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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Here’s Where COVID-19 Outbreaks Have Happened In San Diego County

Speaker 1: 00:00 Community outbreaks of COVID-19 have touched every corner of San Diego County and all types of establishments over the past nine months. But they are most prevalent in big box stores, restaurants, and group living situations like nursing homes and jails. According to County outbreak records obtained exclusively by KPBS. Since the onset of the pandemic County officials have kept outbreak locations secret instead, only listing outbreaks by categories, such as bar, restaurant, or business. What do these numbers and types of locations mean for the public here's KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Traeger, sir. Speaker 2: 00:40 Uh, yes. So I'm over here in the morning time. Yeah. To avoid the crowded people. Speaker 3: 00:45 Ilhan was dressed in a mask and plastic gloves while shopping last week at the Walmart oncology Avenue, he's worried about catching COVID-19 while in the store. Speaker 2: 00:55 If he aware the previously, they have someone in there, baby, I'm not going to use those tour. Maybe I'm going to use the other store. Maybe Speaker 3: 01:04 Han didn't know it, but that Walmart did have an outbreak. At the end of October, with at least 24 cases, it was one of 14 different outbreaks at local Walmarts. Since the start of the pandemic like Hong, if you've gone out at all, since the pandemic first struck, you quite likely walked into a place. That's had an outbreak. That's according to a KPBS analysis of more than 1000 outbreak records dating from March through the end of November, at least 208 outbreaks have hit restaurants, popular chain restaurants, like all of garden cheesecake factory Denny's and the broken yolk cafe have each had multiple outbreaks, at least 125 outbreaks have occurred in large retailers and grocery stores like Costco target, home Depot, trader Joe's and Walmart. According to the records, KPBS obtained a Walmart spokeswoman responded in a statement that the retailer has taken steps to make the shopping experience as safe as possible. Speaker 3: 02:05 During this challenging time we're working to balance health and safety concerns while still meeting the needs and expectations of our customers and associates. She said, however, just because you visited a place that had an outbreak doesn't necessarily mean you were exposed to the virus and doesn't mean you can catch COVID-19 by going there. Now, an outbreak means three or more people with COVID-19 who aren't close contacts were in that place over the same 14 day period. It's possible. None of them caught the virus at the outbreak location. Being the site of an outbreak doesn't necessarily mean the businesses had unsafe practices. Also the records reviewed by KPBS don't reveal, whether employees or patrons were infected. That means it's hard to say how the virus might've spread says UC San Diego epidemiologist, Rebecca Miller. Speaker 4: 03:00 If you have nine people report that they happen to be in a Walmart within a 14 day window, because they were grocery shopping that I think you would have to narrow it down to a much more specific window. Speaker 3: 03:15 She also says context is important. A higher number of outbreaks at retail chains is likely partly because they have multiple locations, more customers and more employees. Speaker 4: 03:26 So you wouldn't say, Oh, Thai Mesa has only had one outbreak, but Dennis has had five. Therefore Otay Mesa is safer. Speaker 3: 03:32 This is the first time the public has seen the list of specific outbreak locations for San Diego County County officials have kept them secret. Instead, only listing outbreaks by category, such as bar slash restaurant or business frontline employees and union representatives interviewed by KPBS agree that detailed outbreak records should be made public Speaker 5: 03:55 Go feel safe at work when they're dealing with the public. Speaker 3: 04:00 The baskets is with the union that represents Costco employees. Speaker 5: 04:04 Now with the Christmas shopping, uh, you have packed warehouses almost on a daily basis. Speaker 3: 04:10 He says Costco is allowing half capacity, but argues it should be classified as retail, which would keep it to 20%. The store did not respond to a request for comment. Devin Hannigan works as a supervisor at Vaughn's on Balboa Avenue. He says it's important for the public to know where outbreaks are happening. Speaker 5: 04:31 Every man and woman who works for this company should be able to evaluate their own risk and be able to come up with an idea of what's too much. Speaker 1: 04:44 Joining us now is Claire Tresor KPBS, investigative reporter. Claire. Welcome. Thank you. So, Claire, what does the data you obtained about COVID-19 outbreaks in San Diego County? Tell us generally. Speaker 3: 04:57 Right. So let me, um, break down a couple of different things. Um, we found that there've been at least 208 outbreaks in restaurants, bars, and restaurants, um, and specifically popular chains like the olive garden, cheesecake factory Denny's and the broken yolk cafe have had multiple outbreaks each. Um, and then we found 205 outbreaks in businesses, you know, car repair, pet care banking shipping, and then 125 outbreaks specifically at businesses, large retailers and grocery stores, including Walmart, Costco, target, home Depot and trader Joe's. And then, you know, not surprisingly, which has been news, I think since the beginning of the pandemic, a large number of outbreaks in nursing homes and other group living situations like jails, rehab facilities and shelters. Um, and we did find that there was some breakdown in terms zip codes were where the outbreaks were happening. 