By Bruce McPherson, County Supervisor
It’s an understandable instinct at the end of each calendar year to wrap up undone business and start the new year fresh. Unfortunately, 2020 will not afford us that opportunity as two big issues will carry over into 2021 and demand our collective attention and energy.
The current status of Covid-19 spread in our community is reaching a critical point just as many of us would ordinarily be looking forward to gathering with family and friends for the holiday season. The infection rate, which has tripled in recent weeks to about 23 per day per 100,000 residents, is below the statewide average but nonetheless highly concerning.
Especially troubling is the increase in current hospitalizations, up to 47 as of Dec. 1. That represents a 17% spike in hospitalizations in just one day. Just as we did at the start of the pandemic in the spring, the County is looking at alternative care sites in the event our hospitals are overwhelmed by this surge or future surges. As of Dec. 1, Santa Cruz County has had 4,620 known cases, 1,108 of them which are active.
Seventy-one percent of Santa Cruz County’s infections are believed to have been spread through person-to-person contact in households. This indicates to me that we have to double down on reducing contact with people outside of our immediate households. Although we want to reclaim some sense of normalcy and celebrate holidays together like in years past, public health officials are warning us to avoid gatherings as these represent a major way, as seen in the spike after Halloween, the disease is spread. With Santa Cruz and 51 other California counties placed in the “widespread” tier, which covers 99% of the state’s population, the Governor’s Office may tighten restrictions in the coming days.
While we keep a close eye on Covid-19, my office is very much involved in the early stages of the recovery and rebuilding processes related to the CZU Lightning Complex Fire that burned more than 400 homes in the San Lorenzo Valley starting in mid-August. With the Phase 1 removal of hazardous waste having been completed on nearly all parcels impacted by the fire, we are now moving swiftly into Phase 2, with the government-funded clean-up of non-hazardous debris already underway.
In order to be eligible for the government program, property owners must sign a right-of-entry form no later than Dec. 15. However, as of Dec. 1, there were a total of only 385 applications for the public program, about half of which are from District 5. Those who have signed up are encouraged to urge neighbors to do the same soonest in order to promote an earlier clean-up for a larger number of properties. Owners can fill out the form on the County’s fire recovery site at santacruzcounty.us/firerecovery under the heading of Debris Removal.
Supervisor Ryan Coonerty and I hosted a virtual town hall in November about debris removal featuring state partners and local leaders. You can watch the video on YouTube by visiting this link: tinyurl.com/y5phw8lc.
Meanwhile, although the weather has been sunny recently, we know rain will visit us again this winter. We continue to spread the message that debris flows in the burn scar, as well as some areas below the impacted areas, are likely if we experience intense rainfall. We urge residents to heed evacuation warnings, which will be issued as soon as forecasts indicate that weather conditions are likely to produce flows. Residents should brace themselves for multiple evacuations this winter out of an abundance of caution.
More information about debris flow risk can be found at santacruzcounty.us/firerecovery under the heading Debris Flow. And you can also watch the YouTube video of our District 5 Town Hall on the topic of debris flow in November at this link: tinyurl.com/y36qgws9.
Questions about fire recovery can be sent directly to our County team through a form at the following link: tinyurl.com/y67kl4ty.
Lastly, I wish you happy and healthy holiday season, and I look forward to serving District 5 in 2021 as the beginning of my third term in this office. There is much work to do together to promote an improved public health outlook, support our local businesses and help our fire survivors recover and rebuild. As always, you can contact me at [email protected] or call 454-2200.
Bruce McPherson is the Fifth District Supervisor for the County of Santa Cruz, including the San Lorenzo Valley and parts of the cities of Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley. McPherson previously served as California’s Secretary of State and two terms each in the California Assembly and Senate. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Press Banner.