our website and following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To ensure you’re staying informed about all the goings-on in Santa Cruz, consider becoming a Lookout member. We won’t be free forever!

Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor