Tonga Tsunami Causes Chaos
A volcanic eruption near Tonga created widespread disaster
By Kamryn Sobel
On Saturday, January 15th, California residents woke up to warnings of a Tsunami due to a volcanic eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano. Those who were located in the coastal areas of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and from the California/Mexico Border to Attu Alaska were advised to evacuate as strong currents, waves, and surges were expected.
According to The Weather Channel, “Tsunamis are a series of waves that may continue for many hours to days after the arrival of the first wave. The first wave is often not the largest wave. Each wave may last 5 to 45 minutes as the wave encroaches and recedes.”
Along the affected coastal regions, many beaches remained closed to prevent civilians from entering both the beach and water. Despite warnings of hazardous debris floating in the ocean as well as destructive waves in bays and harbors, some residents in the Capitola, CA area found themselves surfing alongside large branches and logs. According to the National Weather Service, Tsunami waves as high as 4 feet were reported along the US Pacific Coast. On Saturday evening, the National Tsunami Warning Center canceled the advisory in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties.
Following the eruption, the Tongan Prime Minister explained how the plume impacted all of the country’s islands, where 100,000 people reside. With no evacuation centers on their main island, many families were displaced as their homes were either found to be damaged or destroyed due to thick amounts of ash. Although much destruction was caused by the record-breaking eruption, CNN reported that “New Zealand's Foreign Ministry warned further eruptions of the volcano were likely, posing a tsunami risk.”
Due to a shortage of supplies, such as safe drinking water, aid from New Zealand and other rescue workers are currently racing the clock to ensure help is underway to the affected Tongan residents.
New Year, New Leadership
By Kiera O'Hara-Heinz
The new year has just begun, and so has the yearly reorganization of the Moraga town council. Renata Sos has become the new mayor of Moraga and Sona Makker the Vice Mayor.
Sos started her work with the town council in 2018, after the resignation of Jeanette Fritsky. She ran for office in 2020 and was elected to a four-year term. Before her career in local politics, Sos worked as a private practice litigator for twelve years.
She told the lamorindaweekly that the new year brings both challenges and opportunities.
“We have been elected by the voters to set aside our differences and make decisions that are in the best interests of the town as a whole,” Sos said. “I believe that we are up to the task and that we will address the issues before us in a collegial and respectful manner."
New Vice Mayor, Sona Makker, joined the town council in October after the resignation of council member David Stromberg. Originally from Tracy, California, she began her career in local government as Chair of the Youth Advisory Commission in Tracy’s Parks and Recreation Department. She later went on to earn a BA in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, and her Juris Doctorate from Santa Clara University School of Law.
Makker told the lamorindaweekly that in 2022 she is looking forward “to continuing to build bridges and ties in the community, especially amongst individuals and groups of diverse backgrounds that the council has not always heard from.”
The appointment of Sos to the position of mayor was not without controversy, with some outlets, like thesmartmoraga.com, calling the appointment a “town council coup.” Some members of the public were upset that Vice Mayor Whoeleke was passed over for appointment as mayor, the first time in Moraga’s 47 year history the vice mayor did not become the mayor.
The natural world in 2022 brings the return of endangered salmon species across the California Bay Area. The past years have seen little appearance of two notable salmon breeds, the Coho Salmon and the Chinook Salmon. However, January has seen the flourishing of old spawning grounds alight with salmon preparing nests and making way for the next generation.
A migratory species, the two types of salmon have made their way out of the Pacific Ocean and across the bay, diverging from rivers into West Marin County and San Geronimo Valley creeks. Much joy has returned to the surrounding residents who have eagerly awaited their return. Unfortunately, California’s prolonged drought has previously impacted the ability of the Coho Salmon to make their journey. Thanks to the early rain of October and heavy rainfalls of December, legions of Coho Salmon have made their way to Lagunitas Creeks: one of the endangered species' last major spawning grounds.
Residents of Lagunitas Creeks are delighted to watch the salmon fulfill their journey. Families walk along the river beds with their children as they search for the distinct red bodies of the salmon making nests to lay their eggs. Meanwhile, residents of San Geronimo Valley have been able to enjoy the return of the Coho Salmon to the Montezuma and Larsen Creeks for the first time in decades. These salmon navigate into smaller creeks, which are usually blocked by road culverts.
Although the salmon were not alone in their endeavor, many environmentalists worked to ensure the salmon a safe and effective journey; a prominent figure among them was Todd Steiner. A biologist and the founder of the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), Steiner has worked with the county for years to revamp the creek, helping widen the water bed to ensure the Salmon a better chance of survival during their travels.
While the eggs of the Coho Salmon are still threatened by habitat loss and other factors caused by climate change, environmentalists still view the return of the Salmon as a testimony to the persistence of the natural world.
Free Tests for All or Failure?
New White House program aims to distribute 1 billion rapid antigen tests.
By Kiera O’Hara-Heinz
Just three weeks ago, at the start of Jan Term, all students were required to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test result. Long wait times for PCR tests with rapid antigen tests in high demand and low supply made attaining a test a challenge. A new government program aims to solve this problem by flooding the country with accessible rapid tests.
Covidtests.gov is part of the White House's plan to distribute 1 billion rapid tests. The website opened on January 19th and has since been very popular. According to analytics.usa.gov covidtests.gov has been the most popular government website in the last seven days with 68,458,022 visits.
The White House website says that this program is part of the Biden Administrations’ efforts to increase equitable access to free COVID-19 testing for all Americans. The program will provide access to free tests for all households, with the initial program allowing four free tests to be requested per residential address. The tests will take seven to twelve days to ship.
Though extremely popular, this new program is not without controversy. The major controversy of the program is that it does not meet the needs of those facing the most barriers to testing. The website covidtests.gov has a limited number of language options available, largely excluding non-English speaking populations.
Each household will also only be able to order four tests, no matter how many people may live in that household. Multi-family households are already at a higher risk for coronavirus. Ordering tests is also reliant on a residential address, excluding unhoused people from the program. Non-white and unhoused Americans are two groups that COVID has hit the hardest.
Glitches and technical difficulties also led to challenges in accessing free tests. According to PBS, some dorms, condos, and apartments have had difficulties ordering tests with the website telling them that someone had already ordered tests for their residence. The United States Postal Service spokesperson David Partenheimer says that people who experience this issue should contact the help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS.
Saint Mary’s students can order their free tests using their residential address or SMC PMB.
New Variant Means New Guidelines
With the Omicron variant spreading at a fast rate, Saint Mary’s responds with new COVID-19 guidelines.
By Kamryn Sobel
As the Omicron variant finds itself with a rapid increase in infections, Saint Mary’s has received numerous questions regarding close contacts on campus, according to a recent email sent on January 11th to all students, staff, and faculty. The email consisted of informing the Saint Mary’s community of adopting Contra Costa County’s new COVID-19 isolation period guidelines for the general public.
According to the Contra Costa Department of Health, “Under the state guidance, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, can end their isolation period after five days if they subsequently test negative and don’t have symptoms or their symptoms are improving. The test must be done on or after day 5 of isolation. Previously, the isolation period for positive cases was 10 days.”
Those who are up to date with their vaccinations and are asymptomatic, however, do not need to quarantine. On day 5 after being exposed to the virus, testing is required. It is also recommended to wear a well-fitted mask around others the following 10 days.
Per the Saint Mary’s COVID-19 News & Resource dashboard, “Saint Mary’s will continue to observe an indoor mask mandate throughout the Jan Term session. This mandate remains in line with the current Contra Costa County requirement for indoor masking, which requires all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in public indoor spaces.” Students, staff, and faculty who are not up to date with their booster or are unvaccinated are to remain in quarantine for a five-day period, following a test on the 5th day. Those who decide not to test, yet are asymptomatic will be required to quarantine until day 11. If positive and symptomatic, 10 days of quarantine is mandatory.
Days after Saint Mary’s released the new information for the adopted guidelines, President Plumb shared that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I will be following campus and county guidelines for the required isolation period and look forward to returning to my regular activities when cleared,” Plumb said. “Please remain masked indoors on campus. I hope that each of you will pay close attention to the latest news and updates on our COVID-19 resource page, including updated close contact guidance, isolation period guidelines, and information on vaccinations.”
Students who are currently living on campus may contact the Health and Wellness Center at 925.631.4254 to receive a PCR test on day 5 after being exposed. Negative test results are also to be uploaded to the test portal before returning to campus.
Last Large Storm of 2021
As 2021 comes to a close, the Bay Area experienced one final storm to head into the new year
By Kamryn Sobel
Northern California was hit by an atmospheric river on December 13th, 2021, but what does this mean for California’s drought?
Over the course of this storm, several locations within the Bay Area reported between 5 to 9 inches of rain, while nearly 10 feet of snow stretched across the Sierra. Locally, Mount Diablo experienced snowfall as a result of the atmospheric river, coming to a total of 5.6 inches between rain and snow. The storm caused much havoc across northern California due to high levels of precipitation, however, Andrew Schwartz from The UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab stated that despite the snowfall being, “above average for this point in winter…we’re going to need a lot more to pull us out of the drought.”
