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Morning Lookout: More evacuations ordered in mountains, vaccine priority changes and more

Good Morning! It’s Tuesday, Jan. 26. The high today will be a chilly 52 degrees.

With the atmospheric river expected to start bringing high winds and heavy rain over Santa Cruz County and the Bay Area this afternoon — prompting debris-flow evacuation orders for some 5,000 Santa Cruz Mountain dwellers — the looming question is whether those residents really will leave. More on that in a bit.

By now, you’ve probably heard about our COVID Text Alerts, which allow you to get the latest information about the pandemic, delivered right to your phone. Given the brewing storm, we’re now launching Breaking News Text Alerts to make sure you’re getting ‘round the clock information to keep you and your family safe. Both services are free. You can sign up for Breaking News Text Alerts here and COVID Text Alerts here.

Speaking of the pandemic, yesterday, California changed the way it will be rolling out the vaccine — giving priority to age groups over occupations. Meanwhile, after the state suddenly lifted all regional stay-home orders, Santa Cruz County business owners found themselves trying to figure out how best to reopen after some have been shut for more than a month. We’re also doing a deep dive on business owners lining up for a second round of Paycheck Protection Program funding, including details about how to apply.

We have a lot to cover, so let’s dive in.

‘Atmospheric river storm’

Weather update: The “atmospheric river” plume is expected to reach the Santa Cruz area right on schedule late this afternoon, National Weather Service radar is showing. A Flash Flood Watch will be in place in the Santa Cruz Mountains beginning at 4 p.m. through Thursday afternoon. There will also be a High Wind Warning in effect from 7 p.m. through 7 a.m. Wednesday. Read more about how much rain is expected and get the full forecast here.

The latest on evacuation orders: Some 5,000 residents in the San Lorenzo Valley and parts of Santa Cruz County’s North Coast are being ordered to evacuate — and additional orders were being issued well into the night, including in the Ben Lomond Fire District zone. Click here to see a list of zones and view the evacuation map.

To go or not to go? Many evacuees live in or near Boulder Creek, where areas of the town to the west of Highway 9 are considered especially vulnerable to debris flows. After this summer’s wildfires, many residents, however, are leery of leaving their homes. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office was continuing to go door-to-door in evacuation zones Monday evening and logging those who are choosing to stay. Our Nick Ibarra has the latest on where things now stand.

Still rooms available: County hotels aren’t full yet, but just how many rooms are available? Our Isabella Cueto explores that question and has the latest on other relief efforts 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 Lookout Guide to help you be prepared.

School closures: The weather is prompting school shutdowns in the valley, according to this letter in the San Lorenzo Valley Post.

Presented by UC Santa Cruz

The campus continues to make advancements in the areas of housing, transportation, and water conservation.

COVID 2021 updates

Staff and volunteers distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to people as they remain in their vehicles at The Forum in Inglewood

Age over occupation, California changes who will get vaccine next: In a significant reshuffling of vaccine eligibility guidelines, California officials say they’ll be shifting who is prioritized in the next round of COVID-19 inoculations to focus on age rather than specific occupations considered higher risk. Under the original plan’s tier structure, Tier 2 workers in manufacturing, transportation and commercial and residential settings along with incarcerated people and the homeless would be prioritized. Under the new plan, the next priority will be people under 65 year old. Read more from our content partner, the LA Times, here.

Drive-through vaccination clinic for phase 1a and those 75-plus opens at fairgrounds: Santa Cruz County is opening a drive-through vaccination clinic at the Watsonville Fairgrounds this week that health officials hope will eventually service up to a 1,000 people per day. The goal of this clinic is to reach people who are uninsured or otherwise unable to receive vaccines through a major health system. Those eligible for vaccination (phase 1a healthcare workers or those 75 and over) can learn more and sign up here.

One Santa Cruz business opens outdoor dining immediately, others taking stock: Local business owners spent Monday grappling with the sudden announcement that all of California’s regional stay-home orders were lifted. This move pushes Santa Cruz County back into the purple tier — a status that now feels full of freedom for some, despite the many restrictions. Outdoor dining, hair and nail salons, barbershops, and gyms are now allowed to reopen under certain restrictions. But winter weather, confusion over the regulations, and trying to re-open after a long closure are just some of the challenges they have to overcome. Read more about what some local businesses are doing here.

The next PPP window is open, and a range of businesses are lining up: During the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program, 120 Santa Cruz County businesses — everything from body piercing studios to car dealers and hardware stores to mushroom growers — received loans of $500,000 or more. In all, those loans totaled nearly $172 million, according to a Lookout analysis of SBA data. Hundreds of other businesses received loans of $500,000 or less. With the pandemic still raging, many are heading back for another potential round of funding before a March 31 deadline. Read more about what we’ve learned about PPP in Santa Cruz County here.

READ ALSO: ‘Too little, too late’: California small businesses chase COVID-19 relief (CalMatters)

Around the county . . .

Keys to the new Capitola Library will be handed over to the system in March (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

California Pajarosa Floral navigates a changing industry (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

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