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Morning Lookout | BREAKING: As stay-home orders lifted, evacuation warnings in place

Good Morning! It’s Monday, Jan. 25.

We started last week with weather alerts that resulted in wildfires. This week, the weather brings the potential threat of debris flows and preemptive evacuation warnings for large parts of the San Lorenzo Valley. On the other side of the “big news” spectrum, in the last 5 minutes, California announced all regional stay-home orders have been lifted.

We have a packed Morning Lookout for you, so let’s dive in.

‘Atmospheric river storm’ prompts evacuation warnings

The National Weather Service has issued multiple advisories as forecasters watch an "atmospheric river" event
The National Weather Service has issued multiple advisories as forecasters watch an “atmospheric river” event that may bring heavy rain and the threat of mudslides to the Santa Cruz area.
(National Weather Service)

The National Weather Service has issued multiple advisories and warnings ahead of an “atmospheric river” event that brings with it the threat of mudslides and devastating debris flows in the Santa Cruz Mountains, especially in the CZU Lightning Complex burn scar area. Here’s what you need to know:

  • A Wind Gust Advisory is in effect until 10 a.m. today. Early morning temperatures in Santa Cruz County are hovering just over 40 degrees because of a cold front, and today’s high is expected to be 53.
  • The National Weather Service says northwest winds are expected to drop temperatures below freezing by Tuesday morning. We might even see a couple of inches of snow in higher terrains, including portions of Highway 17 along the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The real weather threat is expected to arrive tomorrow, including possibly eight to 12 inches of rain through Thursday. Read more about what’s to come here.

Evacuation warning: With the threat of mudslides and debris flows coming mid-week, an evacuation warning was issued last night for numerous areas of Ben Lomond, Felton, Boulder Creek and the North Coast area of Swanton from late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning. Read more about the warning and see which areas it impacts here.

Get your “go bag” ready: If you do live in the evacuation zones or the CZU Lightning Complex burn scar areas, our Mallory Pickett has created a guide to help you be prepared.

The emotional toll of it all: ‘A really scary day’: August wounds still raw, winter wildfires and winds spark new fears

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COVID 2021 updates

Masked people shop in Santa Cruz County
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

All regional stay-at-home orders canceled: After the LA Times reported late last night that Gov. Gavin Newsom was expected to lift regional coronavirus stay-at-home orders across the state today, in the last five minutes, the California Department of Public Health announced the change. “This action allows all counties statewide to return to the rules and framework of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy and color-coded tiers that indicate which activities and businesses are open based on local case rates and test positivity. The majority of the counties are in the strictest, or purple tier,” officials wrote. Read more from our Mallory Pickett and the LA Times here.

Bay Area ICUs freeing up? After weeks of low ICU capacity numbers at Bay Area hospitals — capacity was 6.5% on Friday — a state dashboard suddenly reported a jump to 23.4% capacity Saturday. In response to Lookout’s questions, the California Department of Public Health said ICU capacity is calculated on a number of fluid variables including “available beds, alternate care sites, staffing and transfers.” However, officials cautioned that people should not become too optimistic with the sudden rise in capacity as “these fluid, on-the-ground conditions cannot be boiled down to a single data point – and to do so would mislead and create greater uncertainty for Californians.”

What local officials say: In a Lookout event, County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said she had heard that Bay Area ICU capacity was improving. “When we come out of regional (order) though, we’re going right back into purple. And we are a deep purple. So I don’t want… people to get too excited about any changes,” she said. If you missed the COVID conversation with our local experts, you can watch the event here.

Meanwhile, at last week’s event, we got a ton of questions about the COVID-19 variants: How did COVID-19 variants come to be? Are any of them more serious than others — and can the existing vaccines stop them? Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious disease expert at UC Santa Cruz answered these and related ones in detail. We compiled some of his key responses, edited for clarity and brevity. You can read everything we know about COVID variants and their spread in Santa Cruz County here. Also, if you have a COVID-related question you want answered, you can Ask Lookout here and we will try and track down the answer for you.

Variants and the vaccine: New this morning, NBC News reports Moderna announced it is working to upgrade its vaccine to better protect against the new South African strain of the coronavirus. While the vaccine protects effectively against the new, more easily transmitted U.K. variant, antibody levels are diminished sixfold by the South African variant, the company says

COVID Economy Watch

Metro rolling out new features for when riders return: The pandemic has hit Santa Cruz Metro, the county’s public bus system, hard. The number of people getting on Metro buses every week is down by nearly 80% and in order to survive without staff cuts, Metro gave bus drivers different shifts and has reduced the number of trips on certain lines. In the meantime, the transit system has been working to become more modern and tech-savvy to new and returning riders in coming months. Read our Isabella Cueto’s report about how the bus system is coping — and adapting — here.

Year-round farmers’ markets a steadying force: Santa Cruz County’s winter farmers’ markets provide ‘arguably a safer shopping environment,’ one proprietor says. But they also tie together a healthy community of like-minded people who strongly believe in their essential-ness amid the pandemic. Read more from our food contributor, Amber Turpin, here.

Another COVID read: Going underground: California business operates in secret amid pandemic restrictions (CalMatters)

Around the county . . .

Four juveniles charged with attempted murder after Hagemann Ave shooting in Santa Cruz (Lookout Santa Cruz)

Soquel man dies after bicycle crashes into median (KION-TV)

Songbirds in Santa Cruz County face their own epidemic (Good Times)

That’s it for today. If you’re enjoying our coverage, please tell your family and friends about our Lookout Newsletter & Text Center, where they can sign up for all the newsletters and alerts 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.

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Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor