UPDATE: Monterey County lists two new COVID-19 deaths Keep up to date on local COVID-19 news

Editor’s note: The following is a collection of breaking news updates, helpful informational sites and links to appropriate local institutions during the coronavirus pandemic. Send announcements to admin@voicesofmontereybay.org.

Monterey County lists two new COVID-19 deaths
May 29 — Monterey County health officials today reported two more deaths of county residents that they attribute to complications arising from COVID-19. 

The new fatalities were reported through the county’s coronavirus information website, with no other explanation. Health officials have not been releasing details about victims, including identities, their hometowns or their ages. The deaths increase the total number in Monterey County to 10, and they are the first to be reported since May 15. The announcement comes as the county is awaiting permission from state health authorities to ease restrictions on restaurant dining and to reopen other businesses.

As of today, Monterey County has confirmed 477 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the end of January. Of those 57 have been hospitalized and 366 have recovered, according to the county. Also, 9,202 people have tested negative for the virus.

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Santa Cruz County sends variance plan to state
May 29 — Santa Cruz County has asked state officials for the variance that would allow at least some restoration of commerce soon.

With a unanimous vote, the Board of Supervisors today approved a Stage 2 variance application  that would  allow local restaurants, hair salons and barbershops to expand their services. The re-openings can’t happen yet. The variance needs to be approved by the state and the county health officer must issue orders that establish guidelines.

“The county has been in consultation with the state during the … process,” said Jason Hoppin, a county spokesman. “Approval may take up to one week, though a response could come sooner.”

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Monterey city administrators hope to avoid additional layoffs
May 27 — Monterey’s city manager said today that none of the radical new proposals administrators are looking at to meet budget deficits would include additional layoffs.

Responding to a report published this morning, City Manager Hans Uslar told the City Council that the proposals he is submitting “does not include a single layoff.” It’s possible that roles of some staff might change, but he said the propsal “focuses on other operational adjustments” in the city’s operation.

The City Council last month agreed to eliminate 106 jobs after seeing a dramatic loss of tax revenue due to business closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City Council is meeting this afternoon in a study session to learn more about what city administrators say will be deficit of at least $31 million in the coming two years. Lauren Lai, the city’s finance director, is presenting a smorgasborg of possible solutions, which would include hiring freezes, renegotiated labor contracts and contracting certain city services to private entities.

No decision will be made today.

Mayor Clyde Roberson said that the pending reopening of some businesses, approved by the county Board of Supervisors and awaiting state approval, is a welcome development. But those measures are contained in the county’s Stage 2 request. Roberson pointed out that hotels won’t be able to open to tourists until the county gets permission for Stage 3. And the city’s conference center won’t open until Stage 4.

The city’s most severe financial hit is a result of a huge loss of transient occupancy taxes, also known as bed taxes imposed on overnight visitors, and sales taxes. Early estimates indicate that hotel occupancy rates are down up to 85 percent on the Monterey Peninsula. County and state restrictions only allow hotel rooms to be occupied by visitors who are performing essential services while they are in the county.

The study session is being broadcast on Facebook and is scheduled to continue through 6 p.m. today.

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Santa Cruz County supervisors to consider variance application Friday
May 27 — The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors oon Friday could ask state officials for a late Stage 2 variance that would open the county to more business and larger gatherings.

The Board of Supervisors is holding a special hearing at 9 a.m. Friday to review and consider an application for the variance drawn up by Dr. Gail Newel, the county’s public health officer. If approved by the State, the application would allow Newel to authorize operations for dining in at restaurants and to open barbershops and hair salons, with health and safety modifications. 

The Board of Supervisors in Monterey County submitted a similar application on Tuesday.

If approved by the Board, State review may take up to one week. 

The variance will not apply to prohibitions on operations like nail salons, tattoo parlors or other higher-risk personal services, none of which have been cleared  by the state year. On Tuesday Newel issued an order aligning Santa Cruz County with the state’s “Resilience Roadmap,” so that any future state changes may be immediately implemented at the local level. 

Since the start of the pandemic, Santa Cruz County has recorded 200 cases of COVID-19, with two deaths and 29 hospitalizations. Laboratories in the county have recorded 7,637 negative COVID-19 tests.

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Monterey city administrators: Budget hit is worse than they thought
May 26 — Monterey administrators say the city’s financial problems are even worse than they originally thought and they are suggesting radical changes to the way the city operates. 

Officials are recommending the council adopt a “go big, go broad, go simple” approach to digging its way out of the city’s financial hole.

They will be presenting dozens of options to the Monterey City Council on Wednesday during a study session scheduled specifically to discuss the “devastation” incurred in the city in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Virtually everything is on the table, according to Lauren Lai, the city’s finance director, including ballot measures to raise tourism taxes, hiring freezes and farming out some of the city’s high-profile operations to private companies or nonprofits. Lai released the gloomy outlook and the list of potential solutions in a 11-page report today.

Some of these suggestions will create a robust and, probably, adversarial discussions between interest groups and stakeholders,” said Lai. “In other words: we put everything on the table.”

Last month, the council already agreed to eliminate more than 100 jobs in an effort to make up for a $10 million revenue loss city officials said they expected to sustain by the end of the fiscal year. Most of that deficit is due to the loss of tourism. Perhaps more than any other city in the county, Monterey’s operations are dependent on bed taxes imposed on hotels and sales tax generated in the hospitality industry.

Upon further review, Lai now says that the deficit will likely be about $13 million. And she expects the city will be in a $30 million hole over a two-year period.

 “Our city needs to be prepared to brace for a wide range of fiscal and economic damages, which are occurring and still unfolding,” Lai said. “Monterey’s economy, including our city’s revenues, will bounce back. The recent Memorial Day weekend showed how popular the Monterey Peninsula is. However, for the foreseeable future the short-term and long-term impacts of COVID-19 continues to … impact the speed of Monterey’s economic recovery.”

The study session starts at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The council will not act on any of the proposals, but the meeting is meant to prepare councilmembers with the information to base future actions. Read the entire report here:

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Santa Cruz County eases restrictions on work, worship, shopping … and protest
May 26 — Let the protests resume in Santa Cruz County.

The county’s public health officer, Dr. Gail Newel, issued a new health order today that allows Stage 2 activities to proceed and aligns the county with any future state announcements that remove restrictions under the statewide shelter-in-home order. The new order follows much of the loosened restrictions announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom during the past several days.

Among the activities expressly mentioned in Newel’s health order are outdoor activities, including protests. No included in the new order are in-restaurant dining, but Newel said she is seeking a state variance that will allow restaurants to open their dining halls.

It also includes resumption of office work, in-store retail, religious services and cultural ceremonies, manufacturing and limited personal services, effectively at midnight tonight. “All businesses and operations must continue complying with social distancing protocols and order to wear face coverings,” according to a written release issued by the county.

“As we move forward with these changes, I want to caution everyone that COVID-19 is still present in
our community,” said Newel. “Anyone who is 65 years old or older, as well as those who are medically vulnerable,
should continue sheltering in place. I urge all members of our community to help those
who need to shelter by continuing to offer help and check in.”

She said she is encouraging telework — working from home — where possible, but in-office work is allowed under guidelines that can be found here.

Childcare is also now allowed for children of workers and volunteers in all sectors, not just essential
services. Guidance on childcare facilities can be found here.

In-store retail operations should follow state guidance for retail establishments, found here.

Newel said political protests can also resume, as long as they are not staged in a crowded hall and they follow appropriate social-distancing protocols. See here for more details.

Beaches will remain closed between 11  a.m. and 5 p.m., with exceptions for surfers, walkers, runners or others who use local beaches for exercise. Restrictions still apply at hotels, motels and vacation rentals, which can only be available to people engaged in essential services.

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Monterey County delivers next-phase reopening plan to governor
May 26 — The ball is now in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s court.

The Board of Supervisors today asked the California governor for permission to move to the next level of reopening, to allow dine-in restaurant service, on-site retail and more freedom of movement in the county. The state has already opened up in-person religious services, full-service car washes and reopening of schools — all with significant modifications. Also during the hearing, supervisors learned that Newsom announced a plan to reopen hair salons and barber shops in California.

Dr. Edward Moreno on Monday released the county’s application to state health officers that, if approved by the state, would move the county further along Stage Two recovery of shelter-in-place restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The of Supervisors endorsed that proposal today,  and it will be transmitted to the governor’s office for approval.

The action was applauded by the small-business owners and business representatives who testified via live-streaming services during the meeting. “Small businesses are struggling,” said Carina Powers. They need to get back to business to “make up the losses” incurred during the closures, she said.

But Moreno and county supervisors warned the public to remain vigilant, to observe social distancing and to wear face covering. They say they are concerned that health officers may be forced to re-impose restrictions if the virus spreads at a high rate in the future because people are being careless.

“We’ve had low numbers in Monterey County and those low numbers are not an accident,” said Charles McKee, the county’s top administrative officer, referring to the general compliance of residents to shelter-in-place orders imposed during the past two months. “But we don’t want to have a backslide.”

“This is not the time to let your guard down,” said Supervisor Chris Lopez, chairman of the board.

Supervisor Jane Parker called Moreno’s application a “carefully thought-through plan,” adding that it provides safeguards to protect people vulnerable to the virus.

“This is a critical stage to get … people’s lives back together (and) their businesses back together,” said Supervisor John Phillips.

Newsom has swiftly approved many of the “attestation variance” applications submitted by other counties, sometimes as quickly as a day or two.

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Monterey County prepared to seek easing of restrictions
May 25 — Declaring that the curve has flattened in Monterey County,  the Board of Supervisors appears poised to ask Gov. Gavin Newsom to ease restrictions that had been imposed by the spread of COVID-19.

The board will meet Tuesday to sign off on an application of “attestation variance” prepared by its public health officer, Dr. Edward Moreno. That 140-page form asserts that the county has “maintained a stable or decreasing number of patients … for greater than 2 weeks” while the seven-day average of daily change in hospitalized patients has dropped by 0.2 percent.

The form also indicates the county has a strategy in place to monitor COVID-19 and is prepared to scale back activities if infections worsen.

The form was released today, the third day of the Memorial Day weekend during which countless numbers of people jammed beaches, tourist destinations and other hotspots, many of them in violation of existing shelter-in-place orders and social-distancing standards.

In a proposed letter to Newsom that the Board of Supervisors will be asked to approve Tuesday, the county says that Moreno and other county officials are “actively monitoring infection through epidemiology, implementing alternative sheltering measures where necessary, offering a sufficient amount of testing and contact tracing, monitoring hospital capacity and plans for surge, and protecting vulnerable populations.

“The Board believes that the shelter in place orders issued by Dr. Moreno since the Governor’s proclamation of a state of emergency on March 4, 2020, and the public’s compliance with those orders, have helped to ‘flatten the curve’ of the virus in the County, and have allowed Dr. Moreno to now execute the updated attestation.”

Monterey County is one of the few counties in California that haven’t yet received a “second stage phase-two” variance from the state. Approval of the variance would allow more freedom among owners of retail, restaurants and hospitality services. Pebble Beach Co. is already taking reservations for accommodations starting June 15.

In supporting Dr. Moreno’s petition, the Board of Supervisors will also ask the state to include wineries and tasting rooms as businesses eligible for reopening in stage two. “As you may know, the wine industry is an important sector of the county’s economy, and there are numerous wineries and tasting rooms throughout our communities.”

The board is holding a special session Tuesday specifically to move the request. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. and can be followed online. See the agenda here.

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Recent clusters in Santa Cruz County concern health officials
May 22 — Public health authorities report “multiple clusters” of COVID-19 cases involving family gathering in Santa Cruz County.

The county has boasted a relatively low number coronavirus cases, compared to its neighbors, but health officials issued a reminder this afternoon encouraging residents to maintain social distancing and follow shelter-in-place orders during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend following a spike in new cases.

“Public health has identified four separate clusters of COVID-19 transmission in  the South County region,” according to Jason Hoppin, the county’s communication officer. “The investigations are still ongoing, but all known transmission is associated with close contact between households during family gatherings.” The gatherings included a multi-generational Mother’s Day gathering and a large group of people who travelled from out of state, he said.

During the past week, the number of residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 has jumped 20 percent, and now totals 186. While still relatively low, the spike is cause for concern in the county, said Dr. Gail Newel, the county’s health officer.

While thanking residents for their cooperation, she said “we can’t let our guard down now,  there are still lives to save.”

Health authorities say they worry that the county’s efforts to reopen sectors of the community could be “jeopardized or result in further restrictions” if the numbers continue to rise.

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Community Foundation distributes $2.1 million in COVID relief
May 22 — Officials for the Community Foundation of Monterey County say they have distributed more than $2.1 million to 84 nonprofits that serve vulnerable people and families dealing with the economic impact of shelter-in-place orders.

So far, more than $2.6 million has been raised by the foundation for distribution through its COVID-19 Relief Fund, according to Dan Baldwin, president and CEO of the foundation.

The grants include about $1.6 million to organizations providing direct support with food, housing assistance, financial assistance, baby items and person protection equipment. Another $319,000 was given to nonprofits that have suffered a loss of volunteers due to concerns about coronavirus.

Donors can make tax-deductible donations at www.cfmco.org/CovidRelief, or they can mail a check to the Community Foundation for Monterey County, 2354 Garden Road, Monterey, CA 93940 with “COVID-19 Relief Fund” in the memo. To contribute stock or make a gift of an IRA Qualified Charitable Distribution, please contact Christine Dawson at christine@cfmco.org for details.

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Monterey County could seek SIP variance Tuesday
May 20 — Monterey County officials say they expect to ask the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday to declare that the county is meeting Stage 2 shelter-in-place goals, and to seek permission from state health officials to ease restrictions for businesses and others.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that criteria the state is seeking from counties is easing, and counties can apply for variances if it meets the new criteria.

If the county’s public health officer, Dr. Edward Moreno, agrees that the county is meeting the state’s new laws, state approval “should be fairly quick,” said Charles McKee, county administrative officer.

Noting that some business owners — particularly merchants in Carmel — have declared they would start reopening as soon as Friday, McKee warned that the state may withhold emergency funding to the county if it determines the county is not complying with orders. He also said the county might have to reestablish harsh limitations if there is a surge of cases and deaths.

“If we don’t follow an orderly process, we run the risk of the state coming in and imposing monetary restrictions on us, and that is funding that would end up benefiting the community,” McKee said

“We understand that there’s a huge pent-up demand here in Monterey County to be able to resume some semblance of normalcy,” McKee said, “and in particular for those who are not working. We want to get them back to work as quickly as possible but also as safely as possible. We’re moving at appropriate speed, deliberate speed.”

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Free Salinas COVID-19 test site will move Tuesday
May 20 — The COVID-19 testing location in Salinas will move to the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office at 1428 Abbott St. starting Tuesday.

The county Health Department testing site is operating out of Alisal High School this week, but the location is changing because of activities the high school has planned at the location. The county is also operating a free test site at the Greenfield Public Library. Both those sites require advanced appointments, which can be made here.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte is offering tests at the Monterey Peninsula College from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursday. The site will be closed Monday for Memorial Day. No appointment is needed at the MPC location.

The tests are free to people without health insurance, and people with insurance are asked to present their cards to the locations to have their tests covered.

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Peninsula officials issue thanks to public and Edward Moreno
May 20 — Fifteen elected city officials from the Monterey Peninsula issued an open letter to “members of our community” that thanks the county’s public health officer for his “commitment to making difficult decisions that will save many lives.”

The letter also expresses gratitude to residents for complying with shelter-in-place orders.

“Dr. Edward Moreno, we know that you are doing what is required of someone in your position: keeping all of the residents of our community safe,” said the letter. “We appreciate all of your efforts and know that you have a difficult job in a rural county that is dependent on agriculture and tourism, two industries that require close personal contact.”

The letter was signed by city councilmembers from five cities, including Pacific Grove, Del Rey Oaks and Carmel. Every councilmember from Marina and Seaside also signed the letter, which was sent to media outlets Tuesday night. It comes as Moreno faces growing pressure from business interests to scale back limitations imposed by shelter-in-place orders.

“Reopening our community is a shared effort,” said the councilmembers. “The State of California has laid out criteria that all counties, including ours, must meet. Many of these requirements — testing, PPE for hospital workers, housing for the unsheltered, medical surge capacity — are measured at the county level, and the county health department is close to achieving those goals. But some of these criteria are reflections of our personal diligence: stable hospitalization rates coupled with either low positive test rates, or fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days — about an average of eight cases per day for Monterey County.

“It is our community’s collective actions that will determine when we reach those goals, and that we continue to reach them in the future. In order to lift the sheltering order, we need to follow the directions laid out by the Health Officer.”

Eight people have died and 344 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Monterey County since late January. Eighty percent of the known cases are from the Salinas Valley.

Pacific Grove Councilmember Jenny McAdams said she drafted the letter with councilmembers Jon Wizard of Seaside and Jeff Baron of Carmel because they believed locals who have been diligent about following shelter-in-place orders have not been acknowledged.

“The emotional stress, the financial stress — it’s really  hard for all of us,” she said. “We hear the prominent voices of agriculture and tourism, but we haven’t heard gratitude expressed toward the residents.”

Read the letter here.

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Eviction moratorium in Monterey County extended to July 31
May 19 — Monterey County supervisors today extended its prohibition on residential and commercial evictions through the end of July.

The original urgency ordinance, first approved on March 16, was due to expire at the end of the month. Tenants are still obliged to pay rent, but the ordinance prevents people from being evicted. According to the new ordinance, the action addresses “the immediate threat to the public peace, health and safety and prevent displacement of tenants resulting from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The extension was approved on a 5-0 vote.

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World Central Kitchen and UFW to distribute meals in Greenfield
May 19 — Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen is joining forces today with the United Farm Works Foundation and the Cesar Chavez Foundation to deliver more than 2,000 prepared meals to farmworker families at Patriot’s Park in Greenfield.

The meals, prepared by local restaurants, will be distributed to motorists as their cars drive by the park, according to Lauro Barajas of the UFW foundation. The meals are meant for farmworkers suffering hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic, Barajas said. Everyone working on the premises will use masks and follow CDC guidelines. Social distancing will be observed.

Since its founding, World Central Kitchen has served more than 17 million meals to those impacted by natural disasters and other crises around the world, including the coronavirus global pandemic. The distribution will begin at 5 p.m.

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Monterey, Santa Cruz counties may be eligible for variance
May 18 — Monterey and Santa Cruz counties may be eligible for a quicker reopening of businesses and gatherings under variances announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom  this afternoon. And county officials say they believe they may be close to easing restrictions.

Speaking at a noon press conference, Newsom said that all but five counties may seek an easing of requirement, but will have to show that their hospitalization rates are stable and their rate of positive cases are low. The state has already allowed 24 of the smaller counties to reopen.

Newsom said he is preparing statewide orders in coming weeks that will allow eligible counties to restore in-store retail shopping, barbers and salons and professional sporting events without spectators.

Dr. Ed Moreno, speaking at a local media briefing also scheduled at noon, said he would need to see Newsom’s guidelines to determine if the county is meeting the new standards.

“We’re looking at the various pieces of the variances the governor has laid out,” added Charles McKee, the county’s administrative officer. “We recognize we’re not there yet … but we’re getting pretty close.”

Newsom said that his office is “empowering local health directors and county officials that understand their local communities and conditions better than any of us.”

Compared to California counties of comparative sizes, both Santa Cruz and Monterey counties have relatively low death rates. The map is a sampling of similar or neighboring counties, with cases and deaths recorded in each county as of 11 a.m. today. Note that Santa Barbara County’s statistics are skewed by a major outbreak at the federal prison in Lompoc, where 956 cases and two deaths have been recorded.

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comparatives
Map by Voices of Monterey Bay. Populations estimates based on numbers provided by the California State Association of Counties

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COVID-19 testing site at MPC draws a crowd
May 18 — A new COVID-19 testing site at Monterey Peninsula College drew a  “sold-out crowd” when it opened today, according to Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams.

The testing site was so popular that Planned Parenthood, which is staffing the site and administering the tests, said  they will add staff to handle the crowds starting Tuesday.

Testing at MPC does not require reservations. The public is asked to bring their insurance cards, but the uninsured will be able to  get their tests covered by a state program. The site is open from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

“We started this morning and hoped today would be a trial run, but we saw lots of people coming through,” Adams said during a media briefing today. Planned Parenthood officials say they believe they can test about 100 people daily at MPC.

Similar testing is taking place at Alisal High School and the Greenfield Public Library in the Salinas Valley. Public health officials are encouraging residents to get tested so that the county can meet state requirements that could allow the county to ease shelter-in-place protocols and to allow further re-openings of businesses and gatherings. Monterey County’s goal is to test about 650 people daily.

The Alisal and Greenfield sites are seeing about 120 people each a day, said Dr. Ed Moreno today. Hospitals and private clinics are also performing tests. As of Sunday, a total of 5,447 tests have been administered in the county since pandemic started. The county has reported 341 cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths.

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Monterey County reports two new COVID-19 deaths
May 15 — Two more people from Monterey County have died of complications related to COVID-19,  according to the county’s public health officer.

Dr. Edward Moreno announced the deaths during his regular media briefing this afternoon. As usual, and citing health-information privacy laws, Moreno did not offer much information about the victims, except to say that both were adults  with underlying health risks.  They are among eight people who have succumbed since the pandemic hit the Central Coast in late January.

As of Thursday, 317 people from the county have tested positive for coronavirus, including 240 people who identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic, representing 76 percent of the number of people testing positive. About 60 percent of the county’s population are Latino. Moreno said he believes the higher numbers are likely the result of the higher number of tests being administered to agricultural workers in the Salinas Valley.

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CHOMP resuming some services; visitations still restricted
May 15 — Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula officials say they are expanding or resuming many services and elective surgeries that were scaled back or paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They announced today that patients can now also get essential care that is “not urgent, but still time-sensitive.”

Hospital administrators have not lifted restrictions on visitation.

They also said they will continue to follow Centers for Disease Control protocols that include screenings,  testing and use of personal protective equipment. 

“The expanded services, hours, and/or locations are in radiology, lab work, physical, speech, and occupational therapy, screening mammograms, and bone density screenings,” according to a written release. “Services offered and available facilities and hours will continue to change to meet the needs and demand from our community.” For more information, see www.chomp.org.

 The hospital is also resuming elective surgeries, including endoscopies and eye surgeries, joint replacement, spine, neurology, urology, and gynecology. Cosmetic surgeries will not resume yet.

The hospital is continuing to restricting visitors for patients, with some exceptions in limited cases.

Compared to other regions of the county,  Community Hospital and the Monterey Peninsula has not seen as many coronavirus cases. The most recent information released by county health officials indicate that only 36 of the 317 people who have. tested positive live in the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur region.

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The Tuck Box operator charged with defying health orders
May 14 — The owner of an iconic Carmel diner is facing criminal charges for allegedly violating state and county  health orders after opening his restaurant to. table service.

Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Emily Hickok said Jeffrey LeTowt of The Tuck Box restaurant allegedly violated the health orders  by. allowing customers to consume food on premises, failing to wear face coverings while patrons were eating and failing to implement social distancing standards.

In a written release, Hickok said LeTowt had been warned by Carmel police, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the District Attorney’s office that he was violating the orders. Current health orders have allowed delivery and carry-out service for restaurants, but in-premise dining is not allowed. LeTowt is being charged  with three misdemeanor counts, each of which carries a $1,000 fine and/or up to six onths in jail.

In a written statement, District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni said “we cannot allow a business to defy these emergency public health orders and risk the progress that oor community has made.”

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Monterey Jazz Festival cancels 2020 event
May 14 — The Monterey Jazz Festival announced today it is canceling its 2020 festival due to “the realities of COVID-19’s impact on the health and safety of the festival’s artists, audience, artists, volunteers and students.” It is the first postponement of the festival in its 62-year history at the Monterey County Fairgrounds.

The festival was scheduled in late September, but officials said it is being postponed to Sept. 24-26, 2021.

“We must recognize our current world situation and put the health and safety of our artists, patrons, staff, and volunteers first, said Tim Jackson, the festival’s artistic director. This year’s event would have been Jackson’s 30th as the artistic director.

Patrons who have already purchased tickets to the 2020 Festival have three options. They can donate the value of the ticket to support the continuation of the Monterey Jazz Festival, transfer the tickets to be used at the 2021 festival, or request a full refund by July 17. See here for more details.

The Monterey Jazz Festival is among the last major event on the Central Coast to announce it is shutting down for the year due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday organizers for the Castroville Artichoke Festival, announced that it was cancelling the 2020 event.

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Good news from Santa Cruz County, but limitations won’t ease for a while
May 14 — Santa Cruz County appears to be flattening — at least in the number of residents that have tested positive for coronavirus. But it will still be at least a month before the county can lift existing restrictions, health officers said.

Dr. Gail Newel, the county’s public health officer, said today her department only knows of 29 active cases in Santa Cruz County.  The county has reported 149 cases and two deaths since late January. The numbers have flattened considerably, with 11 cases found since May 3. “That’s fantastic news for us,” Newel said.

The county is currently in Phase 2 of recovery, and Newel said the county has not yet met state-imposed criteria to seek a variance or to ease restrictions further. “We’re months away, not weeks away,” she said during a briefing with media this morning. The county still needs to increase its capacity for testing and contact tracing before it can qualify for consideration of a variance or eased restrictions, said Mimi Hall, the county’s health director.

The county is hoping to add new testing sites soon, and expects to improve coordination of existing test sites, Hall said. And the county will need to employ and train up to 40 people to perform contact tracing, which involves finding and working with people who may have had contacts with infected patients. Hall said about 100 people have volunteered for the jobs in Santa Cruz County, and a two-week state training is expected to start next week.

While the news is good, Newel said she and other county officials are concerned about continued travel into the county from outside the area.

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Number of known cases of COVID-19 reported by the Santa Cruz County Health Department

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Natividad launches ‘virtual visitation’ for patients
May 13 — Natividad Medical Center is launching what it’s calling a “virtual visitation initiative” for patients in the hospital who can’t otherwise see visitors.

Natividad has adopted a no-visitor policy due to coronavirus, with exceptions for birth, pediatric and end-of-life circumstances. Donors to Natividad Foundation’s COVID‐19 Relief Fund helped purchase 18 tablets, which will be provided to patients who need them. Each tablet includes access to communication applications such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. Natividad Foundation also purchased an assortment of chargers that will be distributed to patients who do have smart phones or tablets, but who have forgotten their chargers at home.

Meanwhile, Natividad is also working with Disaster Distress Helpline, a national hotline that provides immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disasters. Counselors can provide information on how to recognize distress and tips for healthy coping, as well as referrals to local crisis call centers for additional follow-up care and support.

Patients and community members can connect with a trained crisis counselor by calling 1-800-985-5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746. For Spanish, press 2. Counseling is also available in more than 100 other languages through third-party interpretation services.

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Undersheriff: No jail inmates have tested positive for coronavirus
May 13 — No Monterey County inmates or county jail staffers have tested positive for coronavirus since the pandemic’s spread, according to a spokesman.

Undersheriff John Mineau told reporters this afternoon that 20 inmates have been tested based on potential exposure or symptoms, but none of those tests returned positive. He said that 119 low-risk inmates have been released in cooperation with Monterey County courts and based on the state’s zero-bail schedule protocols.

Jail population recently averages about 600 inmates, Mineau said. The jail has a rated capacity of 825 inmates.

Mineau also warned that scam artists have been working the phones in recent days. At least three would-be victims have reported that they have received calls from someone identifying themselves as deputies demanding payment for judicial warrants in the form of cards or vouchers from stores like Walmart or Target. “This is not true and you should not send them money or give out any personal information,” Mineau said.

Finally, Mineau said that deputies have issued 17 citations to people accused of violating shelter-in-place orders.

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Carmel looks to shut down Dolores Street for outdoor dining
May 12 — In an effort to kickstart tourism and dining in Carmel once shelter-in-place restrictions are eased, the City Council appears poised to shut down sections of Dolores Street for outdoor dining.

The council heard a proposal to close Dolores between Ocean and Seventh avenues and between Ocean and Sixth to automobile traffic to help restaurants impacted by the coronavirus. About half of the city’s 52 restaurants have been offering curbside pickup or delivery since March. The proposal is rather vague, but the council authorized city officials to work out a variety of issues and details that will likely arise.

Mayor Dave Potter said the proposal would be a pilot program in an effort to get the economy on track. Details are still being worked out, with questions about whether waitstaff service and alcohol sales would be allowed. City officials acknowledged that the state’s shelter-in-place and social distancing standards have been changing regularly, complicating the effort to make plans.

If approved, the city would begin implementing the program in June, at the earliest. City officials said outdoor dining on city streets might become a permanent fixture — or maybe not.

Not all restaurant owners are excited about the proposal. “The people on Dolores Street think it’s a hot idea,” said Judie Profeta of Forge in the Forest, a few blocks away from Dolores. “Those of us not on Dolores Street don’t think it’s such a hot idea.”

Council members said that they could consider expanding street dining on other streets in the city if Dolores proves successful.

The City Council will hold another special session in the coming weeks to possibly approve the plan.

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Carmel could see 30 percent reduction of city staff
May 12 — Layoffs may be in store in Carmel city government, as the city is looking at a significant deficit due to loss of revenues caused by slowdowns forced by COVID-19. City administrators say that it would need to reduce City Hall staff by 30 percent during the next fiscal year to meet projected shortfalls.

The City Council is meeting for a special gathering this afternoon to hear a grim report from city adminstrators about its budget.  Staring at a shortfall of about $4 million in the budget ending in June, the city curtailed spending by imposing a hiring freeze, deferring capital projects and reducing spending in other areas, said Sharon Friedrichsen, director of contracts and budgets, in her report to the City Council. Even then, the city is still expected to end the fiscal year with a $1.4 million deficit, she said.

And next year isn’t looking very rosy either, she said. Revenues are expected to decrease by $5.7 million, or 24 percent.

Like the city of Monterey, which eliminated more than 100 jobs in a reduction that will begin in June, Carmel is seeing a precipitous drop in tourism,  which is impacting its hotel taxes, also known as transient occupancy taxes. By the end of the fiscal year, the city will receive $2.3 million less than expected on hotel taxes, Friedrichsen said, a reduction of 34 percent from the original budget of $6.8 million. She said she doesn’t expect the city to receive more than about $2.5 million in hotel taxes during the 2020-21 fiscal  year.

During the next year, a combination of cuts throughout the city, including “a reduction of approximately 30 percent of the existing workforce” may be necessary to keep the city afloat, she said.

The City Council will hear the city’s report during a teleconference meeting at 4:30 p.m. today. Residents can follow the meeting here.

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City of Carmel's revenue projections

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REPORT: CSU will continue mostly online in the fall
May 12 — EdSource is reporting that the California State University chancellor told CSU trustees not to expect campuses to reopen completely for the fall term.

“Our university, when open without restrictions and fully in person … is a place where over 500,000 people come together in close and vibrant proximity with each other on a daily basis,” said Chancellor Tim White during a trustees’ meeting today. “That approach, sadly, just isn’t in the cards now as I have described.”

He said that some limited exceptions will be made at some of the 23 campuses in the system, which includes CSU Monterey Bay. The exceptions would include essential lab courses and clinical classes for nursing students, White said. Those classes will have restrictions, such as social distancing and fewer students.

Like schools everywhere in the state, CSU moved to virtual instruction in March in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. CSU Monterey Bay enrolls more than 7,500 students, while the entire CSU system provides educational services to almost 500,000 students.

EdSource reported that the state university system has not yet made a determination about reopening classes during the fall term. For more about CSU, see the EdSource story here.

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New COVID-19 test sites in Salinas Valley now open to public 
May 12 — Monterey County is opening its new COVID-19 testing sites in Salinas and Greenfield to the general public today.

The testing sites opened last week, with priority for appointments to healthcare workers, first responders and other front-line and essential workers. But the general public is now being invited to register for appointments. “You do not need to be experiencing symptoms to be tested,” according to a written statement released by the county Health Department.

The sites are staffed by representatives from OptumServe, which has been contracted to administer nasal or throat swabs that are sent to a laboratory for testing.

The sites are located at Alisal High School on Williams Road in Salinas and at the Greenfield branch  of the Monterey County Free Libraries.

The sites are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Testing is by appointment only at 1-888-634-1123 or https://lhi.care/covidtesting  For those without any insurance, the state will cover the full cost of testing. There is no out of pocket cost for anyone getting the test through the two sites.

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COVID-19 hitting Monterey County farmworkers the hardest 
May 11 — At least 40 percent of the people in Monterey County who have tested positive for COVID-19 work in the agricultural industry, according to the public health officials.

With 279 reported cases overall, 110 of them are among farmworkers, said Dr. Edward Moreno, the county’s public health officer. The county Health Department recently started reporting the numbers of affected people by industry and by ZIP codes. The data also shows that more than 80 percent of the known cases were reported from the Salinas Valley.

Moreno said he believes that the relatively large numbers among farmworkers are likely the result of the prevalence of testing in the Salinas Valley, where there are two hospitals performing tests, and the fact that community advocates are promoting testing among farmworkers. But he also attributed the numbers to the fact that many farmworkers work in close proximity to others and many of them live in close quarters, particularly in employee housing provided under the H-2A temporary workers program.

“We’re all concerned about this,” said Moreno during a media briefing this afternoon. “I am working closely with our environmental health director to work closely as much as we can with people in the industry.”

Meanwhile, Moreno encouraged Monterey County residents to get tested whenever possible so that the health officials can gather sufficient information that can justify the reopening of businesses and activities in Monterey County.

“In order for us as a county to convey to the state that we’ve met the testing requirement to move forward, we need to be able to show that people are being tested,” he said. “We really need people to get tested.” He said the county now has the tests and the capacity to check more people than they are currently testing.

Test results are among the benchmarks that counties must meet before they can ease restrictions beyond the current Stage 2 phase Monterey County is currently in. Another benchmark is the number of deaths; restrictions can be eased if there has not been a coronavirus-related death in the past 14 days.  Moreno said epidemiolgists in the county have reported at least one death in the past two weeks. Six people are known to have died in Monterey County as a result of complications related to the virus.

“So we have some work to do … to show that the number of cases and the number of deaths in Monterey County is stable enough to allow for further release of restrictions,” he said.

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Monterey County health officer reopens businesses — with limits
May 8 — Many retail businesses in Monterey County are able to reopen — with some restrictions — starting today after the county’s public health officer released a “supplemental” shelter-in-place order this morning. Some of the policies are less restrictive than the state’s first phase of Stage 2 policies, which also started today.

The eased restrictions allow shops like clothing stores, florists, sporting goods stores, bookstores and other over-the-counter retailers to reopen. Merchants will be able to take phone or online orders and made curbside deliveries under the new rules.  Kristy Michie, a county epidemiologist, said the county’s order does not allow in-store purchases or sidewalk sales for most retailers, excluding supermarkets and food stores.

“We see this as a step towards reopening and getting our economy back in place,” said Michie.

Moreno said the county’s order is slightly different than the state’s guidelines. As example, he said that Monterey County and others are allowing landscape gardening, with appropriate distancing standards, which he approved last week along with construction work. He has also allowed some child-care facilities to reopen to accept children of people who are considered essential service workers.

Moreno said he feels comfortable allowing those sectors to reopen based on discussions he’s had with state authorities and other county health officers.

The state will allow be allowing less stringent restrictions when the counties meet certain hospitalization, death and testing standards.

The county has reported 250 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Most of those cases are out of the Salinas Valley, including 92 people who work in the agricultural industry. Six people have died as a result of complications related to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Moreno said that he is asking golf course operators to limit play to local residents. His amended shelter-in-place order last week that reopened golf course did not specifically mention limits to out-of-town reservations. He said today he encourages course operators to take reservations from local only, but said he did not include an out-of-town ban in his golf-safety protocols because he doesn’t believe a ban could be regulated.

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Monterey County get 750,000 masks for farmworkers
May 7 — Monterey County received a shipment of 750,000 masks destined for delivery to farmworkers.

“These masks come at no cost to the county or workers and are from the state’s emergency stockpile of PPE,” said Maia Carroll, a spokeswoman from the Monterey County administrative offices. The masks were sought by the county’s Emergency Medical Services Agency Medical Operation Area Coordinator.

The focus of the request was to safeguard workers in the fields where they often work in close proximity to one another,” said Carroll. Approximately 25 percent of the people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Monterey County so far were identified as agricultural employees, according to public health officials.

The shipment will provide 25,000 agricultural workers one mask per day for 30 days. The masks will be given to the Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association, the Farm Bureau, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and the California Strawberry Commission, which will distribute the masks to companies in the industry, Carroll said

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Santa Cruz County public health officials declare the curve is ‘flattening’
May 7 — Public health officials in Santa Cruz County say they believe the COVID-19 curve has been flattened in that county.

“We’re continuing to see a flattening of the curve so that the number of new cases continues to be low,” said Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county’s deputy public health director, at a media briefing this morning. “We’re very thankful for that. It buys. us time to prepare for another possible new wave, probably in the fall.”

Santa Cruz County has  recorded less than a dozen new COVID-19 cases during the past week, with a total of 138 cases since the beginning of the year. Twenty-one people have been hospitalized during that time and two people have reportedly died as a result of complications relating to the coronavirus.

Dr. Gail Newel, the county’s public health officer, is preparing a revised shelter-in-place order that will align with the Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that “Stage 2” recovery strategies can start on Friday.

Newel said Wednesday that the county will “remain vigilant in our efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we will carefully review our disease models for adverse impacts before reopening other sectors of our community and economy.”

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Santa Cruz County to allow limited re-openings for businesses Friday; Monterey County’s health officer still reviewing governor’s plan
May 6 — Businesses in Santa Cruz County got the green light to reopen — with limits — beginning Friday. But Monterey County’s health officer said he needs time to review Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Stage 2” requirements before he’s ready to issue his updated shelter-in-place order.

Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said this morning she will issue her updated order allowing limited re-openings, in accord with Newsom’s announcement earlier this week.

“This step is an indicator of progress,” said Newel in a written statement. “However, we remain vigilant in our efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we will carefully review our disease models for adverse impacts before reopening other sectors of our community and economy.”

In Monterey County, Dr.  Ed Moreno said this afternoon he is awaiting the governor’s requirements “in writing” before issuing his updated shelter-in-place order.

“We have a process and I really want to make sure it’s a thoughtful process because anything that I limit or restrict in the health officer order needs to have justification … to protect public health while still allowing for some economic and social benefit to the community,” said Moreno during a media briefing.

Moreno has been under pressure from among some local business operators to reopen businesses immediately, particularly on the Monterey Peninsula, where the numbers of infections are relatively low. Moreno said he understands the concern but as a health officer “I’m still a strong believer at … making sure that public health is a priority and that we’re not easing restrictions for reasons that aren’t really public health reasons.”

The known infection rate in Monterey County is significantly higher in Monterey County, as compared to Santa Cruz. As of Tuesday night, 241 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Monterey County, compared to 138 in Santa Cruz County. Six people have died as a result of complications to the virus in Monterey, compared to two in Santa Cruz.

Maia Carroll, a Monterey County spokeswoman, said that at last count 81 people who work in Salinas Valley agriculture are among the patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Moreno said he wants to make certain that the state’s requirements are appropriate in stemming the spread of the virus in Monterey County.

Under the revised order Newel will issue in Santa Cruz County, local retail businesses will be able to provide curbside pick-up services for customers. Examples of appropriate businesses include clothing stores, florists, sporting goods stores, bookstores and other over-the-counter retailers. Manufacturing and supply-chain businesses will also be able to open, with social distancing standards.

The new order will not apply to shopping malls, dine-in services, hair and nail salons, movie theaters and others.

More guidance from the state on allowable businesses is expected on Thursday, Newel said. “Business owners are advised to review state guidelines to determine whether their establishments may reopen as well as operational practices so that they may avoid enforcement actions,” she said.

But Moreno said that he will be reviewing those guidelines before releasing his health order in Monterey County.

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Monterey County parks reopen; the jury’s still out for dentists in Santa Cruz County
May 5 — County officials on the Central Coast today issued notifications of tweaks they’re making to shelter-in-place orders today and clarifications on others.

In Monterey County, parks department staffers announced the county-operated parks are open again,  but only for limited uses. Residents can walk, hike, bike or ride their horses on trails, but they aren’t supposed to be hanging around picnic areas, campgrounds or playgrounds.

The exception is San Lorenzo Park and the county-operated pocket park at East Garrison. They’re both completely closed.  Fishing from boats are allowed at Lake San Antonio and Lake Nacimiento, with restrictions.

In reopening the parks, which have been closed to some local consternation since just before Easter, a spokesperson for the county said “the county recognizes the importance of exercise and benefits of outdoor recreation.”

In Santa Cruz County, officials who at first signaled the green light for dental work have now recanted. The county health officer said the shelter-in-place order she issued for May 1 deferred to state healthcare directives, which apparently included dental services. Since then, subsequent guidelines from the state did not include dental services.

“The Santa Cruz County Public Health Division is awaiting further instructions and guidelines for dental care from the California Department of Public Health, which is expected to be released shortly,” according to a written statement from Corrine Hyland, a public information officer for the county’s health services agency.

In the meantime, Dr. Gail Newel, the county’s health officer, said she is relying on dentists and others to use their “best clinical judgement in interpreting the state directives and guidance as they reopen their offices.”

Until further notice, she said, “dental cleanings should not happen.”

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Opening of Greenfield testing site hits snag: the nurse called in sick
May 4 — The COVID-19 testing site that was supposed to open in Greenfield today hit a snag. “The nurse assigned to this site called in sick,” said Maia Carroll, a spokeswoman for Monterey County.

Carroll said she expects the site at the Greenfield Public Library will open Wednesday, along with another site at Alisal High School in Salinas.

The sites are two of the 80 new diagnostic testing locations in underserved communities around the state under a program recently approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Nasal swabs will be used to collect samples, and specimens will be sent to laboratories for testing. First priority for testing during the next two weeks will be for healthcare providers and first responders and other essential workers before they become available to the general public. Testing will be by appointment only and reservations can be made here.

The tests will be free, either paid for by people with insurance coverage or by the state.

The testing site are operated by OptumServe, which provides the staff, while the county is providing the locations, Carroll said.

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Some golf courses open; questions about out-of-town golfers unanswered
May 4 — The golf capital of California was back in business today — or at least some Monterey Peninsula courses reopened after a month-long coronavirus hiatus.

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Geese are the only birdies at the Monterey Pines Golf Course today.

Joe Livernois

Golf is considered an allowable “outdoor recreation activity” under a revised shelter-in-place order issued by Dr. Edward Moreno, the county’s public health director. Course operators scrambled over the weekend to take reservations for today’s reopening. Some were more successful than others. The famed Pebble Beach course accepted golfers today, and so did what’s known as the “Poor Man’s Pebble,” or the Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course. But others weren’t so quick and remained closed. Monterey Pines and Pebble Beach’s Old Del Monte courses were closed today.

The “golf-safety protocols” released by Moreno’s office on Friday did not expressly exclude out-of-town golfers from Monterey County courses, which seems to conflict with county health efforts to discourage people from traveling into the region from other areas for reasons not deemed essential for the health and welfare of the public — or if moving to a new residence from outside the area.

Golf courses in nearby San Benito County have been reopened, but the county is only allowing players from within the county.

During his three-times-a-week briefing with local media, Moreno was asked on Friday — and again on Monday — about the seeming disparity, and whether he meant to exclude out-of-town golfers. He said he did not have the answer immediately available.

A spokeswoman from Pebble Beach has not yet responded to a question about whether the resort is taking reservations from visitors.

A local resident who received a confirmation from Pebble Beach for tee times said he has decided not to play the round after all. But he forwarded the confirmation that included a “Notice to European Residents” about information the reservation company will need “about you and your traveling companions.”

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Video of Sen. Bill Monning’s COVID-19 Updates from Friday

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New testing sites to open in Greenfield and Salinas
May 4 — Two new sites to test Salinas Valley residents for the coronavirus — with an emphasis on healthcare workers and people from underserved communities — will open in the coming days, according to Monterey County officials.

One of them — at the Greenfield Public Library — on Tuesday, while a second site will open Wednesday at Alisal High School in East Salinas. according to Gerry Malais, the county office of emergency services director.

The sites are two of the 80 new diagnostic testing locations in underserved communities around the state under a program recently unveiled by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Nasal swabs will be used to collect samples, and specimens will be sent to laboratories for testing. First priority for testing during the next two weeks will be for healthcare providers and first responders and other essential workers before they become available to the general public. Testing will be by appointment only and reservations can be made here.

Malais said the tests will be free, either paid for by people with insurance coverage or by the state, Malais said.

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Monterey protest demands that California ‘reopen’
May 1 — About 100 people showed up at Window on the Bay in Monterey this afternoon to protest shelter-in-place orders resulting from fears of the spread of COVID-19.

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Libertarian activist David Henderson argues that quarantines are unconstitutional

Royal Calkins

The group included many conservative activists and several small-business owners who waved flags and held signs at passersby on Del Monte Avenue. The protest was part of a larger effort, concentrated in Sacramento, called #ReOpenCaliforniaNow.

Among the protesters was a business owner who would only identify himself as Dave, who said he will lose his food-related business if he can’t refinance his home within the next two weeks. But he said he is unable to get an appraisal because of the lockdown.

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A protester waves her flag high

Royal Calkins

Earlier today, the county’s health officer eased many of the restrictions that had been placed on activities during his previous shelter-in-place order. Among the essential activities now allowed are real estate-related activities. He has also allowed golf courses to reopen and said that construction work to resume.

The health officer, Dr. Edward Moreno, said this afternoon that he understands the impact of restricting activities on daily life and the economy. “Left unchecked, the virus would have a significant impact on our lives,” he said. “We want to arrive at a balance that minimizes the impact of the virus” and the impact on the economy.

Health officials around the state have reported 2,061 deaths they attribute to complications arising from COVID-19, and almost 51,000 Californians have tested positive for the coronavirus. In Monterey County, five people have died and 213 people have tested positive since health officials started testing in late January.

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Monterey County eases restrictions
May 1 — Get your toothache fixed. Return to your construction site. Play a round of golf, if you’re so inclined. You’ve got the Monterey County health officer’s permission. But don’t be stupid about it.

Dr. Edward Moreno this morning issued a new shelter-in-place order that eases many of the restrictions on activities that kept many people homebound since the middle of March. The new order is effective Monday through the end of May.

The new guidelines are similar to those established in counties north of Monterey, including Santa Cruz, where the health officer on Thursday allowed golf courses to open, encouraged people to see their doctors about procedures they’ve been putting off and told gardeners and landscapers they can fire up their mowers and leaf blowers.

“Construction can go on and golf can go on as long as they meet the conditions,” said Moreno during a media briefing this afternoon.

He and Charles McKee, the county administrative officer, said many of the old limits can be lifted because Monterey County residents have generally kept the spread of the virus down by complying with shelter-in-place protocols. “The better the compliance we get … we’ll be able to continue to ease the restrictions,” Moreno said.

“The people of Monterey County have done a remarkable job so far,” said McKee.

Moreno said the county has lengthened the amount of time that the number of cases have doubled, which gives him confidence that the limits he previously imposed can be eased.

The new order, 13 pages long, states that people may leave their homes only for “essential activities, essential government functions, to work for essential businesses or to perform minimum basic operations for non-essential businesses.” But the definitions of what are essential has expanded with the new order.

For instance, the county shut down golf courses in March, but the revised order would allow people to play golf as long as they employ the by-now familiar social distancing standards.

The reopening of golf courses is not a minor thing in Monterey County, which likes to regard itself as the golf epicenter of the country.  At least one course will be open on Monday, when the restrictions are lifted. A representative at Salinas Fairways said his course will open first thing Monday. “We’ve been waiting for this,” he said. And KSBW reported Friday that Pebble Beach Golf Course will  open on Monday, and that nearly 1,000 tee times were scheduled today.

Moreno was asked by Voices of Monterey Bay on Friday if golf course operators can accept reservations from people who live outside the county — which would seem to run against the county’s efforts to keep visitors from coming to the region. Moreno said he need to research the question. By 6:30 p.m. today he had not answered.

The new order does not ease social distancing requirements, and people are still required to maintain a six-foot distance from one another, they are being asked to keep washing their hands or using hand sanitizers and they are required to wear face coverings when engaged in an essential business.

Read Monterey County’s updated health order here:

Read the “golf safety protocols” issued by the Monterey County Health Department here:

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COVID-19 count continues to grow in the Salinas Valley
April 30 — Six more patients from the Salinas area were confirmed with coronavirus during the past 24 hours, according to Monterey County health officials.

A demographics report released this evening now indicates that 171 of the 213 cases reported in Monterey County have been among people living in the Salinas Valley. Twenty-one new cases have been reported in the Salinas Valley during the past 48 hours. And more testing in that area is expected to start on Tuesday.

Two new coronavirus testing sites — one in Salinas and the other in Greenfield — will open Tuesday, according to county officials.

The sites are two of the 80 new diagnostic testing sites located in underserved communities around the state under a program recently unveiled by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Nasal swabs will be used to collect samples, and  specimens will be sent to laboratories for testing. First priority for testing will be healthcare providers and first responders and other essential workers before they become available to the general public. Testing will be by appointment only.

Meanwhile, the county’s health officer, Dr. Edward Moreno, is scheduled to released a revised shelter-in-place order on Friday. According to a written release, the order will be effective on Monday and will lift restrictions on some “low-risk activities” for residents and will allow employees in some local industries to return to work.

The latest update of coronavirus cases by the county shows that 140 patients in Monterey County identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic. That represents 66 percent of the total patients in a county where abouty 60 percent of the population is Latino. Moreno said earlier this week — before the latest updates — that at least 40 of the patients are farmworkers.

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Updated Santa Cruz County SIP order less restrictive
April 30 — The Santa Cruz County new shelter-in-place order allows more outdoor businesses, including landscaping, gardening and tree trimming.

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Dr. Gai Newel, Santa Cruz County public health officer, and Mimi Hall, health services director, at today's press briefing

Among other things, the order by the county’s public health director, Dr. Gail Newel, allows golf courses to reopen, and she is encouraging people who have been putting off elective surgeries to schedule them. The updated order is effective Friday. It does not have an expiration date, but Newel said she would review orders every three weeks, and amend when and if necessary.

Meanwhile, Dr. David Ghilarducci, the Santa Cruz County’s deputy health officer, reported that the numbers of infections in the county has not reached the levels expected. “Our fears have not come true so far,” he said. Ghilarducci said the county is starting to decommission an emergency alternative care facility it set up a couple of weeks ago.

He and Newel attributed the relatively low infection rates on the community’s efforts to adhere to shelter-in-place orders. “We have done so well,” Newel said during a media briefing this morning. “Everyone is doing a fantastic job.”

She said she and other county officials have considered efforts to prevent visitors from outside Santa Cruz County from coming to local beaches, but they don’t believe such an order would be legal or enforceable. Instead, the county will increase its “messaging” to let visitors know that activities are restricted.

As of last night, the county has reported 131 known cases, with two deaths. Almost 3,600 negative lab test results have been reported in Santa Cruz County.

Newsom signaled this week that he may order all beaches closed along California’s coastline. Newel recently limited access to beaches, but did allow some physical activities, including hiking, running and water sports. Newsom’s order, which may be announced later today, would be more restrictive.

Meanwhile, Newel said New Leaf Market in Aptos has reopened after a cluster of employees tested positive for COVID-19 about 10 days ago. The store shut down after 13 employees tested positive. Store managers had about 80 remaining employees tested, and 40 of them received negative results, with results from the others pending, Newel. said. The store has reopened and is staffed by employees who have been cleared. Newel said she knows of no confirmed cases among New Leaf shoppers.

Newel also said that none of the 131 coronavirus patients reported in the county have been farmworkers.

Newel said the following activities will be allowed, starting Friday:

  • Landscaping gardening, tree trimming, environmental site remediation as long as social distancing requirements are met
  • Elective surgeries
  • Preventative care at medical and dental offices
  • Construction under new safety protocols
  • Real estate transactions
  • Residential moves in and out of county
  • Wholesale and retail nurseries for gardening and landscaping
  • Golf courses and driving ranges
  • Fabric and craft stores can reopen to supply the creation of masks, gowns and other protective equipment
  • Educational and recreational activities for children, including summer camps, with no more than 12 “stable” children.

See the updated order here:

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‘Staggering’ layoff plan approved in Monterey
The city of Monterey will lose almost one-quarter of its workforce after the City Council tonight agreed it had no option but to agree to 106 layoffs. City administrators stressed that the layoffs were temporary, pending the city’s ability to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We don’t have any other choice at this point,” said Councilman Tyller Williamson. “My heart is really hurting right now.”

Mayor Clyde Roberson called the losses “staggering,” but he agreed that the city has no choice because of an estimated $10 million deficit to its budget in the three months ending in June.

The employees will lose their jobs on June 2. By making June 2 the official layoff date, employees will get their healthcare benefits extended an extra month. But city administrators and the council struggled tonight to find a way to extend coverage beyond the end of July. “The people need to have more than two months of health care,” said Roberson.

City Manager Hans Uslar said that extending healthcare to the laid-off employees would cost the city about $95,000 a month. The council asked Uslar to seek concessions from labor unions to find revenue to extend the coverage.

Among the positions on the chopping block are 41 from the parks and recreation department, including 27 from the Monterey Sports Center; 24 from the public works department, mostly among parking attendants and parking enforcement personnel; 16 from the city library; and 10 from the Monterey Conference Center. Those departments will be staffed by a “skeleton crew.”

Meanwhile, Uslar warned that the city could lose up to $2.2 million in revenues each month through the year because of the devastation of the coronavirus. That’s in addition to the $10 million the city is losing during the first three months of shelter-in-place.

Hans Uslar, the Monterey city manager, offered the grim prediction at the start of today’s City Council meeting, during which the council will decide whether to accept Uslar’s proposal to eliminate 106 jobs. City officials insist that the layoffs will be “temporary,” but acknowledged that the city’s recovery from anticipated revenue losses will likely take some time. Twenty-four of those positions are currently unoccupied, and 82 people would be laid off.

The council was asked to act on the reduction plan last week, but held off on a decision while asking administrators to work with employee bargaining units for potential concessions. Administrators said many of the unions were willing to make some concessions, but not enough to make a difference in the budget.

In his report to the council, Uslar said that while the initial $10 million hit will be devastating, “I’m fearful this number will change and. it won’t change for the positive.” He estimated revenue losses could reach $2.2 milion per month, even with the layoffs.

When asked how the city will meet its budget if his predictions are correct, Uslar said “that’s where were losing sleep right now.”

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Santa Cruz County, Monterey city clamp down on beach use
April 29 — Citing growing crowds on local beaches, Santa Cruz County and the city of Monterey are clamping down on the use of beaches for rest and relaxation.

Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel is expected to issue new restrictions on beach activities soon that will make them available only “for recreational activities to promote physical and mental health starting this weekend. Beaches will be off-limits for all activities between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Meanwhile, Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar issued an order today that will close beaches and parks in that city, limiting access only to people who are running, walking and other activities related to exercies.

“Despite warnings against travelling to Santa Cruz County for beach access and against congregating on beaches, local law enforcement spent the weekend responding to numerous issues all along our coastline,” Santa Cruz Sheriff Jim Hart said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, these actions are necessary to protect the health and welfare of our most vulnerable residents. The Sheriff’s Office, the police departments and State Parks will do everything we can to support the Health Officer and enforce her revised order.”

No umbrellas, barbecues, coolers, beach chairs, shade structures, tents or other equipment will be allowed at any time on Santa Cruz beaches.

Water-based activities such as surfing, paddleboarding, boogie boarding, swimming, snorkeling and kayaking will not be impacted by the order, Newell said. Beaches may be traversed to participate in these activities. Additionally, facilities adjacent to beaches such as parkways, sidewalks and trails will remain open. Non-beach areas of local parks are unaffected by the order, though they remain subject to restrictions put in place by State and local jurisdictions.

Monterey’s partial closure is similar to Santa Cruz, though it does not limit access to beaches during certain hours. Monterey’s order also applies to city parks.

“The warmer weather and the desire for people to return to normal activities after weeks of sheltering in place threaten to dismantle the progress made in combating COVID-19, prompting the additional restrictions,” according to Hans Uslar, the city manager.

Uslar said his order will allow walking, jogging, running, and ocean activity, but activities like sunbathing, picnicking, barbecues and camp fires are not allowed. Similar restrictions have been imposed on the Carmel Beach and at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove.
“This order tries to achieve the balance between allowing our residents to walk our beaches and parks and enforcing the intent of the health orders,” said Uslar in a written statement “We want to discourage our beaches from becoming overcrowded during the continued shelter in place order. We have to ensure the public’s health by maintaining social distancing in our beaches and parks.”
Waterfront parking lots will remain open for commercial activity and essential services such as access to Fisherman’s Wharf, Municipal Wharf 2, and Monterey Harbor, with enforcement in place. Some street parking in the Del Monte Beach neighborhood will be restricted, specifically on Tide Avenue, on Beach Way from Tide Avenue to Spray Avenue, and on Surf Way from Tide Avenue to Spray Avenue, from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily.
Non-compliance with the order can result in an administrative fine of $1,000. Uslar said city police and state Parks  rangers  will patrol  the beaches.
Read the new beach and park closure order here:

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Another COVID-19 death reported in Monterey County
April 28 — The latest COVID-19 demographics chart released by health officials indicate a fifth person from Monterey County has died as a result of complications from the coronavirus. The report also shows that 80 percent of all the patients who have tested positive for the virus in Monterey County are from the Salinas Valley.

No other information about the latest victim has been released, and Monterey County’s public health official has been reticent about releasing any basic information about who the deceased victims are.

With six more cases reported this evening, a total of 191 patients have tested positive, according to the report, including 123 from the Salinas area and another 30 from South County. Four of the new cases were reportedly Latinos, increasing the percentage of people who identify as Latino or Hispanic to 61 percent of all cases. (Latinos make up about 59 percent of the population in Monterey County.)

The number of known cases on the Monterey Peninsula is relatively low, with 27 known patients reported.

Santa Cruz County officials have reported 125 known cases since they started keeping track in late January. Two deaths in Santa Cruz County have been attributed to COVID-19.

Statewide, 1,864 people have succumbed to the virus, and there have been 46,164 known cases in California.

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UFW Foundation seeks donations for food distribution event
April 28 — The United Farmworkers Union Foundation is seeking contributions of food for a food distribution it is holding Thursday and Friday in the Salinas Valley.

Officials for the foundation say they expect to deliver food to about 1,000 families. They are seeking donations of rice, beans, canned tomato sauce, and bags of Fideo or alphabet soup or pasta.

Donations can be dropped off between 10 a.m. and noon at 118 E. Gabilan St., Salinas.

For more information, contact Elizabet Zepeda at egonzalez@ufwfoundation.org

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Another COVID-19 death reported in Monterey County
April 28 — The latest COVID-19 demographics chart released by health officials indicate a fifth person from Monterey County has died as a result of complications from the coronavirus. The report also shows that 80 percent of all the patients who have tested positive for the virus in Monterey County are from the Salinas Valley.

No other information about the latest victim has been released, and Monterey County’s public health official has been reticent about releasing any basic information about who the deceased victims are.

With six more cases reported this evening, a total of 191 patients have tested positive, according to the report, including 123 from the Salinas area and another 30 from South County. Four of the new cases were reportedly Latinos, increasing the percentage of people who identify as Latino or Hispanic to 61 percent of all cases. (Latinos make up about 59 percent of the population in Monterey County.)

The number of known cases on the Monterey Peninsula is relatively low, with 27 known patients reported.

Santa Cruz County officials have reported 125 known cases since they started keeping track in late January. Two deaths in Santa Cruz County have been attributed to COVID-19.

Statewide, 1,864 people have succumbed to the virus, and there have been 46,164 known cases in California.

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Monterey’s lay-off proposal unchanged; City Council could eliminate 106 jobs on Wednesday
April 28 — After a week of wrangling with bargaining units, city administrators in Monterey are still recommending the City Council eliminate 106 positions from the city’s workforce or face fiscal calamity due to the impacts of the coronavirus.

The City Council is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday to make a final decision on the layoff proposal.

The City Council last week struggled with the proposal last Wednesday, and ultimately asked administrators to ask the city’s unions for concessions that might minimize the number of layoffs. Of the 106 positions on the chopping block, 82 are currently filled. The layoffs would begin in June.

The “temporary” layoffs would most seriously impact the city library, recreation department, parking control, Sports Center and Conference Center. Each of those departments would retain a “skeleton crew” until the city can begin rehiring employees.

City administrators say the city is facing a $10 million loss of revenue during a three-month period. Meetings with bargaining units yielded minimal concessions — and not enough to make a significant difference, said Hans Uslar, city manager.

“At the current rate of revenue losses, the city is losing approximately $3 million or more in revenue per month in the General Fund,” said Uslar in his report to the City Council, released this afternoon. “The proposed layoffs alone would only save the General Fund $681,175 per month. This means that these layoffs will not account for the savings needed to save the City from operating in the red.”

One of the unions, the General Employees of Monterey, urged the council to exhaust the city’s cash reserves to minimize the layoffs and to consider other options. “If I were on the council, I would want to know what other options we have before making such an important decision,” wrote Ryan Heron, representing GEM. “I find it disappointing that the city staff is not presenting these alternatives already.”

Several council members said last week that they would like to extend health-care coverage to laid-off employees beyond July, which would cost the city about $100,000 monthly.

But Uslar today recommended against the proposal. “With no other labor groups offering immediate concessions, and with additional projected revenue losses, staff does not recommend spending additional money from reserves to provide health coverage after July 31,” he wrote. However, he did suggest giving a total of $1,000 in severance pay per employee to help them purchase healthcare benefits.

The council meeting begins at 4 p.m. and will be streamed live here.

Uslar’s report to the council follows:

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Face coverings mandatory in Monterey County starting Thursday
April 28 — The Monterey County health officers will require face coverings for people who are out in public performing “essential activities,” effective 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

“These changes reflect the serious nature of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and increased understanding about how the virus spreads,” according to a notice from the county issued this afternoon. “We now know from recent studies that people infected with COVID-19 can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms or without ever showing symptoms.”

According to the “mandatory face covering order,” the order includes people in businesses, and business owners must take “reasonable measures, such as posting signs,” to remind patrons about face coverings. They are encouraged not to serve people who aren’t wearing face coverings.” Workers do not need to wear masks if they are alone in a personal office but must put them on when others are present.

The order also includes people riding public transit, or who are waiting at bus stops. The order exempts people who are walking, running or bicycling in public as part of their outdoor recreation.

Dr. Edward Moreno, the public health officer, said his office is “continuously reassessing our policies and procedures to protect Monterey County residents.”

Moreno said the use of medical masks, such as N-95 respirators and surgical masks, are “strongly discouraged for general use” due to the global demand and shortages of those items among health workers and first responders.

For guides on homemade face coverings, please see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html

Read the new health order here:

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Emergency housing sites in Monterey County could open later this week
April 28 — Emergency alternative housing sites in Monterey County for patients with COVID-19 who do not require hospitalizations could be ready to open by the end of the week, according to officials.

The finishing touches are nearly complete for sites at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey and San Lorenzo Park in King City. The county is also preparing room at the Sherwood Hall in Salinas and the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds in King City.

An alternative care site, which provides space in the case of a surge of patients that hospitals in the region would not be able to handle, is being prepared at the Joby Aviation hangar at the Marina Airport.

The housing sites are isolation and quarantine areas, not open to the general public. Patients admitted to the alternative housing units are unable to leave until released by county health officials. Each site will have 24-hour management, with medical staff and security, according to Maia Carroll, a county spokeswoman.

The county has issued the following frequently-asked-question document regarding its shelter and care plans:

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Community Hospital asking for donated masks
April 27 — Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula has put out a call for donated cloth masks for healthcare workers at hospital facilities who are not providing direct patient care but who are still required to wear masks.

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Some of the 58 masks created and donated by Lety Sanchez of Marina

The hospital hopes to get 2,000 sewn masks by May 1. The hospital has received just under 600 donated masks as of today. Brenda Moore, a spokeswoman for Community Hospital, said that Lety Sanchez of Marina has created and donated 58 of the masks the hospital has received.

“They are a great supplement to help us preserve manufactured personal protective equipment for use in direct patient-care areas,” according to a written statement released by hospital administrators.

The masks should be similar to those recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Donors can drop off their masks from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at the hospital’s Cancer Center entrance. Donors are asked not to get out of their cars, but can leave the masks with a valet.

CHOMP officials say they have received an “outpouring” of donations to help staff and patients, but are unable to accept certain items. In addition to cloth masks, the hospital can accept unopened boxes of hospital-grade N-95 masks, surgical masks and gowns; cloth surgical caps; food that is sealed an in commercial packaging; and “appropriately packaged food” that has been made in a local commercial kitchen.

They say they can’t accept open boxes of any type of masks, cut flowers from a yard, gloves of any kind and homemade food.

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Big Sur residents report a glut of visitors despite COVID-19 closures
April 26 — Big Sur residents today report a flood of visitors ignoring posted closure signs in violation of state and county shelter-in-place orders.

“I don’t think I could be any more discouraged and sad about this whole mess than I am today,” said one resident in a Facebook post. She said she left her home for an emergency run to the veterinarian, but was “astounded” by the number of people on the roads, in the parks and at local businesses. She also said that every turnout with a view on Highway 1 was “packed.”

Kate Novoa Woods, a Voices of Monterey Bay correspondent known as Big Sur Kate, said people ignored the “closed” signs on roads and trails throughout Big Sur over the weekend.  On Sunday she dashed off an email to the U.S. Forest Service, which shut down roads and trails last week. “People just moved them and opened it up,” she wrote. She said on Saturday night observed campers up and down Plaskett Road, a remote dirt road off Highway 1, “most with campfires.”

Big Sur Kate wrote last week for Voices that the U.S. Forest Service shut down roads and trails on April 16 for at least the end of May. “Only hours after putting up the sign and cones at the bottom of Willow Creek, someone came along and tossed all of them into the poison oak, presumably to make retrieval more difficult,” she wrote.

In her note to the Forest Service today, she wrote: “As we come into fire season, coupled with the shelter-in-place orders by state and county, with little enforcement, this is a nightmare in the making.”

On Saturday the city of Pacific Grove made Lovers Point off limits after crowds of people descended on the popular park and appeared to be ignoring social distancing standards.

Correction: An earlier version of this item included a reference to people dragging chairs into Big Sur River at River Inn. In fact, River Inn personnel “spent all of Saturday and Sunday chasing folks off the lawn,” said Alan Perlmutter of River Inn. The lawn area is posted “closed” and trespassers must climb over a split rail fence to gain access to the lawn and the river, Perlmutter said.

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Central Coast reports more than 300 cases
April 26 — More than 300 people on the Central Coast have tested positive for COVID-19, according to public health officials in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

The latest updates from the county health centers indicate now indicate that 183 people are known to have contracted coronavirus in Monterey County since officials started tracking the virus in late January. Santa Cruz officials say that 120 people have tested positive on the north side of the bay.

Six people have died as a result of complications resulting from the virus in the Monterey Bay area.

The latest report from Monterey County, released this morning, shows seven new confirmed cases since Saturday. Five of them were reported in the Salinas area, which raises the number in that region to 118. Dr. Edward Moreno, the county’s public health director, said on Friday that at least 41 people who say they work in the Salinas Valley agricultural industry have tested positive for COVID-19, raising concern that food supply chains might be be disrupted if the spread of the virus isn’t contained among field and packing shed workers.

Monterey and Santa Cruz counties have different ways of reporting their updates to the public; the reports from Santa Cruz County don’t include refined demographic information. Beginning today, Monterey County started adding a column that expressly indicates the additional daily numbers in its demographic report.

Moreno also provide live updates during media briefings at least three times a week.

Meanwhile, as of noon today, the state of California has reported 1,698 deaths and 42,705 known cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The Monterey County Health Department has released the following updated chart tracking number of cases and recoveries:

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The Curve in Monterey County, by county Health Department

The Santa Cruz County Health Department has released the following updated chart tracking the growth of known cases:

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The Curve in Santa Cruz County, by county Health Department

Monterey County health officials have released the following updated demographics chart:

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COVID-19 demographics in Monterey County, by county Health Department

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Monterey County orders end to ‘short-term’ rentals
April 25 — The Monterey County health director has cracked down on short-term rentals, calling them a violation of public health orders related to shelter-in-place orders arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Hotel parking lot on Munras Avenue in Monterey

In an order dated Friday, Dr. Edward Moreno said the “use of short-term lodging for non-COVID-19 related purposes is a direct violation” of state and county orders because it “encourages an influx of persons into the county … and is likely to impair efforts at mitigating the spread of the illness” in the county. The order applies most all visitor-serving rentals, including motels, hotels, vacation rentals and beds and breakfast lodgings.

Those who violate the order may be subject to penalties of up to $1,000 per day.

Exceptions include short-term housing for the homeless, people seeking stable housing, and people with COVID-19 who are unable to self-isolate at their primary residence. Also excepted are rentals to people who come to the county specifically to provide essential services, including nurses and doctors.

Otherwise, according to the order, “no homeowner, agent of the homeowners, marketing agent, listing agent or real estate agent shall engage in efforts to rent or lease any bed and breakfast, short-term rental, vacatioon rental, timeshare, hotel, motel and/or other short-term lodging” in the county.

The order is effective immediately through May 3, pending “further notice” of the health officer.

As of Friday evening, 169 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Monterey County. Four people have died.

Read Dr. Moreno’s order here:

The county Health Department has also issued an FAQ that explains the temporary ban. Read it here:

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Monterey County Health Director: 25% of COVID-19 cases are farmworkers
April 24 — The Monterey County health director said Friday that a quarter of all the people who have tested positive for coronavirus in the county work in the agricultural industry.

“To date we have 41 Monterey County residents that have identified themselves as working in the ag industry,” said Dr. Edward Moreno during a briefing with reporters this afternoon. As of today, 164 people from the county have tested positive since Monterey County started providing tests in late January.

He said the victims may work in all phases of the industry, including field workers, packing shed personnel, bus drivers and shed workers.

Also on Friday, Moreno said that nearly 1,000 people who have had contacts with residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 have been contacted by health officials and advised to isolate themselves from others for 14 days.

Earlier today, the communications director of the California Strawberry Commission, based in Watsonville, said the commission has been trying to educate its members and strawberry farm workers about how to deal with the coronavirus while working in the fields.

“We’ve been sending daily emails out to growers, shippers and processors in English and Spanish for the past six weeks,” said Carolyn O’Donnell. “We’ve hosted three webinars, one in simultaneous Spanish/English. We’re also running PSA’s on four regional Spanish-language radio stations, including a Mixtec version on Radio Indigena (in Oxnard).”

Farmworkers have been labeled “essential” employees who are able to work during the pandemic, but safety officials are concerned that the nature of the work, particularly in harvesting crews and in packing sheds, makes it particularly difficult to maintain the “social distancing” ordered by state and local health officials.

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Santa Cruz County skilled nursing facilities meet COVID-19 protocols
April 24 — Skilled nursing facilities in Santa Cruz County all have COVID-19 protocols in place, according to  health officials who recently completed an assessment of the facilities.

There are currently no known cases among skilled nursing facility residents in the county, “the presence of medically-vulnerable individuals living in close quarters have made skilled nursing and long-term care facilities highly susceptible to outbreaks of COVID-19,” said Jason Hoppin, the county communications director.

A team of health experts completed on-site assessments of the seven skilled nursing facilities in the county. “The success of our local COVID-19 response is dependent on the readiness of our healthcare facilities,” said Michelle Meszaros, the lead public health nurse for the assessments.

All those facilities have appropriate protocols n place, including the use of face coverings by staff and residents in common areas, routine screening of staff and residents, increased environmental cleaning and adhering to physical distancing guidelines, Meszaros said.

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Monterey County reports 10 new cases, seven of them in the Salinas area
April 23 — Monterey County health officials reported 10 more people have tested positive for the coronavirus, including 13 from the Salinas area. The latest report from the Health Department shows that 164 known cases of COVID-19 have been detected since the county started reporting the cases in late January.

Of the new cases reported late today, seven were from what the county is generally calling the “Salinas area.” That region has reported the largest number of cases in the county, by far, with 103 cases. Reports indicate that at least one farmworker from Tanimura & Antle, one of the larger agricultural firms in Salinas, has tested positive, and concerns are being raised that clusters of coronavirus might start appearing among farmworkers, who continue to be employed in the fields.

The county’s statistics indicate that 102 of the people that have tested positive for coronavirus identify as Latinos or Hispanics.

When asked Wednesday about the much higher numbers being reported in the Salinas area, Public Health Director Dr. Edward Moreno attributed it to the fact that two major hospitals operate out of Salinas, including Natividad Medical Center and Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.

The county’s statistics indicate that more than 2,700 people have been tested for coronavirus. At least four people have died as a result of complications stemming from COVID-19.

In Santa Cruz County, 114 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported, with two deaths.

In California, 39,289 cases have been reported, and 1,525 people have died as of 6:30 p.m. today.

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Santa Cruz County: ‘cluster’ of employee cases at Aptos New Leaf; new county Recovery Division forming
April 23 — Santa Cruz County health officer Dr. Gail Newel said that COVID-19 cases among New Leaf employees in Aptos are “not classified as an outbreak, but rather a cluster.” Speakng at a public briefing Thursday, Newel declined to give an exact number of employees at the store who tested positive. She said the cases are the first known cluster in the county. The store announced it will remain closed for at least several days for sanitizing and said employees who came in contact with the infected staff are staying home on paid leave and are being asked to monitor their symptoms.

Newel said the county is “doing contact investigations for anyone involved.” She said grocery shoppers should not be concerned, adding that people would typically have to be close to an unmasked, infected person for several minutes or longer to contract the virus.

Santa Cruz County has 114 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths from the disease. Four patients are under the age of 18.

An order going into effect Friday at midnight requires all county residents to wear masks in public places where they’re likely to come in contact with others. Violators may face fines of an undisclosed amount,  but Newel stressed the county hopes citations won’t be necessary.

Because Santa Cruz is the only Northern California county that has kept its beaches open, Newel said she’s hopeful Bay Area counties will open their own parks and beaches when their current shelter-in-place orders expire May 4. This would lessen the likelihood that tourists will be drawn to Monterey Bay beaches, she said.

While the county has declined to say when shelter-in-place orders will be lifted, Health Services Agency director Mimi Hall said it “will not be flipping a switch.” The first aspects likely to change will be elective but important surgeries, following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Thursday that the state is no longer prohibiting them. Hall said the county will possibly allow dental visits as well.

Although the county’s data and models used to determine when cases will peak are changing almost daily, Newel said the “benchmark” of 100 hospitalizations is now not likely to come until August. However, Hall said loosening of some restrictions is likely in May as long as the county caseloads remain stable or drop. But she said it’s likely residents will see waves of “lift and restrict, lift and restrict” as case numbers rise or fall in coming months. The county is currently experiencing “stable numbers every day, a strong indicator that changes will likely come in May,” Hall said.

Santa Cruz County has one of the lowest infection rates in the state, and county officials attribute much of their relative success to early and strict compliance with shelter-in-place orders.

Going forward, officials said their main concerns are obtaining enough staff and swabs to bring testing up to desired levels, which Hall said won’t happen for 2-3 weeks. “We are not meeting public demand at all,” she said. New Leaf wanted all its asymptomatic Aptos employees tested, for example, but “that’s a demand we couldn’t meet.”

The county is also waiting for more personal protective equipment, especially gowns, for health workers.

Officials hope to have county-wide testing sites up and running soon, including possible “drive-by” testing at UC Santa Cruz, which has a potential lab capacity of 900 tests per day, Newel said, assuming sufficient staff can be hired to work 12-hour shifts. The county’s new Recovery Division is also planning to train and deploy scores of “contact tracers” to help track coronavirus exposure. Newel said filling those ranks not as simple as recruiting community volunteers, because the job requires specialized investigative skills.

The county is also watching cases among farmworkers, whose numbers normally increase this time of year as the agricultural season gears up. Newel said that of the 16 confirmed farmworker cases in Monterey County, none were living in labor camps and all were year-round, not seasonal, workers.

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Monterey County health officials have suggested quarantines to 725 residents
April 22 — Health officials have suggested to more than 725 Monterey County residents that they self-quarantine because they have had contacts with people who tested positive with COVID-19.

Public Health Officer Edward Moreno said his office has contacted the people and suggested quarantine after interviewing patients who have tested positive. As of Wednesday, 150 Monterey County residents have tested positive for the virus, 26 have been hospitalized and four have died since the county started keeping track in late February.

Quarantines are recommended for people who might have been exposed to COVID-19 because they had some contact with patients with coronavirus. People in self-quarantine are separated from others and they limit their movements outside of home.

The county’s numbers indicate that 60 people from the Salinas area have tested positive, by far the largest of any other region in the county. During a press briefing this afternoon, Moreno said the higher results in Salinas is due to the fact that Salinas is home to two large hospitals — Natividad Medical Center and Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital — and so more people are being tested.

Almost 2,500 people in Monterey County have been tested at various sites throughout the county, but the figures released by the county shows that hospital laboratories in the four county hospitals have tested 223 patients and, according to Moreno, 405 have been referred by hospitals to commercial labs.

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Coronavirus testing in Monterey County

Santa Cruz County health officials have reported a total of 111 positive tests, with 18 hospitalizations and two deaths. They also reported that 2,867 people were tested with negative results in Santa Cruz County.

Statewide, 1,326 people have reportedly died in California as a result of complications arising from COVID-19 since late February.

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Monterey City Council delays decision on layoffs
April 21 — The Monterey City Council on Tuesday put off a proposal to eliminate up to 106 city positions for a  week while the city administrators negotiate with employee unions in an effort to minimize the number of layoffs.

And a couple of councilmen said they would like to provide health-care benefits to the employees who do lose their jobs until their return to work. The City Council will meet again at 4 p.m. Wednesday to make a final decision.

The delay would extend employees’ anxieties for a week, said City Manager Hans Uslar. “This is a huge decision,” said Mayor Clyde Roberson, “and it’s well worth the wait.”

Facing dramatic and immediate losses to the city budget, the City Council tonight weighed a proposal by its city manager to eliminate 106 of the 450 positions in city government, which would include 84 people currently employed for the city. The balance of the potential lost positions are currently unfilled.

After hours of emotional presentations and testimony, the City Council eventually agreed to negotiate with the city’s employees unions with the expectation that concessions could minimize the number of terminations. And the council notably agreed to extend health-care benefits for terminated employees, at a cost of about $100,000 a month.

“The health insurance frightens me the most … with COVID-19 out there,” said Roberson, referring to the impact the layoffs would have on the terminated employees. “I would put that on the table.”

Meanwhile, Uslar assured city residents that the library and the recreation centers will reopen “as soon as we get the green light” from public health officials.

“That’s a commitment that I have made,” said Uslar. In remarks to the City Council, which is considering reductions of almost one-quarter of the city workforce. The meeting is expected to continue late into the evening. Uslar has recommended the reduction of up to 106 positions, effective June 2. Eight-four of those positions are currently filled. The city now has 495 full-time positions, and 450 are currently filled. 

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Chart showing comparable city services in the region. SOURCE: City of Monterey

The city is losing millions of dollars in transient occupancy taxes, and the city’s relatively robust city services have been reliant on that revenue. Because it earned so much from those taxes, the city is able to provide a higher level of service — and employ significantly more people — than other cities in the region. And because it is losing that source due to the coronavirus, the city is unable to maintain that level of service, said Uslar.

“The situation is dire in the city of Monterey,” he said.

The city would expect to receive about $30 million in revenue from taxes on hotel rooms, Uslar said, but tourism is down by at least 85 percent since the shelter-in-place order. Uslar said the city anticipates a loss of $10 million in lost revenue by June. And uncertainty about when the order would be lifted by public health officials, and about the pace of the industry’s recovery, has forced the city to make the drastic reductions, he said.

Uslar said that he’s heard residents say that the city “wants to close” the library, the recreation centers and the senior centers. “COVID-19 closed those centers,” he said. “There’s no way we would close any of those centers. We will  open the library the day we get the green light to do so.” He also said the city will open recreation centers and the Sport Center as quickly as possible, and rehire as many workers as possible.

During the meeting tonight, city employees and residents said the city manager has reacted too quickly and that city officials should wait before making such drastic cuts. The city has a “rainy day” reserve that should be used first, they say, and the potential for eventual recovery will be slow if the city isn’t staffed to handle the reopenings.

The fate of the Monterey Conference Center might be more problematic. The city recently borrowed tens of millions of dollars to remodel the center, and it is looking at $50 million debt, said Lauren Lai, the city’s financial director. She called the city’s financial situation “heartbreaking.”

The city may be unable to make its next payment on that debt, and could be facing default. It’s possible the bank will “take the building,” she said, but added that the center “wouldn’t be useful to them.” She said the city is working with the bank and the local hospitality industry to find ways to restructure the debt. She also noted that communities with similar centers are facing the same issues.

Uslar recommended that 10 conference center employees be laid off. But employees there called that proposal short-sighted, since the conference center is such a strong driver for tourism in the city. While organizations have cancelled conventions during the pandemic, center staff is needed to book future conferences, they say.

Roberson opened the meeting with emotional remarks, asking “who would have thought we’d be having a meeting” at which the council would be considering so many reductions to city services. He referred to COVID-19 as “the beast. That’s the enemy. That’s the cause of this dishevelment.”

The uncertainty of the future is “the scariest part,”  Roberson said. “We’re at the mercy of the state. We’re at the mercy of the federal government, and obviously we’re at the mercy of the coronavirus.”

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Monterey fairground events canceled or postponed
April 21 — The Monterey County Fairgrounds has cancelled or postponed several major events scheduled during the next several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders.

Cancelled are the Monterey Bacon Festival on June 13, the Monterey International Blues Festival on June 27, and the Monterey Scottish Games and Celtic Festival on Aug. 1 and 2. No new dates have been announced for any of those events.

The Artichoke Festival, scheduled for May 30 and 31, has been rescheduled to Aug. 8 and 9, while the California Roots Music and Art Festival, better known as Cali Roots, has been rescheduled for Oct. 9-11. Cali Roots was originally schedule for Memorial Day weekend.

The fairgrounds in Monterey are being prepared as a potential site of emergency housing for COVID-19 patients who need to be quarantined but who don’t require hospital care and who don’t have a hope appropriate for isolation.

Kelly Violini, CEO of the Monterey County Fair & Event Center, said that no decision has yet been made about whether the county fair will be cancelled. The fair is scheduled to run Sept. 3-7. As of now, the fair is still on schedule, but that is subject to change depending on whether the shelter-in-place orders are lifted.

At the least, she said the fair is prepared too hold a “virtual show and sale” for 4-H Club and Future Farmer of American livestock exhibitors, if the fair is cancelled. “We have been researching these options, and will be ready to launch this alternative platform if needed,” Violini said in a written statement.

In Watsonville, Santa Cruz County Fair manager David Kegebein said that reports of the “demise of the 2020 fair is premature.” He said the Sept. 16-20 run dates are still on schedule. “But we are also realistic and waiting for guidance from county and state officials,” he said. “I expect a final decision will come in early summer.”

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One Consolation: The Air is Cleaner
April 21 — At least the air is nice and clean. You’ve probably noticed, if you’ve been out.

In the midst of the coronavirus and shelter in place, the Monterey Bay Air Resources District has a kernel of good news — or maybe it’s a consolation: The air we’re breathing on the Central Coast is as clean as it’s been in decades.

“Visibility has been spectacular,” said Richard Stedman, executive director of the air district, during a press briefing with reporters on Monday.

Stedman said that vehicle emissions are responsible for 70 percent of the particulate matter that pollutes the air over the Central Coast, and that 60 percent of that gets blown in from the San Joaquin Valley. But reduced traffic due to the statewide shelter-in-place orders has reduced the particulates.

Stedman said he thinks of what is happening these days as a “grand experiment. This is what it could like when we reach zero emissions in California. It’s a snapshot of what air quality could be.”

The district’s “air quality index” over the Central Coast has been rated green — for good — for several weeks. 

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Online campaign raises funds for UC Santa Cruz shuttle driver who died of COVID-19

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Domingo Tovar

April 20 — Friends of a UC Santa Cruz shuttle driver who died Tuesday of complications related to COVID-19 have raised nearly $10,000 for the family.

The victim, Domingo Tovar, had been a Santa Cruz Metro Transit District driver for about 30 years. He started driving for the UC Santa Cruz shuttle service since 2016, according to Marie Hoyos, the friend who started a GoFundMe page to raise money to help the family late last week.

“He deserved so much more than for the Covid 19 to take him so soon,” Hoyos wrote on the page. “Please help us remember our wonderful friend , family member, fellow bus operator, who put his life on the line to do his job on the front lines during this pandemic.”

Tovar was in his mid-60s.

Tovar reportedly last worked the April 1 and 2 shifts, and transit records indicate that about 19 people rode the driver’s bus route over the two days, according to UC Santa Cruz administrators. They said public health officials believe that people aboard the shuttle were likely at low risk of contracting coronavirus.

County health officials say Tovar was admitted to a local hospital on April 9 with symptoms including fever, cough and fatigue, and was confirmed by laboratory testing to be positive for COVID-19.

Tovar lived in the South Santa Cruz County and attended Pajaro Elementary School.

“He was loved by everyone he met,” said Hoyos. “A funny, kind man who went out of his way to help others.”

The GoFundMe campaign has raised $9,634. It can be found here.

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Fourth COVID-19 death in Monterey County reported
April 19 — COVID-19 has claimed another victim in Monterey County, according to county health officers.

Without comment or details, the Health Department listed a fourth victim in its daily updated chart, which was released this afternoon. Department officials have not been releasing any information about victims from the county, including names, where the victims are from or the locations of their deaths.

The chart shows the county has confirmed 141 cases of coronavirus since it started testing in late January, including an additional five cases added since Saturday. During that period, Santa Cruz County health officials have reported that 104 people have tested positive.

As of 4:30 p.m. today, California has reported 31,389 known cases of coronavirus in the state, and 1,176 deaths.

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Latest Monterey County COVID-19 demographic chart

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Fairgrounds neighbors voice concern about emergency housing plan
April 18 — Some residents around the Monterey County Fairgrounds are sounding the alarm about reported plans to establish emergency housing units at the site for people who might need to be quarantined but who don’t have homes in which to isolate.

County officials said last week they are preparing to accommodate up to 500 people at locations throughout county, including the fairgrounds.

After hearing the concerns of people in the Casanova-Oak Knolls neighborhood adjacent to the fairgrounds, Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson dashed off a letter to Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams that outlined their concerns and that sought “communication, collaboration, and working together.”

“Monterey is prepared to do its part in providing services in the COVID-19 pandemic while needing more collaboration and communication about the use of the Fairgrounds,” Roberson wrote in a letter dated Friday. He said the county will get a more detailed proposal from the city in the near future.

“In the meantime, it is our common interest to ensure that the public has a comprehensive communication plan in place which explains in great detail what the County is planning for that site,” Roberson said.

Neighbors around the fairgrounds say they are concerned about how security around the housing compound would be enforced. Specifically they worry that people who are supposed to be confined in their housing units may wander through their neighborhoods.

Roberson added that he is concerned that people in need would flood the fairgrounds if the other sites in the county aren’t opened simultaneously.

The county is preparing provisional locations for medical care and housing in anticipation of a potential surge of positive readings and hospitalizations of the coronavirus in the region. The Marina Airport has been identified as the alternative medical care location.

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20 new Central Coast COVID-19 cases reported
April 18 — Twenty new cases of people with coronavirus have been reported on the Central Coast during the last 24 hours.

The Monterey County Health Department this afternoon updated its daily report to reflect that 17 additional people have tested positive, for a total of 136, while Santa Cruz County public health officials indicated three new patients in that county, for a total of 101.

The reports indicate that no new deaths have been reported due to the virus since a UC Santa Cruz shuttle driver was pronounced dead as a result of complications from the coronavirus on Tuesday.

The Monterey County update indicates that more than 50 percent of the cases have been reported in the Salinas area, while 26 percent have been reported in the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur region. The report indicates that 2,290 Monterey County residents have been tested since the regular updates started in late January. It also indicates that 44 of the cases were reported in people aged 24 to 34. 

As of 3:30 p.m. today, California has reported 29,581 cases, with 1,057 deaths.

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Head shop operators cited for violating health order
April 17 — Undercover officers cited the owners of a Monterey head shop was cited after the officers discovered the shop continued to operate after being told it should close because it was not an “essential business.”

According to Monterey Police Lt. Michael Bruno, the Twisted Root shop was cited for violating the county health officer’s order that required non-essential businesses to close. In addition to the typical head shop items, Twisted Roots offers a full line of Bob Marley-inspired clothing.

Bruno said undercover detectives posing as customers visited 30 businesses to determine if they qualified as essential businesses and if they followed social distancing standards. Only one of them — Twisted Roots — were found out of compliance.

Detectives who visited the business on Alvarado Street warned the operators they were in violation, and when they returned Wednesday later find it still open, they issued the citation, Bruno said.

Cannabis dispensaries throughout Monterey County remain open, considered an essential service. But Twisted Roots sells pipes, bongs and other supplies in addition to its clothing line, and it doesn’t sell weed.

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Twisted Roots in Monterey

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Monterey city manager releases layoff list
April 17 — The library, parking enforcement, parks and recreation and the Monterey Conference Center would suffer the biggest impact in a reduction plan proposed by the Monterey city manager.

No staff from the police department is on the chopping block, and only an administrative assistant is being recommended for elimination in the fire department.

Hans Uslar said yesterday he would recommend the City Council accept his plan to eliminate 106 positions from the city’s workforce due to the anticipated reduction in revenues resulting from the response to the coronavirus. Eight-three of those positions are currently filled.

Today Uslar issued a report that identified which position he’s placed on the chopping block. The City Council will consider his proposal on Tuesday. (The total eliminated positions included in today’s formal report has changed slightly since yesterday’s announcement.)

Among the positions Uslar is recommending for elimination include 41 from the parks and recreation department, including 27 from the Monterey Sports Center; 24 from the public works department, mostly among parking attendants and parking enforcement personnel; 16 from the city library; and 10 from the Monterey Conference Center.

The city now has 495 full-time positions, and 450 are currently filled. 

“Unfortunately, the city cannot continue to spend general fund and other fund dollars to staff temporarily closed or non-existent programs, operations, and facilities, especially when the tax and program fees associated with funding these positions has suddenly evaporated,” said Uslar,  in his report to the City Council. “The intent of these layoffs is to avoid even more long-term catastrophic cuts to city services and essential personnel.”

Uslar said the city expects a significant drop in revenue it receives in hotel taxes. Almost 30 percent of its budget is reliant on tourism-related revenue, and Uslar said he hotel taxes will likely decrease by $5.3 million and sales tax revenue will drop by $1.1 million in less than four months.
“The proposal is to reduce positions related with closure of public facilities and implement other organizational changes to repair the City’s budget,” said Uslar in a statement earlier this week. “This represents a reduction of 107 positions, including 23 vacancies and 84 active employees, which will provide the City with a total annual savings of $11.47 million and a corresponding monthly savings of $956,000.
In a separate action Tuesday, Uslar will recommend the city transfer $10.6 million of funds it set aside from capital improvements and $3 million from its Community Improvement Program to the general fund.
The proposals are scheduled to be heard by the council at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The agenda can be viewed here.
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Monterey County COVID-19 count continues to grow
April 17 — The number of people who have been confirmed with coronavirus in Monterey County jumped to 119 in the last 24 hours, an increase of 11 cases, according to county public health officials.

Meanwhile, Monterey County’s public health officer, Dr. Edward Moreno, said today that his office has received new supplies that could make additional testing possible in the coming days. “I’m optimistic,” he said, during a media briefing this afternoon. “Hopefully very soon hospitals should have the ability to test.”

Moreno also said that he has no immediate plans to revise or loosen existing shelter-in-place orders, and that he doesn’t expect the “surge” of COVID-19 cases to peak in Monterey County until late next month or early June.

From King City, Dr. Robert Valladares, the interim medical director at Mee Memorial Hospital, told reporters today that his hospital has thus far identified five coronavirus cases. All of those patients recovered and were able to go home, he said. He added that doctors believe that South County will likely be hit with the surge later than most regions because of its remote location. The hospital has only 20 acute care beds, but the hospital is prepared to take in at least 37 more patients if needed.

Santa Cruz County has reported 98 known cases of coronavirus, while California has reported 28,324.

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Monterey may lay off 84 employees
April 16 — Citing revenue decreases that will “devastate” its budget, the Monterey city manager is recommending the city lay off up to 84 city employees, eliminating 107 positions.

“We recognize how difficult, painful and devastating these layoffs will have on our dedicated city employees and their families,” said City Manager Hans Uslar, in a written statement released this afternoon. “It is our hope that once shelter-in-place orders are lifted, our economy can rebound, and we can bring our employees back to work in our sports center, conference center, library, and community centers.”

Monterey County currently maintains 495 full-time positions, and 450 people now work there. On Wednesday, the Monterey County Aquarium announced it would be laying off or offering furloughs to an untold number of its 575 employees.

The city last month temporarily closed to the public the City’s four community centers, Monterey Sports Center, Monterey Conference Center, Monterey Public Library, city museums, and parking facilities, and they’ve been closed ever since.
Uslar said the city is expecting a significant drop in revenue it receives in hotel taxes. Almost 30 percent of its budget is reliant on tourism-related revenue, and Uslar said he expects hotel taxes will decrease by $5.3 million and sales tax revenue will drop by $1.1 million in less than four months.
“The proposal is to reduce positions related with closure of public facilities and implement other organizational changes to repair the City’s budget,” said Uslar in his written statement. “This represents a reduction of 107 positions, including 23 vacancies and 84 active employees, which will provide the City with a total annual savings of $11.47 million and a corresponding monthly savings of $956,000.”
“The city cannot continue to spend general fund and other fund dollars to staff temporarily closed or non-existent programs, operations, and facilities, especially when the tax and program fees associated with funding these positions has, together with service needs, suddenly evaporated,” Uslar said. “Layoffs are recommended now, and institute re-employment opportunities for the impacted employees as soon as the City is able to resume programs and reopen facilities.”
The proposal to lay off positions will be brought to the City Council for consideration at its April 21 meeting. If approved, affected employees would be notified immediately, and the layoff would take effect on June 1. Employees’ medical benefits would continue through June 30.

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Central Coast COVID-19 cases exceed 200
April 16 — The number of known coronavirus cases on the Central Coast has now exceeded 200, according to public health officials in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

The 206 confirmed cases are more than double the number reported by the counties two weeks ago. Health agencies in the counties have reported five deaths on the Central Coast, including a shuttle driver from UC Santa Cruz who died on Tuesday.

Public health officials in both counties have expressed cautious optimism that an anticipated sure will not exceed the number of available hospital beds and ICU rooms in the region. But they are also preparing alternative care sites at locations in both counties.

They also say they don’t expect to ease many of the shelter-in-place orders they have imposed in the immediate future, though Santa Cruz County did reopen its beaches and parks to the public on Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a very long slow process and restrictions are going to be lifted very carefully and slowly,” said Dr. Gail Newel, director of public health in Santa Cruz County, during a news conference today.

Santa Cruz County has reported 98 known cases of coronavirus, while Monterey County’s latest report indicated that 108 people have been confirmed.

Dr. David Ghilarducci, the Santa Cruz County’s deputy health officer, said the county has about 400 hospital beds and up to 49 intensive-care unit beds with ventilators. He said state health officials have projected the county will have at least 300 COVID-19-related hospitalizations.

“So we should be okay there,” he said. “Obviously these are broad curves and there are many possibilities.” The concern is the need for ICU beds during the peak, Ghilarducci said. The state said Santa Cruz County should be prepared for up to 100 ICU admittances during the peak. He said he and other county officials are currently planning to prepare for that peak, possibly to include moving patients to counties with ventilators that aren’t being used, if possible.

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Monterey schools temporarily opt out of letter grades
April 15 — Citing issues that come with distance learning, the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District board on Tuesday agreed that high school students will no receive letter grades — and get “pass” or “no pass” grades unless they “opt in.”  Middle school students will all transition to “pass/no pass” in the fourth quarter, while elementary school students will get “written narrative progress reports” during the third trimester this year.

“The decision was not reached lightly,” said PK Diffenbaugh, superintendent of the district, “and included input from principals, instructional leads, district-level administration,  guidance from university admission officials and Monterey County superintendents.” The superintendent sent notices describing the temporary policy change to parents today.

He said that universities across the nation have “signaled” that students won’t be penalized for missing traditional standardized tests or for posting pass/no pass transcripts for the spring 2020 semester.

The school board adopted the grading policy Tuesday.