136 were in just five lower income zip codes in East and South County where, you know, more frontline workers, uh, people who can't work at home necessarily live, but also 86 outbreaks in Pacific beach. And Gaslamp zip codes, which are kind of known as two of the county's biggest party spots. And then the last thing, um, and I think we'll hear more about this in a later story, but, uh, seven casinos in the County have had outbreaks and they've had a combined case count of more than 638 cases linked to those outbreaks. Speaker 1: 06:35 Interesting. So how does the County then define an outbreak and how does it determine where they occur? Speaker 3: 06:42 Right. So it's really important to stress that the definition of a outbreak with the County is, is pretty broad. So it's three or more people who test positive for COVID-19, who aren't close contacts, meaning, you know, they don't live together or spend a lot of time together. Um, we're in the same place over the same 14 day period. So those people may be never even crossed paths. They could have been there on different days. And so while we have this list of outbreaks, people should know that just because you visited a place that had an outbreak doesn't necessarily mean you were actually exposed to the virus and of course doesn't mean that you can catch COVID-19 by going there now. Speaker 1: 07:23 Wow. What's such a broad, uh, definition. Um, how reliable is that information? Speaker 3: 07:30 Right? Well, I mean, it's something that I really learned through doing this reporting is of course there are trends that we are seeing that that makes sense, you know, big box retailers, for example, have had a lot of outbreaks, uh, while, you know, maybe locations like whole foods have had none, which suggests partially that, that more people maybe go to these, uh, big box retailers and work there. So there's a higher chance of there being an outbreak there, but also, you know, it follows the same trends that we know about how COVID 19 impacts, maybe more lower income populations, but the County, they aren't doing enough contact tracing or the detailed amount of contact tracing to really be able to say these two diners at this restaurant caught COVID 19 from the server. We just, we just don't know that because the time span is so long. So you could be a restaurant and have two different people who are at your restaurant on different days, end up testing positive. And so it's possible that that server, you know, passed COVID-19 on to the two different diners or it's possible the server didn't even interact with those people. And it's just, you know, an odds game that three people ended up being in that location over 14 days, the County isn't tracking enough information to be able to, you know, definitively make, make those determinations. Speaker 1: 09:00 And we should note, the County did not want this report published in the media. Um, why was that in, what was their reasoning? Right. So, Speaker 3: 09:08 So KPBS along with two other news organizations, voices, San Diego, and the San Diego union Tribune, um, have been trying to get this information for a long time. Ever since the County started in their, in their briefings, basically releasing outbreaks just by category where they would say bar slash restaurant business bar slash restaurant. And we were hearing so much from, from our listeners and viewers and readers. Can you please tell us more? We want to be able to make decisions about where we go and where it's safe to go. And, and we just didn't have that information. So we sued the County along with those other news outlets, um, to get the information. And the County has, has always said, one argument is that their contact tracing program would really break down if this more detailed information were made public because businesses would maybe be afraid to report to the County that they've had an outbreak because they knew that that that information was going to be made public. Speaker 3: 10:06 I should note, first of all, that it's against the law for businesses to not report that information. And also other parts of the country. They published this information, Los Angeles County basically publishes very similar to what we've published on KPBS and businesses are, are still reporting. And so the last month a judge ruled that the County can continue ruled against us, basically that the County can continue to, to keep that information secret. But we are still appealing that, um, our hope would be that, that the County would provide this information on an ongoing basis with regular updates instead of the one-time release of information that we've done today. Speaker 1: 10:47 So, so how did you get this information? Speaker 3: 10:50 Well, I can't specifically say, but I can say that, that these records come from the County, they are County records and we did a lot of work to authenticate them, check them a double check, triple check them, and then do the analysis that, that we've provided on KPBS today. Speaker 1: 11:11 And the database is on the KPBS website, correct? Speaker 3: 11:15 Yes, that's right. So you can go to, um, it's kpbs.org/outbreaks, and there's lots of different charts and analysis there. Oh, one that I think is actually really interesting is it is a, um, time-lapse where you can see kind of early on assisted living centers, nursing homes had the largest number of outbreaks. And then as things start opening up over the summer, uh, the numbers really go up for retailers and restaurants, things like that. But you can also, um, search, we have the database where you can search outbreaks by zip code, by name, by city. Um, and then also another list of, uh, outbreaks in November where you can see the total number of cases at each outbreak and that you can also search as well. And so that's all at kpbs.org/outbreak. Speaker 1: 12:05 I've been speaking with KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Tresor Claire. Thank you very much. Thank you. Speaker 3: 12:11 You.

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If you’ve gone out at all since the pandemic first struck, you quite likely walked into a place where an outbreak occurred, according to the KPBS analysis of 1,006 outbreak records dating from March through the end of November.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments