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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Racial Justice | Election 2020

Marines ID 9 People Killed In Deadly Accident, Congress Still Divided Over Virus Relief, New MTS CEO Outlines Priorities Amid Pandemic, And Holding Class Outdoors

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CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Above: Amphibious assault vehicles storm Red Beach during exercises Friday June 2, 2010 at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The Marines have called off the search and identified the eight servicemen presumed dead and one Marine killed in a training accident last Thursday. Plus, Congress is still deeply divided over a relief bill for Americans affected by the coronavirus pandemic but reported progress over the weekend. All sides predict a long slog ahead. Also, the Metropolitan Transit System got a new CEO, Sharon Cooney, after the sudden death of the previous CEO in May. She outlines her priorities as the transit system navigates the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the pandemic caused a surge of unemployed workers filing for benefits, causing delays in payments that lawmakers say are causing people to go into debt. And, with the start of school around the corner, an idea is floating around that some say is perfect for San Diego — hold school outside. Finally, the key pillar to contain the spread of the coronavirus is contact tracing but the strategy is causing the same tension it had during the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Speaker 1: 00:00 A warning from the governor about the COVID risks of having friends over.

Speaker 2: 00:04 So we're seeing a lot of spread now in people's backyards, their front yards, as well as in their living.

Speaker 1: 00:12 I'm Maureen Kavanaugh with Alison st. John. This is KPBS midday edition. Eight service men are presumed dead after a Marine training mission goes wrong off the San Diego coast.

Speaker 2: 00:30 They range in age from 19 to 23 years old. Four of them are from caliber

Speaker 1: 00:37 San Diego. Congressman Mike Levin gives us his take on the stalled second COVID relief package. And just how difficult would it be for San Diego schools to offer outdoor classes? That's ahead on midday edition in his COVID-19 update for California today, governor Gavin Newsome says the state's biggest area of concern now is the central Valley positivity rates. They're now hover between 10 to nearly 18%. So the state is mobilizing strike teams based on what Newsome calls the Imperial County model by bringing in state support. Imperial County as positivity rate has declined from over 30% in early June to 11.2%. Now, governor Newsome also reports what he calls some early good signs as positivity rates and hospitalizations statewide have shown decreases over the last two weeks, but he warned against too much mixing, even with friends and family.

Speaker 2: 01:43 We're seeing a lot of spread now in people's backyards, their front yards, as well as in their living rooms. And that's why we thought it important to reinforce remind people of the importance. If you are a living with someone who's tested positive or has come into contact with someone who's tested positive, please stay at home.

Speaker 1: 02:06 Such precautions are especially important. He says for intergenerational family households, recovery efforts continue off the coast of San Diego for the bodies of seven Marines and one sailor presumed dead after their landing craft sank near San Clemente Island. On Thursday, one Marine died after being rescued, bringing the total death toll to nine after days of intense searching the Marine command. Stop the search and rescue effort yesterday and change the mission to recovery. All of the Marines were attached to the 15th Marine expeditionary unit stationed at camp Pendleton. And joining me is KPBS military correspondent, Steve Walsh, and Steve welcome. I'm sorry. So officials have now released the names of the men who died in this accident can give us a sense of their ages and where they were from.

Speaker 3: 03:02 Sure. Among the, uh, the Marines and the one sailor that sailor was a Navy corpsman. They range in age from, uh, 19 to 23 years old. Four of them are from California. The closest is from Riverside, California,

Speaker 1: 03:18 And some of the Marines were rescued. How are they doing?

Speaker 3: 03:22 So, yes, there were at least five Marines that were returned to their unit almost immediately. And then we had two that were flown to local hospitals. One of them, two of them were in critical condition at the time, but one of them has since been upgraded to stable condition.

Speaker 1: 03:37 What kind of exercise were these servicemen on when the landing craft sank?

Speaker 3: 03:43 The Marines have not said too much about what they were doing out there, but we do know it was some sort of amphibious landing exercise. We don't even know if they were going toward the beach or if they're going back to the ships. Uh, but this is an exercise that is done very often outside of San Clemente Island. Uh, this is the only place in the Navy where you can still do these kinds of exercises using live fire that we're being told by the Marines that there was no live fire involved when that the craft sank, what seems to have happened is it, uh, they radioed that they were taking on water, but this happened very quickly. There were other boats in the area. They came toward them, but, but the craft sank incredibly quickly would have been very difficult to get out of this crappy, but talk to Marines who have been on board.