Diffenbaugh said the move will allow the district to post “accumulated credits without positively or negatively impacting grade point average. Students will have to receive a pass to earn credits for graduation. The move is temporary and will be discontinued when students and staff return to school physically in the fall of 2020 for the 2020-21 school year,” Diffenbaugh said.

High school students will be able to request letter grades if they prefer.

Campuses throughout the county have been closed since the middle of March, following the shelter-in-place order imposed by the county health directors due to fears of the spread of the coronavirus. Districts have since restarted classes with remote learning programs. More than 10,000 students attend MPUSD schools.

Read the superintendent’s letter here:

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Monterey County preparing sites for alternative care and housing
April 15 — Monterey County health officials are preparing a site at the Marina Airport off Reservation Road for use as an alternative care site that would hold up to 350 additional hospital beds.

Additional sites are being prepared to accommodate up 500 housing units for people who need a place to be quarantined but who don’t require medical care, according to Gerry Malais, the county’s emergency services manager.  The housing units would be located at the Monterey Fairgrounds and at San Lorenzo Park in King City. The county is also continuing to negotiate with owners of locations in Salinas, but Malais said he could not comment on those sites until contracts are signed.

While the three sites are being prepared, they will need to be cleared by fire and police officials before they can open, Malais said.

The alternative care site would be a “large facilities that can accommodate the anticipated surge” and that can house patients requiring a more acute level of care.

Alternate housing sites provide temporary housing for people who have been confirmed COVID-19 positive or who are being monitored but who require minimal or no medical care but live in “compromised, congested, or congregate living situations with no alternate housing.”

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UC Santa Cruz officials issue statement after driver’s death
April 15 —Officials at UC Santa Cruz say they believe people who rode the shuttle driver by the most recent fatal victim of COVID-19 are “at low risk of exposure,” but they are encouraging those who rode the shuttle on April 1 and 2 to contact the campus health services for an assessment.

The driver last worked the April 1 and 2 shifts, and transit records indicate that about 19 people rode the driver’s bus route over the two days. The driver has not been publicly identified, and campus officials say they don’t know the identities of the passengers.

In a written statement, campus officials said they believe the case “presents a low risk of exposure to our campus community based on the protocols we instituted on March 17, 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19: campus shuttle passengers use only the rear entrance of a bus to enter and exit the bus; passengers are separated by at least six feet from the bus driver; and buses are cleaned several times throughout the day by … staff.”

Nevertheless, following county health agency protocols, the campus is telling “exposed individuals” that they may have symptoms or may develop symptoms through April 1. “Faculty or staff who rode the shuttle and have symptoms or concerns should contact their healthcare provider and inform them of any possible exposure and/or symptoms to determine appropriate next steps,” according to the written release.

The driver is the second confirmed death in Santa Cruz arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Santa Cruz County public health officials, 96 county residents have tested positive for coronavirus. One hundred Monterey County residents have been confirmed with coronavirus, and three have died. California has reported 25,810 cases as of 11 a.m. today, with 792 deaths.

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Thirteen new COVID-19 cases reported in Monterey County
April 14 — Monterey County health officials confirmed 13 new cases of coronavirus in the county, raising the total to 100 since the officials started keeping track on Jan. 27.

The latest cases are included in the daily report released late today, and it comes several hours after the Santa Cruz County coroner announced that a second patient has died of complications related to COVID-19. The Monday report indicated that Monterey County had 87 cases, with three deaths.

By far the hardest hit region of Monterey County is the Salinas area, according to health officials, who say that 56 patients have come from there. That’s compared to the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur region, where 23 cases have been confirmed.

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Monterey County IDs sites for alternative care and housing
April 14 — Monterey County government administrators have identified at least four locations it will use as alternative care or housing shelters sites. The locations including the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey; San Lorenzo Park in King City, the Laguna Seca Recreation Area and the Marina Airport.

A written statement announcing the locations also mentions “sites in the Salinas area” but does not specify where. Maia Carroll, a spokeswoman for the county, said the Salinas sites have not yet been identified and that county officials are “still discussing” options in Salinas. The statement also does not indicate the purposes for each of the location.

The county has been scouting for “alternative care sites” and “alternative housing sites” to care for and to house residents if there is a surge of COVID-19 cases overwhelms the local healthcare system in the coming weeks.

Alternative care sites would require “large facilities that can accommodate the anticipated surge” and that can house patients requiring a more acute level of care, according to the county’s statement.

Alternate housing sites provide temporary housing for people who have been confirmed COVID-19 positive or who are being monitored but who require minimal or no medical care but live in “compromised, congested, or congregate living situations with no alternate housing.”

Monterey County officials are also seeking “housing solutions” for homeless people or those who are “housing vulnerable” in facilities that could accommodate larger numbers of people while still being able to implement strict social distancing. Those facilities could include hotels, motels and trailers.

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Second fatal victim of COVID-19 reported in Santa Cruz County
April 14 — The coroner in Santa Cruz County today confirmed the second death in the county attributable to COVID-19. The victim was an adult male in his late 60s with an underlying condition, according to a written release from the county’s administrative office. He was admitted to a local hospital on April 9  with “symptoms including fever, cough and fatigue, and was confirmed by laboratory testing to be positive for COVID-19.”

He died in a local hospital early on today. The coroner has not released the name of the victim, but the written release said he lived in southern Santa Cruz County and worked for a local university.

“This man was a father and grandfather and I want to express my deepest sympathies to his family,”
said Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel in the written statement. “This second death shows how serious the virus is and how necessary it is for our community to continue to shelter in place.”

Santa Cruz County now has 91 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Monterey County public health officials have confirmed 87 cases, with three deaths. California has reported 24,579, with 734 deaths.

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Monterey County supervisors hold informational meeting

April 14 — The Monterey County Board of Supervisors is meeting today specifically to hear reports on the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Supervisors and county officials are urging residents to tune in to the meeting to learn more about the efforts.

Topics will include the current status of testing, modeling efforts to determine the county’s peak for the virus and the potential impact on medical providers and facilities and an update on the county’s care and shelter plan. Other topics include the county’s efforts to create alternative care sites, and update on the availability of personal protective equipment and and the availability of business assistance.

The presentations will begin at 10:30 a.m. today. To learn more about how to view the meeting or to send comments, see here or here.

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Monterey County still assessing locations of state trailers

April 14 — County officials said the county is still trying to assess where they will set up trailers they expect to get soon from the state to respond to the coronavirus.

The trailers will be used to accommodate homeless people and those with “housing vulnerabilities” throughout the county. County Administrative Officer Charles McKee said the trailers may be delivered this week, and local officials said they are not certain where they will be deployed. The county is determining where the needs are and where appropriate spots might be to place the temporary buildings.

“It’s a fluid situation at this point,” McKee said during a media briefing today. The county was notified last week that it will receive up to 100 trailers from the state. He said the county is also been talking to hotel operators throughout the county to possibly house people in need if necessary.

Monterey County has reported 87 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of midnight on Saturday, the latest report available. Santa Cruz County has reported 91 cases.

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Rate of COVID-19 growth on Central Coast remains slow

April 11— As of this morning, public health authorities on the Central Coast say that 161 people in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Monterey County has reported 79 cases, 19 of which required hospitalizations. Three people have died as a result of complications from coronavirus in Monterey County. In Santa Cruz County, 82 cases have been reported, 15 of which required hospital stays. One person has died in Santa Cruz.

As of this morning in California, 21,408 people have tested positive, and 599 deaths have been reported.

Health officials say that the relatively slow growth in the numbers are an indication that their aggressive public health orders and shelter-in-place recommendations are working. Late this week, anticipating that the public will flood public places during the Easter holiday, health authorities,  city councils, boards of supervisors and state officials shut down parks and beaches throughout the Central Coast for at least the Easter weekend.

And they say their optimism is guarded.

“There’s very optimistic news there, although it’s very early,” Santa Cruz Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel told reporters Thursday. “We are among the very best counties in California in terms of flattening the curve.”

Dr. Allen Radner of Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital told reporters Friday that he is optimistic that Monterey County will not see the type of patient “surge” experienced in other cities and regions of the world. But he said residents on the Central Coast should remain vigilant and that local health facilities should be prepared for any possibility. 

Illnesses in the two state prisons in Monterey County and among the region’s homeless could test hospital resources, he said. And he believes patients from more populous California counties that do experience a surge could be sent to the Central Coast for treatment.

Radner said cooperation and planning among local hospital officials continues, adding he spends at least two hours a day in conference-call meetings with representatives from other medical centers. “We’re working together trying to pool our resources,” he said.

Still, he and others say that accurate counts of the coronavirus spread in the region can’t be made until testing kits are made available to all.

Dr. Edward Moreno, the Monterey County health officer, said the state Department of Public Health delivered a new testing device to Salinas Valley Memorial that could provide results within 15 minutes. But the device didn’t come with necessary cartridges and he didn’t know when they might show show up.

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Thousands of free face masks delivered this weekend

April 10— Thousands of face masks are being delivered free to the public today and Saturday. The masks come from students at Stevenson School who are from China. According to Stevenson School parents, who are distributing the masks, the group met with local public health authorities before starting their distribution earlier this week.

The group has more than 43,000 face masks, surgical masks and N95 masks and have already given masks to the Monterey Department of Health, Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, the Seaside Family Health Center, the Monterey Emergency Operations Center, the police departments, post offices, Meals on Wheels, and to other essential service providers and our public, according to a written statement from the city of Monterey.
About 2,500 masks will be available at Monte Vista School in Monterey starting at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Other locations include 5,000 masks at Carmel Middle School from noon to 2 p.m. and from 6 to 7 p.m. today, 5,000 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Salinas Police Station.
Other Saturday locations include Greater Victory Temple in Seaside from 10 a.m. to noon, the Stevenson School Pebble Beach campus from 1 to 2 p.m. and the Carmel Presbyterian Church from 3 to 4 p.m.
The public is asked to drive up to the delivery stations and not get out of their vehicles. Tongs will be used to convey the masks.

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Central Coast universities eligible for $18 million in federal COVID-19 financial aid funds

April 10 — Central Coast colleges and universities will receive more than $37.8 million in federal emergency aid, with a minimum of about $18 million for financial aid grants, according to data released this week. The financial aid grants will be available to schools immediately, according to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The aid is part of more than $6 billion that will be distributed to colleges and universities across the United States, according to DeVos. The funding is available through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

DeVos said the CARES Act provides nearly $14 billion to support postsecondary education students and institutions, and that the schools must use $6.28 billion made available to provide cash grants to students for expenses related to disruptions to their educations due to the COVID-19 outbreak, “including things like course materials and technology as well as food, housing, health care, and childcare.”

Distribution of those funds are based on a formula that includes total enrollment and the number of full-time students in the schools. Read DeVos’s announcement here.

Overall, the University of California system will receive $259 million from the federal stimulus package, while the California State University schools will receive $525 million, according to journalist Mikhail Zinshteyn. Community colleges are expected to get almost $580 million.

The local allocation has been broken down by Santa Cruz journalist Charlotte West:

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New campaign encourages donations of stimulus checks 

April 9 — Local residents who are receiving federal stimulus checks they don’t really need will be able to donate their checks to a charitable fund set up by local philanthropy organizations to help people impacted by the response to COVID-19.

The fundraising effort is called #CommunityCARES and it was created by community foundations in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, and the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership.

The campaign “builds on the sense of community to ‘pay it forward’ to help many in our region who are hurting,” said Kate Roberts, president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, in a written statement.

The community foundations in all three counties have established their own COVID-19 Relief Funds, and #CommunityCARES will channel money into those funds.

Contributions to the #CommunityCARES fund can be made to the following foundations:

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Third Monterey County victim of coronavirus succumbs 

April 9 — Another person has died and five new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Monterey County. A  report from the county’s health department shows a total of three people have died after testing positive for the coronavirus and that a total of 69 people who have been tested positive, an increase of five patients since its last report on Wednesday.

Santa Cruz County has reported 80 known cases with one death.

Monterey County health officials are not divulging identities or the hometown of victims of the coronavirus, citing HIPAA restrictions. News reports have said the victim was a 92-year-old woman who died at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.

The relatively dramatic increase in numbers reported Wednesday night follows a period of about five days in which only two new cases were reported in Monterey County.

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Santa Cruz County health officer shuts down all parks; Monterey County-owned parks will close for Easter weekend

April 7 — No surfing in Santa Cruz. That’s the edict from the Santa Cruz County health officer, who ordered that all parks and beaches be closed starting late Wednesday night through April 15.

Dr. Gail Newel said the order was necessary due to “crowding” in recreational spaces throughout the county, and it came several hours after the Monterey County Board of Supervisors shut down county-operated parks during the Easter weekend. The Santa Cruz order, coming from the health director, is more sweeping and shuts down all county and city parks and beaches.

“While the vast majority of Santa Cruz residents are staying home and following the direction of the County Health Officer, unfortunately some visitors and community members are treating this extraordinary crisis as a holiday,” said Sheriff Jim Hart in a written statement that accompanied the announcement.

Newel said the Santa Cruz order prohibits surfing. It also closes dog parks, skate parks, and disc golf courses, as well as basketball, tennis, pickleball and other recreational courts.

Meanwhile, Monterey County officials will shut down its parks for the weekend beginning Saturday, and will keep them closed through the Easter weekend. Maia Carroll, a county spokeswoman, said county officials have not yet decided whether to reopen the parks after Sunday.

After much consternation during the past two days, the Board of Supervisors earlier today asked county staff to keep the parks closed due to concerns that large crowds would show up on Easter Sunday, which is traditionally a time when families go to the parks in great numbers. An announcement from the county, sent last Sunday, advised residents to keep their distance, per health officer orders, and to keep gatherings smaller — fewer than 10 people.

The advisory set off a backlash, particularly among people who didn’t realize that the parks had been open all along. Reaction even included a number of people posted on social media that they believed the county was giving preferential treatment to Christians by opening the parks on Easter. Still others said they believe the parks should be closed completely, just to be safe.

While issuing strict shelter-in-place orders, the county health officer, Dr. Edward Moreno, said he encourages people to get out for exercise and fresh air, but to do it safely and to avoid interactions with others. The idea, apparently, is that county parks are large enough to accommodate such activities, so he didn’t suggest they be closed.

After the Board of Supervisors asked county officials to shut the parks this weekend, spokeswoman Maia Carroll issued the following statement this afternoon:

“In light of concerns about the potential for gatherings on Easter Weekend that may violate the Monterey County Shelter in Place Order, Monterey County Parks will be closed Easter Weekend.

“The health and safety of County residents is of the utmost priority of the Board of Supervisors. We stand in full support of the Health Officer’s Shelter in Place Order which clearly specifies that gatherings OF ANY SIZE with individuals outside of your household are NOT permitted. We also recognize the importance of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise for the physical and mental health of our residents and appreciate the widespread compliance with Shelter in Place guidelines we have seen in our Parks so far.

“County Parks provide valuable access to open space to support active recreation, however due to concerns about ensuring necessary social distancing, all County Parks will be closed over the Easter Weekend beginning at dawn Saturday April 11, 2020.”

The county parks include Jack’s Peak, Laguna Seca, Lake Nacimiento, Lake San Antonio, Manzanita, Toro, Royal Oaks and San Lorenzo.

The Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, which is not affiliated with the Monterey County Parks Department, have kept their parks open. They include Palo Corona and Garland parks in Carmel Valley.

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Grove Market to offer curbside pickup and deliveries only

April 7 — A popular Pacific Grove grocery store will start providing curbside pickup and deliveries only, shutting its doors for in-store shopping starting April 8.

“Our priority is serving our community, and that includes keep the community safe,” said Gary Higuera of Grove Market, in a Facebook post today. “To promote social distancing, we are implementing curbside pick-up and deliveries only. We are still here for you!”

Grove Market recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. See Voices’ previous story about the market here.

Higuera said that shoppers who opt for deliveries should email shopping lists to grovemarketpg@gmail.com. Any order received after 1 p.m. will be delivered the following day. Store personnel will call to process payment over the phone. Deliveries will be made to homes in Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and New Monterey.

Curbside pickup will be between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and can be made by emailing the shopping lists for same day pick-up to grovemarketcurbside@gmail.com. Emails should include the make and color of the vehicle picking up your order.

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Monterey County supervisors shut down county parks

April 7 — The Monterey County Board of Supervisors agreed that county parks should be closed in time to prevent large crowds from showing up on Easter Sunday.

Supervisors on Tuesday urged its county staff to shut down due to the shelter-in-place order.

An announcement Sunday by county authorities that it would continue to allow people to gather in parks on Easter Sunday — but with additional ranger enforcement — sparked immediate social-media backlash. Residents’ reaction indicate they believe the parks should be shut down during the shelter-in-place period imposed by public health officials.

A formal statement from the county’s administrative officer is expected later today.

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Santa Cruz County prepares alternative sites for surge

April 7 — Santa Cruz County health officials say they are preparing additional facilities to treat people impacted by COVID-19 and to prepare and deliver meals to those in needs.

Working with 1440 Multiversity in Scotts Valley and Simpkins Family Swim Center, the county will have a “safe space” to provide medical care to patients who are recuperating under the care of physicians, they say. “The use of alternate care sites is being established to support the Santa Cruz County Public Health Division as part of its surge care planning,” according to Jason Hoppin, the county’s communication manager.

The sites will free up hospital beds during an anticipated surge in patients seeking treatment for the coronavirus.

“While hospitals in the county are able to meet the current need, things can change quickly so we’re getting ready now,” said Dr. Gail Newel, the county’s public health officer.

1440 Multiversity identifies itself as a “learning destination” that specializes in health and wellness. Hoppin said 1440 Multiversity’s staff will prepare fresh meals that will be delivered three times daily to people living in shelters throughout Santa Cruz County.

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Monterey County will review parks policy

April 6 — Monterey County officials may end up closing county parks after a backlash over an announcement that parks will remain open on Easter Sunday. During a press briefing on Monday, County Administrative Officer Charles McKee said the county is “re-looking” at its policy to keep the parks open and may have a new order later this week.

An announcement Sunday by county authorities that it would continue to allow people to gather in parks on Easter Sunday — but with additional ranger enforcement — sparked immediate social-media backlash. Residents’ reaction indicate they believe the parks should be shut down during the shelter-in-place period imposed by public health officials.

In a written statement released by the county’s Resource Management Agency, the county said all parks plan to be open this Sunday, including parks operated by the county, the state of California, the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District and the Bureau of Land Management. The statement said that rangers would be at each site to enforce social distancing and to make certain that no more than 10 people are in each group.

The statement said allowing limited numbers on Easter Sunday strikes a “balance between use and safety” on a holiday in which parks are traditionally “very popular spots for outings.”

“To help manage the facilities, there will be added restrictions for safety purposes such as a single point of entry, no barbeques, and no large bags or ice chests,” the statement said. “Rangers will be oon hand at all area parks and may close facilities that become too crowded or if patrons are not following social distancing requirements.”

Throughout social media, local residents responded with incredulity, noting that the county health officer late last week imposed stricter shelter-in-place orders.

“This is just idiotic,” said one woman on Facebook.

Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo posted that he would ask county officials to review that decision. “I’VE ASKED OUR COUNTY PARKS & STAFF TO RETHINK THIS AND CLOSE THE PARKS!” he wrote on Facebook.

Meanwhile, the state Parks Department has temporarily closed three of its parks in Monterey County, including Point Lobos Ranch, Point Sur State Historic Park and John Little State Natural Park south of Esalen.

All other state parks are closed to vehicular traffic and camping. All restroom and public facilities are locked down, but foot traffic is allowed. To learn more about the state parks, see here.