Parts of the Bay Area that were previously scorched with fire were told to be prepared to evacuate, as burn scar areas showed a threat of landslides. Road closures also took into effect throughout Northern California, including Sonoma County, San Jose, Berkeley, and Half Moon Bay due to the flooded and icy roads as they were a hazard to those traveling in these areas. According to the California Department of Water Resources, “more than half of California’s Water Years since 2000 have been dry or drought years, contributing to less water in the system and creating increased risk for impacts such as devastating wildfire seasons.” In Northern California’s reservoirs, data from the California Department of Water Resources showed that they were still drier for this time of year. They concluded that, “it is crucial that we get rain and snow during those months to truly ease drought impacts.”
A week after the atmospheric river drenched the Bay Area, parts of the Sierra were confronted by whiteout conditions. Similar to the previous storm, major roads to Lake Tahoe were closed, cars lost control of the wheel, and many ski resorts were forced to close. With record-breaking weather conditions, California still faces an ongoing process of relieving its drought.
From Student to Staff
Director of Basketball Operations Dan Sheets reflects on his seven years at Saint Mary’s
By Kiera O’Hara-Heinz
For the past seven years, a familiar face has been around the Saint Mary’s athletic department. Dan Sheets has been a fixture of the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball team, first as a student and now as a staff member. Starting with the team as a freshman in 2015, Sheets has worked his way up the chain from player to graduate assistant to his current position as Director of Basketball Operations and is well on his way to his ultimate career goal of becoming a coach of a college basketball team.
As Director of Operations, Sheets oversees the day-to-day operations of the men’s basketball team. Taking care of things like travel, housing, and finances, Sheets describes his job as making sure everything runs smoothly and doing what he can to help the team improve. He is extremely grateful for his position and the opportunities his time at SMC has provided for him thus far. He recognizes that being the Director of Basketball Operations is not an easy position to land and that having this position at such a young age gives him a good advantage for his career.
“There are more than 350 division one schools. Each of them only has one operations guy and maybe an operations assistant. There are not that many of these jobs and to get this job at such a young age, Saint Mary's has put me in a really good position here” Sheets says.
Sheets studied kinesiology at both an undergraduate and a graduate level and believes he uses his degrees during his work every day.
“I think that I really apply it constantly, kind of subconsciously. Because of COVID, I am constantly thinking about testing and how my sports law classes I took as a kinies [kinesiology] major apply to the legal and physical aspects of coronavirus testing,” Sheets said. “I am also constantly applying motor performances, which was one of the most entertaining classes I took. I use my major all the time, and I am grateful I took the classes I did.”
Having spent the last seven years at Saint Mary’s, Sheets says that the people are what make SMC special and are what encourage alumni to stay connected. One person who has made a significant impression on Sheets is Coach Bennet, whom Sheets hopes to be like in the future.
“I think the ultimate goal would be to be in a place for a long period of time like Coach Bennett has been. What he's done has been really cool. And I mean to have this sort of impact on the school in our program like he has done it's special” Sheets says.
Covid-19 takes back a tight grip on the Bay Area, making it the third highest transmission rate in California.
By Kamryn Sobel
With a new surge of Covid-19 underway in California, the Bay Area is seeing as many as 15,055 positive cases within a two-week period. Just behind Los Angeles, the Bay Area is currently experiencing the third-highest transmission rates in the state, causing a lack of Covid-19 tests, ICU beds, and employees across many fields. As students return to school and others return to work, health officials within the Bay Area are expecting this surge to continue due to the new highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Neighboring colleges to Saint Mary’s such as Cal State East Bay, San Francisco State University, and UC Berkeley have decided to return back to virtual learning until January 31st in order to stop the spread of Covid-19 during this peak of the new variant. On January 7th, teachers across multiple districts in Oakland protested to return back to remote learning after about 500 teachers called in sick, as they felt unsafe to work during the Omicron surge.
Other counties in Northern California are facing a shortage of ICU beds as more hospitalizations take place. In Napa County, the emergency services coordinator reported that there are currently no available ICU beds. State-wide, roughly 25% of ICU beds are available. COVID testing has also increased amidst the Omicron surge, therefore lowering their availability to the public. Tests administered by healthcare providers are booked multiple weeks out, while at-home self-testing kits sell out almost immediately when they are restocked.
On December 31st, Saint Mary’s announced to students that they, “are required to provide proof of a negative COVID test taken 48 hours or less before returning to campus in order to attend classes, access campus facilities, and move into the residence halls.” Although the Bay Area has low testing availability, Saint Mary’s responded that “the rapidly changing nature of the Omicron variant is requiring federal, state, and local health officials to update procedures daily. Saint Mary’s is committed to following that guidance and updating as circumstances dictate.”
Ryan Ford '23,