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South Bay Communities Brace For Another Surge Of Coronavirus Cases

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At the same time that coronavirus cases surge among Latino communities in South Bay, so does unemployment. Latinos account for 60% of all San Diego County cases, though they are just a third of the population.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Coronavirus cases are rising in San Diego, but the larger increases are happening among Latino communities in South Bay, Latinos account for 60% of all cases in San Diego County, where they are just a third of the population, KPBS reporters, Shalina chat Lani says for many in low income communities, health takes a back seat to the stress of putting food on the table

Speaker 2: 00:26 At a food donation stall outside of Sherman Heights, home, an elderly man sifts through bags of dried black beans, rice and onions. Onions are delicious. When peeled and paired with a squeeze of lemon, the man says to volunteer out of silly Mauricio motives. He says many like this man have relied on these food stalls that have expanded across the South Bay region. Since the pandemic started, Maricio says a lot of people who come here appreciate this help because they lost their jobs. Unemployment rates in places like national city are nearly double that of Del Mar and Poway, but it's not just unemployment. That's surging compared to those Northern cities, Imperial beach and Chula Vista have on average three times the Corona virus case rate [inaudible] she says a lot of people don't like wearing masks, but they still like having gatherings. And there's more [inaudible] [inaudible] Maricio says people are too worried about paying their rents or putting food on the table for their children while they're concerned about their health. They are also scared that going to the clinic could lead to them. Missing a paycheck

Speaker 3: 01:51 Back behind me are the hardest hit sip codes, uh, of COVID-19 positive cases in the entire County. Uh, Chula Vista national city, Christian

Speaker 2: 02:01 Myra's is standing at the top of grant Hill and Sherman Heights. He's the policy director for the labor union FCIU United service workers West. He says the community does have a lot of essential workers and businesses like grocery stores. Those stores keep the economy running, but workers are at high risk for contracting coronavirus, but he says those issues are part of a larger problem contributing to COVID cases here. And that's a historical lack of healthcare resources and low income Latino community

Speaker 3: 02:32 Not far from here is an abandoned hospital. For instance,

Speaker 2: 02:35 That's where San Diego general hospital shut down in 1991.

Speaker 3: 02:39 And when you have a population of folks who have been left to fend for themselves for a long time without adequate services, then this happens.

Speaker 2: 02:49 Atlas of healthcare project found that 87% of the region 7,000 hospital beds are in the city of San Diego and cities North of San Diego leaving fewer than 900 total beds in South Bay cities. Ramirez says people in South San Diego County have always figured out a way to persevere, but with the pandemic

Speaker 4: 03:08 We're telling communities get out there and work provide for us. But if you get sick, well, good luck to you. I've worked very closely with the South County elected officials. Greg

Speaker 2: 03:20 Max is the outgoing supervisor for district one, which covers South Bay County officials say spread is high in this region because of the concentration of essential workers. They also say cross-border traffic may contribute to higher rates. Coq says, officials have reached out in Spanish and increased access to testing.

Speaker 4: 03:37 We've got over 50 testing sites. On some days we had as many as 63 different testing sites.

Speaker 2: 03:42 Cox has, the County has tried to offer assistance for rent and food. Right?

Speaker 4: 03:46 We're doing everything we can. Can we do more? Yeah, we can. Yeah.

Speaker 2: 03:49 Incoming County supervisor Nora Vargas agrees Vargas is from the district and will be the first Latino woman to hold that seat. She says support must include practical solutions like financial assistance.

Speaker 5: 04:02 It means, uh, people have better opportunities to access, for instance, CalFresh, EBT, uh, emergency cards so that people can have that access to that food right now.

Speaker 2: 04:12 No Vargas was an executive with planned Parenthood for 20 years. She says it's important for County leaders to build trust.

Speaker 5: 04:18 It's not just an email and a text. It's actually getting out there in the community and having conversations.

Speaker 2: 04:24 She says people in South Bay who are worried about feeding their families, won't be able to focus on their health care. Especially if those healthcare resources are scarce. Joining me is KPBS reporter. Shalina Chut Lonnie, and Shalina welcome. Hey, thanks for having me. Is there also some truth to the idea that for many of the reasons you outlined South Bay residents tended to have more underlying health issues even before COVID

Speaker 6: 04:52 Sure. Yeah. There's a lot of research that points towards committees in this area. Having more underlying health conditions like asthma, but it's important to know. Um, and Christian Ramirez, who I interviewed in the feature brought this up, which is that many of the health conditions in this community are results of the community being so close to heavy industry and being closer to higher amounts of toxic air pollution, which can cause respiratory illnesses also food insecurity can contribute to issues like diabetes also think about stress, especially for people who live paycheck to paycheck. And we know that stress can increase risk for health problems like heart disease. So yes, there are underlying conditions within this community, but it's also related to the two economic disparities.

Speaker 2: 05:37 No, the County I know has already launched COVID outreach programs aimed at the Latino community in the South Bay. They've, uh, approached, uh, this outreach with radio online TV ads, and they've increased testing sites. The sites that supervisor Cox was talking about, have the efforts had any

Speaker 6: 05:58 Impact all of these efforts help. But what I'll note is that the County of San Diego really started intensifying that outreach, um, at the end of July. And that's sort of after the fact, right? Like the pandemic really took hold in April and by July, there were more than 24,000 confirmed coronavirus cases already at that point, 60% of those were among the Latino population. So these efforts are good, but some of my sources like Christian Ramirez say, it's going to take much more than that, especially in a community that is already so distrustful of the government for a number of reasons. And that's what Nora Vargas, who's the incoming district. One County supervisor said as well. She says, you know, it's not going to be just an email or a text or even just advertisements. It's about getting out into the community and actually talking to people and convincing them that it's okay for them to quarantine or it's okay for them to seek health services. And it's not going to put them out of work.

Speaker 1: 06:58 What kind of resources are available for people in national city, Chula Vista and other South Bay communities, people who are struggling to pay rent and keep up their housing.

Speaker 6: 07:08 The County did, um, work to provide some relief in the early days. And of course there's relief that, you know, came from the cares act. Um, but a lot of that is not very long lived, um, and likely not enough for families that are living in South Bay. So, uh, there was, you know, millions and rental assistance relief, but of course that was over oversubscribed and it didn't last very long, only like held up rent for around two months or so. Um, and EBT cards already exist for needs like food, but folks that are undocumented or on DACA, which was a type of immigration status that allows you to stay in the U S legally, you can't get that relief. Um, if you have that immigration status. So a lot of people in this community are relying on help from their neighbors, from food stalls, like the ones that I had in my story, but others may be out of luck with issues like paying rent because for those people, um, that that type of aid may not exist. So they can reach out to the legal aid society of San Diego to seek some help. Meanwhile, politicians like Nora Vargas are saying, we need to re up financial assistance, more debit cards that can be more broadly available and can be used by more people.

Speaker 1: 08:22 Yeah. As we head into Thanksgiving and the holidays, one of the concerns about the number of coronavirus cases increasing in the South Bay in particular.

Speaker 6: 08:33 So from a scientific or healthcare perspective, we need to flatten the curve everywhere, not just South Bay in order for hospitals to be prepared to care for people who desperately need to be in the ICU or need ventilators. Um, so the hospital systems are connected if there's a surge in one, um, whether that's in South Bay or another part, those people are probably going to be asked to be transferred to another hospital. So everything is interrelated. Um, so at this point we need to be concerned that people will not socially distance, um, during the holiday season and that there will be more outbreaks and that will be too much for a hospital system to handle.

Speaker 2: 09:16 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Shalina Chad Shalina thanks. Glad to be here. Thanks.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.