No state parks have been closed completely in Santa Cruz.

Read the county announcement here:

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Monterey County foundations raise almost $1.7 million

Almost $1.7 million has been raised for a COVID-19 relief fund since the Community Foundation of Monterey County and the Monterey Peninsula Foundation established the fund on March 16, according to foundation officials.

Almost $800,000 in grants to local organizations have already been approved, including $100,000 to the Monterey County Food bank and tens of thousands more to nonprofits that provide direct basic services to people in need.

In addition to that funding, local philanthropists with donor-advised funds through the Community Foundation have sent almost $180,000 to local nonprofit agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to foundation officials.

People can learn more or donate at www.cfmco.org/CovidRelief or call (831)375-9712.

Nonprofits can apply at www.cfmco.org/CovidGrants and find COVID-19 specific resources curated by the Center for Nonprofit Excellence at www.cfmco.org/cne

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Monterey police issue citations to alleged SIP violators

April 4 — Monterey police say they cited four people on allegations they violated the county’s shelter-in-place orders Friday night.

According to Chief David Hober, officers responded to a complaint about noise at an apartment complex on Helvic Avenue. Police and the landlord warned the person in the apartment about the shelter-in-place order, but the party apparently continued through the evening.

Police were called again after 10 p.m. and officers responded to find four people in the apartment, three of whom didn’t live there. Hober said the person who did live in the apartment “resisted and delayed officers” in their efforts to investigate the noise complaint and the shelter-in-place order.

The four people cited were all in their 20s. All four were charged with violating a public-health order, while the tenant was also charged with resisting or obstructing a peace officer. The violations are misdemeanors.

Hober said officers in his department have been asked to investigate complaints about shelter-in-place violations since the inception of the order on March 18. Responding officers have “educated” people about the violations. “However, when persons blatantly violate the County Health Officer’s Order, the MPD will vigorously enforce violations of the order.”

Meanwhile, Hober suggested that merchants make certain that their alarm systems are activated and lights remain on inside their businesses during the closures required by the shelter-in-place order. He said the department has place extra patrols throughout the city while non-essential business are closed in an effort to prevent looting or burglaries.

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California Airshow cancels its 40th anniversary event

April 4 — Officials for the California International Airshow in Salinas, which was geared up to celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, announced on Friday that it is cancelling the event due to COVID-19 pandemic.

The show had been scheduled for June 5-7. The safety of our Airshow supporters, volunteers and the community is a priority and, sadly, it has now become apparent we will not be able to proceed,” said Karen Curtis, president of the airshow board in a written statement.

The airshow at the Salinas Airport was launched in 1981 and has raised more than $8.5 million for local charities over the years, Curtis said. This year the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds was scheduled as the headliner.

The airshow board announced what it called its “heartbreaking decision” late Friday afternoon.

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Monterey County health officer strengthens SIP order

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Signs went up in Monterey on Friday

April 3 — Monterey County has strengthened its original shelter-in-place order Friday afternoon. The new guidelines begin tonight and will continue through May 3.

Dr. Edward Moreno, the county’s health officer, said he issued the new order in response to similar protocols imposed in counties north of Monterey County and to protect the health of residents in both Monterey County and surrounding communities. Among the new orders, Moreno is postponing funerals and restricting the number of people who can attend burials. It also encourages people who are providing essential services at work to work from home, if possible. It stops people from engaging in team sports or sports using “shared equipment” and discourages people from congregating in recreation areas in large numbers. The order also encourages merchants still open for business to enforce the social-distance recommendations to keep people six feet apart.

The new order does not prevent people from driving to parks or other areas for exercise, though Moreno has asked that residents remain in their neighborhoods to exercise as much as possible.

Almost immediately, Monterey city workers erected signs along the widely used recreation trail along the coastline and Cannery Row. The signs read, “Stay Off Rec Trail; Commuter Traffic Only.”

Hans Uslar, Monterey city manager, told Voices of Monterey Bay on Friday that the signs went up in reaction to the new county order. “We strongly encourage through our signage that the trail be used for commuter traffic only,” he said. “I believe shelter in place and stay home means just that.”

The county order does not redefine the “essential businesses” that are allowed to remain open, Moreno said, include liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries.

Moreno said he decided to upgrade his original order after discussing the rapid rise of infections in the Bay Area — and especially in Santa Clara County — with health officers in those counties. In Santa Clara County, health officials are concerned that hospitalizations due to coronavirus may soon exceed the number of hospital beds.

The orders were announced during a remote press conference this afternoon. Charles McKee, the county’s administrative officer, said Moreno “doesn’t take any of these decisions lightly.”

“There’s an awful lot riding on his shoulders,” he said. “They are life-and-death decisions.”

Read the complete order here:

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Ag Commissioner details concerns for farmworkers

April 3 — Monterey County agricultural officials are still trying to determine how to keep the 55,000 farmworkers in the county safe from the coronavirus.

“Social distancing is a problem,” particularly for crews working in the fields behind harvest machines and farmworkers who are bused to work sites, said Henry Gonzales, the county’s agricultural commissioner. During a press briefing today, Gonzales said industry leaders have been meeting regularly to work out details to keep workers safe, but he added that they are still waiting for the “science.”

He said he has done site inspections in fields. “My observation is they aren’t maintaining social distancing all the time,” he said. Farmworkers are generally wearing masks, rubber gloves and protective clothings, “but I’m not sure that is sufficient to protect them.” At this point, he said he has “no specific recommendations,” but said he is confident that industry officials will be able to make the right decisions to keep employees safe.

“The private industry is much more agile than government and they can just look at a situation and come up with an analysis and a recommendation as to what to do,” Gonzales said. “The industry is coming up with their own solutions and I’m confident that they realize they must protect their workers because without those workers they can’t … stay in business.”

He estimated there are 55,000 farmworkers in Monterey County, but that number may decrease as the spring harvest continues into the busier summer months. The southern borders are closed, he said, and the H-2A program, the temporary work program, for farmworkers require employers to provide housing, typically in group homes. Finding housing for them is an issue that the industry is also seeking to resolve.

Farmworkers are considered essential employees under government standards. He said industry leaders are worried that spread of the virus and the border closure will leave them without sufficient number of workers this season.

Watch a recording of the press briefing with Gonzales and other county officials today here.

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Central Coast records 102 cases of COVID-19

As of Thursday morning, more than 100 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, according to health officials in those counties.

Of the 102, three deaths have been recorded and 18 patients have required hospitalizations.

Santa Cruz County public health officials announced that almost 800 people have been tested, with 54 cases confirmed through Wednesday, while Monterey County authorities say 48 of the 938 people that have been checked have tested positive.

The identities — or even the basic details — of the fatalities are being withheld by health officials. On Wednesday, Monterey County Public Health Officer Dr. Edward Moreno said that officials are concerned that providing even vague information about the information — including ages and hometowns — would lead to their identities, in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA.

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Monterey seeking spare masks for first responders

The City of Monterey has initiated a drive to collect spare N95-rated masks to help protect first responders.

According to city officials, they keep a supply of personal protective equipment — PPEs — for use by firefighters, police officers and public works staff. But due to the high demand and a potential increase in COVID-19 emergency calls, the officials are asking members of the public to donate any spare additional PPE they may have in their possession.

The collection drive started today. Donations can be dropped off in front of the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, at 353 Camino El Estero, between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Only new masks, sealed in unopened packaging, will be accepted through April 10.

“First responders, just like medical personnel, need masks and other safety supplies during this health crisis,” said Fire Chief Gaudenz Panholzer, in a written statement.

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Monterey County Jail releasing some prisoners due to COVID-19
Officials at Monterey County Jail have been releasing to inmates that qualify and who are considered vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19, according to Undersheriff John Mineau.
Mineau said he didn’t know exactly how many inmates have been released since the outbreak, but the jail population is as low as it’s been for years. The population, typically at or beyond the jail’s rated capacity of 825, now hovers around “the low 700s,” he said. No staff or inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus yet, he said, and jail personnel started screening on Feb. 1.
Also, Mineau said that all new arrivals to the jail are automatically placed in quarantine, away from the rest of the population.
Mineau said the jail “is not unilaterally opening the doors” to release prisoners, but have been working with judges to determine the best candidates for early release.  Because of the early releases — and the fact that fewer people are being arrested and booked into jail — Mineau said cells will be available to isolate inmates if they are found to test positive for the virus.
Mineau also said it’s too early to tell what impact the jail will have on an order by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to stop taking new prisoners. On average, Monterey County Jail moves six to eight inmates to prison each week. With fewer court actions and no jury trials lately, those numbers would likely have been reduced, but those inmates will remain housed in the county jail until the order is lifted, Mineau said.
Mineau was among the speakers at a press briefing with Monterey County reporters Wednesday afternoon.
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Second COVID-19 Death Reported in Monterey County

A second patient has apparently succumbed to complications from the coronavirus in Monterey County, according to the latest advisory released Tuesday night by the county’s Health Department. Without comment or any detail, the advisory only recorded the second death in a chart it has been updating daily.

Meanwhile, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced Tuesday that schools in the state will remain closed through the end of the school year. “Due to the current safety. concerns and needs for ongoing social distancing it currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year,” Thurmond said. “This is in no way to suggest that school is over for the year, but rather we should put all efforts into strengthening our delivery of education through distance learning.”

The health advisory noted that 42 people have confirmed cases of coronavirus from the county. Eight people have been hospitalized and two have died.

Santa Cruz health officials reported Tuesday that 49 cases have been confirmed in that county to date, with one death.

Health officials are not identifying the victims, nor are they releasing their hometowns.

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Immigrant and Undocumented Resource Guides Available

A one-stop site for immigrants and undocumented residents seeking information about their status has been published by an organization called My Undocumented Life.

The site includes links to guides from agencies throughout the country, including a resource guide published he California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. That site features information about workers’ rights, access to free food, financial assistance and more. The guide is available in both Spanish and English.

Another useful site is called Immigrants Rising, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower undocumented young people, has created a resource list for undocumented immigrants in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics include coping with stress and fear, health access and guidance, connecting to free/low cost resources, legal rights, and supporting businesses. The guide is available in both English and Spanish.

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COVID-19 Patient in Santa Cruz County Dies

Santa Cruz County public health Division said Sunday that a resident of the county has died as a result of complications from the novel coronavirus.

The victim was an adult male in his early 70s with an underlying health condition, according to Health officer Dr. Gail Newel. He was admitted to a local hospital on March 19 with symptoms that included fever and shortness of breath and was confirmed by laboratory testing to be positive for COVID-19. He died in the hospital on March 28.

“We are deeply saddened to have one of our community members die due to this outbreak,” Newel said. “Our top priority is protecting the lives of our community members, and we are working hard to make sure these solemn occasions are as rare as possible.”

The patient was apparently employed in both Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. He had not recently traveled and had not had contact with another known case, Newel said. After an investigation, Public Health’s Communicable Disease Unit determined that this infection was community acquired. As of noon Sunday, Santa Cruz County has 45 confirmed cases.

Monterey County has reported 36 cases, as of 11 a.m. Sunday. That number was unchanged in an advisory sent Monday morning. Of those cases in Monterey County, six required hospitalizations and one patient died last week.

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Central Coast Coronavirus Count Reaches 73

Monterey County public health officials said Saturday the number of residents that have tested positive for COVID-19 has reached 34. That number represents an additional eight patients since Wednesday. A total of 452 people have been tested in Monterey County. At last count on Saturday, 39 patients tested positive in Santa Cruz County.

According to a Monterey County Health Department advisory Saturday afternoon, 21 of the patients testing positives were between the ages of 0 to 49, while eight were between 50 and 64, while four were 65 or older. Twenty-three were females and 19 were from the Salinas area. Saturday’s Monterey County briefing was the first that included demographic information. See the link for more information.

Overall, 5,565 cases have been detected in California, with 119 reported deaths. The office also released a resource guide listing various services for people in the region trying to cope with the coronavirus. The guide can be found here.

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Monterey County Approved $250,000 for Food Bank

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved a $250,000 contribution to the Food Bank for Monterey County. Since the COVID-19 crisis, the agency has quadrupled the number of people it is serving.

“There are many non-profit agencies on the front line of this crisis, but few directly meet basic needs for residents throughout the county the way the way the Food Bank can,” said Supervisor John Phillips in a written statement.  “The Food Bank appealed to the County for help when they were overwhelmed by those needing a source of food due to the recent, dramatic economic shift. Their shelves were bare. We have answered their call for help, and we hope others will as well.”

The county is using money from its cannabis tax revenue account to fund the Food Bank.

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Most Monterey County Schools Likely
To Remain Closed through at Least May 4

Schools throughout Monterey County will likely remain closed through at least May 4, according to the Monterey County Office of Education.

“With more and more confirmed cases in our county, our state and our nation, now more than ever it is important communities in Monterey County heed the Stay at Home/Shelter in Place Orders to prevent further spread of COVID-19,” according to a statement released by the Monterey County Office of Education on Thursday afternoon.

“Education will continue through distance learning, meals will continue to be provided and, where possible, childcare may be arranged,” according to the statement. “School leaders recognize that potentially schools may need to stay closed for the remainder of the academic year and will provide regular updates as the situation evolves. Extending a school closure is a local decision that is not taken lightly and is made by each individual district.”

Deneen Guss, Monterey County superintendent of schools, added: “While we recognize this extension of school facility closures poses challenges and hardship to many families in Monterey County, the health and safety of our students, families, and communities must be our priority. Research shows the most effective way to slow and disrupt the transmission of this pandemic is by continuing to implement social distancing practices and we need everyone’s help in supporting the stay at home/shelter in place order.”

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Santa Cruz County Restricts Access
To Residential Healthcare Facilities

Santa Cruz County public health officials today ordered that access to all residential healthcare facilities in the county will be restricted to essential people only.

The restriction applies to all skilled nursing, intermediate care, residential care or continuing care retirement community licensed or certified by the state. “Non-essential personnel” include employees, contractors or members of the public “who do not perform treatment, maintenance, support or administrative tasks deemed essential to the healthcare or other primary mission of the facility.”

The public health officer noted that facility residents who are “at the end of their life” can have visitors, as authorized by facility managers. The exemption would include family, close friends, legal representatives and fiduciaries and those providing “services or support of a religious nature.” Even then, mitigation measures will be followed to comply with COVID-19 prevention.

See the order here:

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Monterey County Reports No New Tests Administered; Santa Cruz County Seeks Results of Private Tests

Monterey County public health officials reported today that no new COVID-19 cases were discovered in the county during the past 24 hours. But it also reported that no new tests were administered. Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz County health officer has ordered that test results taken from private laboratories be submitted to the county. Up until now, test results of patients at private groups have not been shared with county public health authorities in both Santa Cruz and Monterey.

The Santa Cruz order was issued “because of the risk of the rapid spread of the virus, and the need to protect all members of the community and the Bay Area region, especially our members most vulnerable to the virus and health care providers,” according to the order by Dr. Gail Newel, the health officer. Violation of the order is a misdemeanor and was to begin today.

According to the latest update from Monterey County health authorities, hospitals and health-care facilities have confirmed a total of 24 cases of coronavirus in Monterey County, the same number reported on Wednesday.

They also said that 365 people have been tested in public hospitals to date, which is the same number reported Wednesday. Monterey County released the following charts today:

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Santa Cruz Supervisors and Monterey City Council Pass Moratorium on Evictions

The Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions due to local economic impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The moratorium will remain in place through at least May 31. The Monterey City Council passed its own eviction moratorium during a special session Wednesday evening.

According to the urgency measure, commercial and residential tenants are still obligated for rent due, and the eviction moratorium does not absolve tenants of any financial obligation under ongoing leases or other tenancy agreements.

“For the good of themselves and the community, we encourage tenants and landlords to begin conversations now to work things out going forward,” Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said. “We cannot force people out onto the streets during this crisis. It’s going to take all us working collaboratively together to get through this.”

The Board of Supervisors in Monterey County passed a similar measure last week. The measures apply to homes and businesses in unincorporated areas of the counties. Cities in both counties have passed similar moratoriums or are scheduled to do so in the coming days.

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Local COVID-19 Response Fund Nears $1 Million

A special fund created by the Community Foundation of the Monterey Peninsula and the Monterey Peninsula Foundation has raised $939,594 since it was first created last week.

As of Tuesday, more than half of the total came from the foundations’ donor-advised fund holders. A spokeswoman for Community Foundation said that more than $315,000 worth of grants have already been approved, including $50,000 to the Food Bank for Monterey County. Another 10 grants worth $267,000 will be granted on Wednesday.

The spokeswoman, Amanda Holder, said that another $115,000 has been donated to nonprofit agencies through the directly through the donor advised funds administered by the Community Foundation.

The fund was created in partnership with the Monterey Peninsula Foundation. The majority of donations have come from individuals. Foundations such as the Monterey Peninsula Fund and Claire Giannini Fund have contributed, as well as companies such as Aera Energy.

To donate to the fund or for more information, see here.

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Monterey Council to Consider Eviction Prohibition

The Monterey City Council has called a special meeting for Wednesday for an urgency ordinance that would prohibit evictions of tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 are intended to prevent illness and save lives, these efforts are also having a dramatic economic impact.,” according to Kimberly Cole, the city’s community development director, in her report to the council. “This impact is especially felt by lower income individuals and families who work in the hospitality and service industries, and may now be experiencing reduced work hours or layoffs. The economic impact is also felt by small businesses, which are seeing dramatic reductions in income as a result of the restrictions on public gatherings.”

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order that allowed local governments to halt evictions for renters and homeowners, slow foreclosures, and protect against utility shutoffs for Californians affected by COVID-19.

The urgency ordinance would establish the prohibition through May 31, though the order could be extended.

Also, the meeting will be held by “virtual participation only.” The public may watch the live stream of the meeting at https://monterey.org/tv or on television on Channel 25. Public comments can be sent to the City Clerk at  cityclerk@monterey.org. The meeting is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. The entire agenda can be seen here.

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Losses to Monterey County Tourism Industry Could Reach Half-Billion Dollars

Tourism officials in Monterey County said they estimate short-term losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic of up to $500 million.

“Our community and industry have never seen anything like this,” said John Turner, Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau board chair and general manager of the InterContinental The Clement Monterey. “We are dealing with both a global health crisis and a dire economic emergency at the same time.”

The bureau says the hospitality industry generated about $3 billion in annual visitor spending and employs about 25,000 people each year.

“Given recent events, these numbers will be drastically impacted as the community sees over a dozen hotel closings and significant lay-offs,” according to a written statement released by the bureau. “Currently the destination faces an estimated loss of $400 to $500 million in visitor spending in the first 90 days of this crisis. This is a rough, point-in-time estimate as situational factors escalate daily. “

Rob O’Keefe, interim president and CEO at the bureau, said that the “one slight positive” his group has noticed is that more than 60 percent of the conferences and many marquee events are postponing rather than outright canceling, “which means that revenue generated should be deferred to later this year and into 2021.

The county is home to about 12,400 hotel rooms, including approximately 4,500 in the city of Monterey alone.

“Our hotels and restaurants are innovating as best they can — and our team is working with travel and meeting planners who are eagerly planning to return when the time is right,” said O’Keefe.

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Mental Health Resources Available

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is circulating a guide to mental health coping strategies for those struggling emotionally with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The coronavirus can significantly affect mental health for everyone, but especially for those with mental illness,” according to Katherine Ponte, a mental health advocate. “Both the anxiety of contracting the disease as well as the increase in loneliness and isolation and trigger symptoms. “Acknowledging, recognizing and acting on mental distress in these uncertain times is key to lessening the impact.”

A complete guide to information and resources produced by NAMI can be found here.

The Monterey County Behavioral Health has also included updated resources with information, including a tip sheet and a list of virtual recovery groups. That link can be found here.

A NAMI Hotline is available from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at  (800) 950-6264.

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Health Department Shuts Down Golf Courses

The Monterey County Health Department on Monday ordered that all private and public golf courses should close.

The order is in accordance to a list of essential sectors and related essential workers issued by state health officials following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “stay at home” order last week. “Unfortunately, golf courses and employees that staff golf courses are not on the list,” according to county health department statement.

Several golf courses in the region had remained opened through the weekend. The county’s statement said that “workers that are necessary to minimally maintain the course are considered essential and may continue to report to work provided they comply with ‘social distancing’ requirements.

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CHOMP Ends Hospital Visitations

Visitors will no longer be allowed to enter Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in an effort to protect patients and staff from the risk of coronavirus, according to hospital officials.

Exceptions will be made in these very limited cases:
• One birth partner for patients in labor
• One parent or guardian for NICU and pediatric patients
• One parent if patient is a minor seen in the Emergency Department or in an outpatient
appointment
• End-of-life patient visits will be at the discretion of the nursing supervisor

“We know this is difficult for families with someone in the hospital,” according to a written statement from the hospital. “To stay connected, we recommend using phone calls, FaceTime, or Skype. You can also send a card, gift, or flowers, which can be ordered on our website, www.chomp.org.

“Hospitals around the county are implementing similar restrictions as we all work to control the spread of illness. We appreciate the public’s understanding of these changes as we seek to keep the community safe. See here for more information.

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CHOMP Treats Its First COVID-19 Patient

Officials at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula reported on Saturday  it has seen its first patient who has tested positive for COVID-19. The patient is a Monterey Peninsula resident who did not require hospitalization and was sent home with instructions to self-quarantine. As of Saturday afternoon, the health department reported 11 confirmed cases among Monterey County residents.

“Our first case, of course, wasn’t a surprise,” said Dr. Steven Packer, Montage Health president and CEO in a written statement. “We have been anticipating the inevitable arrival of COVID-19 cases for some time. While this is our first case, it certainly won’t be the last.”

According to a release from the hospital, the patient came to the Community Hospital Emergency Department and was seen in the adjacent triage tent. The patient was immediately isolated, and recommended for testing, following the hospital-established protocol designed to protect patients, staff, and community. “The way our staff prepared and assessed the patient was exactly how we had planned,” Packer said. “It was the most controlled environment possible.”

Monterey County Health Department will determine whether this case was community-acquired, related to travel, or acquired from direct contact with a known case, according to CHOMP officials.

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First COVID-19 Death Announced in Monterey County

Monterey County health officials Saturday reported the first death of a Monterey County resident due to complications from COVID-19. The adult individual was hospitalized and had an underlying health condition that “predisposed the individual to having more severe disease,” according to a release from the department. The department said no additional information about the victim is being released to protect the family’s privacy.

“This is a tragic development,” said Dr. Edward Moreno, Monterey County health officer and director of public health. “The Monterey County Health Department is taking necessary, carefully considered steps to slow down the spread of the disease and to protect those at greatest risk. We are facing a historic public health challenge and know this is a very difficult time. Our top priority continues to be protecting the health of our community.”

There have now been 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus among Monterey County residents, at least two of which appear to have been acquired locally, according to health officials. The department’s statement said health officials continue to work with the Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Public Health.

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Edible Monterey Bay Offers Food Tips

Edible Monterey Bay has issued a list of 10 ways local residents under state orders to stay home can support local businesses while eating nutritional meals. 

“We know readers of Edible Monterey Bay are passionate about sustaining the local foodshed, so we’ve brainstormed ideas on how you can help restaurants, farmers, fishermen, beverage artisans, food banks and more survive these uncertain times,” said Marc C. Anderson, editor of the Edible.

Read the list here.

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Panetta Asks SBA to Translate Assistance Guidelines

Rep. Jimmy Panetta , D-Carmel, has asked the Small Business Administration to immediately provide Spanish-language online resources for small business owners seeking coronavirus-related assistance through the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

Congress passed and the President signed into law H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which provides the SBA additional funding and authority to make low-interest loans available to businesses facing economic harm from COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, through the EIDL program.  The administration acted quickly to set up a process for states to apply for COVID-19 disaster loan eligibility.  However, administration web pages related to COVID-19 guidance and resources, and pages to apply for COVID-19 EIDL loans, specifically, are only presented in English.

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Protocols Released for Farmworkers

Monterey County health officials and representatives from the agricultural industry today released “advisory protocols” for farmworkers in Monterey County.

Monterey County on Tuesday issued a shelter-in-place” order, and on Thursday Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus crisis. Agriculture is considered an essential businesses exempt from both orders. exemptions on both orders. “Knowing the critical role farmworkers play in agriculture, local elected and agriculture leaders quickly went to work to devise enhanced worker safety measures to ensure employee health and safety,” according to a statement released Friday afternoon from Monterey County’s administrative offices.

“The Monterey County Agriculture Worker Protection Advisory Protocols are voluntary, but all these associations are supporting and encouraging their members to implement them at their worksites expeditiously.”

Read the protocols here:

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Health Department Will Update Public Daily

Officials at the Monterey County Public Health Department announced today they would start sending informational updates with local coronavirus news daily.

Earlier this week, the officials said they would send the updates once a week, citing a staff shortage.

But leaders of six different news organizations, including Voices of Monterey Bay, pushed back on the policy, sending a letter to Dr. Pedro Moreno of the Health Department  early Friday urging him to reconsider.

The email, drafted by Sara Rubin, editor of the Monterey County Weekly, sought improved communication with local journalists. Local media has been unable to gather basic information about local preparedness measures in the community from the county, and reporting of new cases has been piecemeal and reliant on local hospitals.

“This is absolutely unacceptable to the public, and to us in the press,” said the letter to Moreno. “Our combined tens of thousands of readers, listeners and viewers rely on us to provide accurate and up-to-date information. Your shelter-in-place order defines journalists as ‘essential’ services in this time. We require your essential data in order to fulfill our essential obligation to the public.”

About four hours after the letter was delivered to Moreno, a county spokeswoman sent messages to representatives of the media that the Health Department is “changing its plan” and would be updating its website daily. “Please be aware, the data will only report cases which have been confirmed,” said spokeswoman, Maia Carroll. She added that updated local date can be found on the Health Department’s information page (www.mtyhd.org/covid19), using the “Testing and Case Numbers” link.

See the full letter here:

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Peninsula Stores Offer Exclusive Hours for the Vulnerable

Four markets on the Monterey Peninsula have established shopping hours dedicated for senior citizens and people with existing health issues.

According to a notice from the city of Monterey, Andronico’s in Pacific Grove will be open to vulnerable residents only from 7 to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; Safeway in Del Rey Oaks will be available from the store’s opening until 9 a.m.; Target is open to seniors and people with health conditions from 8 to 9 a.m. on Wednesdays. Whole Foods in Monterey will offer an hour of shopping for people over 60 years of age starting at 8 a.m. daily.  Identifications will be checked at the door at Whole Foods.
The city notice said that “all stores are asking customers to respect the hours and reserve this shopping time for those most at risk.”
Officials at many of the other chain stores are apparently evaluating their options.
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Interim Offers Mental-Health Hotlines

Officials at Interim Inc., the mental-health housing organization in Monterey County, have closed its Omni Wellness Center, but individuals can contact counselors and obtain assistance by phone, by text or by email.
Also, Interim-operated residential and treatment programs are closed to visitors to protect the health and safety of our clients. Services to residents and clients are still being performed, as mental health service providers such as Interim are classified as “essential services.”  Counselors and case workers are working closely with our clients to help them cope with this crisis and navigate services available to them, according to officials there.
Interim is also accepting donations of non-perishable food. Many clients are on limited or fixed incomes that make it financially difficult to stock up on food. The agency are collecting canned foods to supplement their resources. If you would like to donate items such as chili, soup, canned meats or fish, peanut butter or other non-perishable staples, you may do so at 604 Pearl St., Monterey, or 31 E. San Luis St. Salinas.
The hotline number is 831-800-7660. The text help number is 831-998-7916. The Interim email help address is omni@interiminc.org
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MST Offers Free Fares

To promote social distancing, Monterey-Salinas Transit is providing free-fares on all routes.

According to MST officials: “All passengers able to board independently are asked to get on and off the bus through the back doors, if available. Exceptions will be made for passengers with disabilities who require the use of the ramp or need assistance. During this uncertain time, MST is Fare-Free but NOT carefree –please remember to practice CDC recommended precautions by keeping  6 feet away from others and using hand sanitizer often. MST has stepped up its efforts to keep employees and the community safe and we need our passengers to do the same.”

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Social Services Benefits Tip Sheets

The Monterey County Department of Social Services is circulating information about their benefits and services for people in need during the county’s Shelter in Place order. The instructional tip sheets are available in English and in Spanish.

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State Parks Shuts Campgrounds;
Trails & Beaches Still Open

California state parks officials have closed campgrounds temporarily in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, though non-campground outdoor areas of parks, including trails and beaches, remain open.

In a statement released late Tuesday, officials said “visitors are reminded to practice social distancing and maintain at least six feet between other visitors and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Restrooms also remain open, and visitors are advised to take soap for hand washing and alcohol-based hand sanitizers when water is not available.”

See the full advisory here.

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First 2 Cases of Virus Found in Monterey County

Two Monterey County residents have tested positive for novel coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19, the Monterey County Health Department announced today. These are the first laboratory-confirmed cases among residents of Monterey County.

The two people who are ill with the disease are recovering at home in isolation. Health department officials believe that they acquired COVID-19 during international travel. See here for more information.

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Monterey County Issues Shelter in Place Order

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Read the Monterey County press release

Monterey County’s Public Health Director issued a shelter in place order that will continue through at least April 8.

Temporarily making these drastic changes to our lives and routines may be frustrating, but it is critical to slowing the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Ed Moreno, the public health director. The order will begin at midnight Marcch 18. The order requires people to stay in their homes unless they have critical business to tend to, including trips to the grocery stores or pharmacies.

Residents can tend to their pets, take walks or be outside as long as they are not gathering as a group. For more information, see www.mtyhd.org/covid19 or read the county’s guide to how to shelter in place here.

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Agencies Vow to Continue Services to Most Vulnerable

Retirees are generally the most dependable volunteers for nonprofit agencies, but those older volunteers are now worried about contracting the coronavirus. As a result, area nonprofits are struggling to provide needed services to the most vulnerable populations on the Central Coast.

But officials for those agencies say they will continue to feed the hungry and service the homeless as long as they can. “The truth is, there is no shelter in place for our people,” said the kitchen director at Dorothy’s Place in Salinas, and Dorothy’s is the last and only stop for hundreds of homeless people in Salinas. See Voices’ story here.

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Monterey County Board of Supervisors Stops Evictions & Foreclosures

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning asked the county’s superior court to suspend eviction proceedings against renters who are unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19, through at least May 31. The action came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order halting foreclosures and evictions in the state.

The Board of Supervisors later set a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures from properties in the unincorporated areas of Monterey County.

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Osio Theater in Monterey Shutters
Operators of the Osio Theater announced Tuesday morning it is temporarily closed, effective immediately.
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State Sen. Bill Monning Statement
Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, released the following statement:
“Friends, yesterday and last night, the State Senate and Assembly passed two emergency budget bills to support Californians during the coronavirus (covid-19) State of Emergency.
“1) AB/SB 89 authorizes $500 million (up to $ 1 billion) to support immediate healthcare infrastructure support including but not limited to: leasing and activating two hospitals, hotel beds for homeless, support for local governments to reduce COVID spread in homeless populations, assistance to hospitals, nursing homes, and acquisition of public health surge equipment. Also, included funding for cleaning of childcare facilities and IHSS/APS strike teams to support senior isolation AND
“2) ABSB 117-continued funding for public schools that are in recess due to health emergency including an additional $100M authorized spending for purchase of protective and cleaning supplies for school districts.
These emergency measures received bi partisan and unanimous support in both houses. The legislature is in recess to abide by state of emergency guidelines but offices will remain open and active depending on local district requirements. We will maintain electronic and phone accessibility and will be working in our districts to provide constituent services with unemployment insurance and other emergency procedures.
Both Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties have joined other Northern California counties with resolutions requiring “stay in place” for all residents with exceptions for specified essential services. Monterey County Board of Supervisors considering various actions today.
“Be safe, wash hands frequently.. Maintain physical separation but build social networks of support for one another. PROJECT CALM, CONFIDENCE, and HAVE A PLAN… this can also be contageous and helpful as we join to help each other during these challenging times.”
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Rep. Jimmy Panetta’s Statement

Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel, released the following statement via Facebook on Monday evening:

“Following CDC guidelines and practicing social distancing this weekend and today. In that spirit, today I called, rather than met in person, with many local leaders, business owners, folks in our hospitality industry, and representatives at local food banks to hear their concerns and talk about federal response to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“I know workers and employers are getting hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus. That is why we, in our federal capacity in the House of Representatives, worked to pass two bipartisan emergency funding bills – one to prepare and protect our communities and address public health, and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act which includes:

* Free testing for the coronavirus: we ensured that all individuals, including the uninsured, have access to free testing for the coronavirus.
* For families’ economic security: we secured paid emergency leave with two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave. We have also secured enhanced Unemployment Insurance, a step that will extend protections to furloughed workers.
* For families’ food security: we strengthened nutrition security initiatives, including CalFresh, student meals, seniors’ nutrition and food banks. 22 million children rely on free or reduced-price school meals for their food security; we must ensure that they have food to eat.
“I know that more must be done.  I am calling on Congress to formulate a third economic stimulus package that includes components to protect and assist the economic well-being of the hospitality industry and its employees, the self-employed, and small businesses.”I will keep fighting to make our communities whole as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
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Santa Cruz County Imposes Shelter-in-Place Order

More information here.

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Cal Am Water Service

California American Water officials announced the company will stop shutting off water to customers who have not paid their bills during the coronavirus pandemic.

“In an effort to keep our customers safe during the coronavirus pandemic, California American Water will be placing a moratorium and discontinuing service shutoffs for nonpayment at this time,” according to an email distributed to customers Monday morning. “We will continue to evaluate this moratorium as more information becomes available. Additionally, California American Water will begin the restoration of service to previously shutoff customers. The restoration may take some time, but we will work as quickly and safely as possible. If your service has been turned off prior to March 12, 2020, we will restart your service if it is safe to do so.”

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SPCA Still Open

Pets still need loving homes, and the SPCA in Monterey County is still open but under new guidelines. Starting today, the SPCA has established new guidelines.

“We ask that you please only visit us to adopt or use one of our vital services,” in a statement. “Starting today, March 16, we will begin offering adoptions by appointment to serious adopters only. We will also let drop-in adopters in on a limited basis when they arrive if they are interested in adopting a specific pet.” For more information, see the SPCA’s press release here.

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School Meals

While schools throughout Monterey County are shut down, the Monterey County Office of Education has announced that meal programs will continue in districts.

Individual districts are developing their own plans for nutrition services, and many of them are preparing “pick-up” sites for meals at selected schools. MCOE has created an online site with updates for what the districts are doing, but it also suggests that people with questions contact their children’s schools for more information. A list of how the nutrition-service programs are operating in each district is available here.

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Housing Issues

Officials at Middlebury Institute for International Studies in Monterey have asked landlords around the campus to allow students to break their leases after the school shut down the campus for in-class instruction.

“As you can understand, many of our students may need to leave Monterey and return home,” said Naomi Braswell, operations director at MIIS, in an email to landlords sent on Friday. “As this is a very difficult time for all of us, especially our students, I’m writing to ask that you are understanding and supportive of their need to break their lease. I understand the impact this may have on those of you who do have leases with our students. However, anything you can do to help in this difficult time would be very much appreciated.”

MIIS officials announced it was suspending in-person classes last Tuesday, opting to move to online instruction for the remainder of the term due to the spreading coronavirus. All other functions at the private graduate school have been canceled. Students may opt to return home to continue their online instruction. The school is on spring break this week.

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Disability and Family Leave

The state Employment Development Department announced that Californians who aren’t working because they have been exposed to the coronavirus or because someone in their family needs their care due to the pandemic may be eligible for unemployment or family leave benefits.

Among other things, the executive order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday waives the one-week waiting period for people who are unemployed and/or are disabled as a result of COVID-19.

The EDD has created a handy page to explain benefits, eligibility and suggested steps for employees and employers impacted by the coronavirus. See the page here.

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Breaking updates

Pajaro Valley Unified School District schools will be closed starting Monday. More information here.

Santa Catalina Schools in Monterey has temporarily ended classes. More information here.

Monterey County Free Libraries will close March 16. More information here.

Diocese of Monterey Bishop Daniel Garcia says parishioners are dispensed from attending mass for the rest of the month. More information here.

The Big Sur Marathon, originally scheduled for April 26, has been postponed. More information here.

UC Santa Cruz extends remote instruction through the end of spring quarter. More information here.

NOTE: City councils and boards of supervisors in the region have not canceled meetings, but are encouraging citizens not to attend but to watch the proceedings from home online or through their PEG cable channels. See appropriate city and county websites for more information.

Non-essential municipal offices in Watsonville will be closed next week. More information here.

Santa Cruz Library will close for at least two weeks after Saturday. More information here.

All Monterey County schools will be closed for the next two weeks. More information here.

Monterey Sports Center, Library and Parks facilities to close March 14 to March 31. More information here.

Santa Cruz County schools to close next week. More information here.

CSUMB classes suspended for a week, alternative instructional delivery starts March 20. More information here.

Monterey Bay Aquarium shutters for two weeks. More information here.

Monterey County Symphony cancels March 14-15 concerts.  More information here.

Monterey’s Tuesday Farmer’s Market suspends operation for two weeks. More information here.

Sunset Center in Carmel announces closure. More information here.

California Department of Public Health urges cancellation of mass gatherings. More information here.

Italian Catholic Federation Lenten Dinners canceled. More information here.

Dominican Hospital limits visitors. More information here.

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Useful information about the pandemic

  • The most comprehensive guide to the coronavirus we’ve seen is here, from Ars Technica, with constant updates. The bottom line: “You should be concerned and take this seriously. But you should not panic.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control here. “This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available.”
  • Monterey County Health Department updates information on its COVID-19 site regularly. “There is a lot of information available about COVID-19 and how to protect yourself here for you to review.”
  • A story from Vox explains “flattening the curve here. “Flattening the curve means that all the social distancing measures now being deployed aren’t so much about preventing illness but rather slowing down the rate at which people get sick.”

  • Talking to children about coronavirus here, from the Centers from Disease Control.  “Make time to talk. Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions.”
  • How China and South Korea got a handle on the virus here, from The New York Times’ podcast, The Daily. “This is a no chances approach, in which anyone who might have the virus is not really given a chance to go home, to go back to the office and perhaps transmit it to somebody else.

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Local medical information

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Educational institutions

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Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.

One thought on “UPDATE: Monterey County lists two new COVID-19 deaths Keep up to date on local COVID-19 news

  1. Grocery stores are now starting to forbid customers to bring in their own recyclable bags, citing contamination as the reason. But they’re STILL happy to charge us for the paper bags. That’s a real slap in the face! Somebody in Sacramento ought to suspend that paper bag charge, after they fought so hard to get us to use the recyclable bags in the first place. After all, they were thoughtful enough to suspend all foreclosures and evictions!

    Not to mention that those paper bags in the stores were free for oh, maybe the last 75 years or so…

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