Speaker 3: 04:27 Uh AAVs and of course they're trained for this eventuality if in case they take on water, but these crafts it just above the waterline, uh, there is a large rear hatch, uh, that would open up if they were on land. So the personnel could get out, that would be completely sealed. They would have to find their way to various hatches at the top. Most of them would be sealed because they were out at sea. So it would, there would have been a lot of compute confusion. They would have been wearing their full battle, rattle in gear, or at least had it with them. So it would have been very difficult to make their way out of this, uh, uh, AAV very quickly.

Speaker 1: 05:02 Is this a type of landing craft that is typically used?

Speaker 3: 05:06 It is. This has been around since 1972. It's a very old piece of equipment. It's been upgraded several times since then, but it's a, it's something that they've been trying to replace over the years. I backseat starting back in the 1990s, there have been attempts to replace these AAVs, but, um, they have it cost over. Runs have typically stopped these from being replaced from the fleet. Uh, in in fact, these AAVs are still probably going to be around for another several years before a replacement can make its way into the fleet.

Speaker 1: 05:37 Now, since rescuers knew just about the exact location, where the landing craft went down, what made the search so difficult?

Speaker 3: 05:45 Well, it's sank in several hundred feet of water. We're told by the Marines that the, the water level drops off very precipitously as he leaves San Clemente Island. This was, this craft is probably below the range where they could get divers to it. So they're right now they're using unmanned vehicles to try to get to the landing craft.

Speaker 1: 06:04 Have there been accidents involving this amphibious assault tractor before?

Speaker 3: 06:08 Yeah, some local ones in 2011, somebody drowned a board, one of these during a training exercise, right outside of Del Mar. Um, and then in 2017 and the AAV, uh, actually hit a gas main and, uh, several of Marines 14 were injured. Some of them quite seriously when the vehicle began to burn.

Speaker 1: 06:30 So how has the Marine Corps reacted to this tragedy?

Speaker 3: 06:33 Well, they've called the commandant of the Marine Corps, general David Berger. He called a temporary halt to all a waterborne operations for the AAV. They can still operate on land, but not in the sea. Um, until he said that they get a better idea of exactly what happened with this craft.

Speaker 1: 06:51 Is there a feeling Steve that maybe these sorts of training exercises involving amphibious landings are out of date?

Speaker 3: 07:01 There is actually, there's a lot of questions being raised by the military over the years about whether or not it's even possible to do these kinds of amphibious landings under fire. They've never, they haven't done one since the Korean war. Imagine this kind of DDA style invasion where these, uh, these AAVs are slowly making their way to, if you had a rocket or an RPG, you could fire at them. Um, but the Marines have insisted that no, this is a essential part of what makes them Marines. This is why they work with the Navy. So they can dispatch troops from a ship and make their way to shore. There are other concerns with the AAV. Uh, this is, uh, because there have to operate both on water and on land. They're, they're a compromise. They move slowly in the water and they move fairly slowly on land. They're also very susceptible to roadside bombs, which is why they stopped using them in Iraq and never deploy them at all in Afghanistan.

Speaker 1: 07:58 And I've been speaking with KPBS, military correspondent, Steve Walsh, and Steve. Thank you. Thanks Marie. In spite of meeting over the weekend, congressional leaders have failed to reach an agreement on the new coronavirus relief bill on Friday, federal unemployment benefits of $600 a week came to an end, leaving millions who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, facing a frighteningly uncertain future. Joining us to talk about the impetus and why our congressional representatives cannot reach a deal on this vitally important measure is democratic Congressman Mike Levin, who represents the 49th district in San Diego County. Thank you for joining us, Congressman Levin. Thank you, Alison. So now the most highly publicized part of this bill is the, is the federal unemployment relief, which has helped millions of people stay afloat financially. What does democratic house speaker Nancy Pelosi say justifies her to

Speaker 4: 08:56 Turn down the Republican's offer to extend that $600 per week for a week while negotiations continue?

Speaker 5: 09:02 Well, Alison it's incredibly difficult because there's so much at stake. Um, millions of children for example, are food insecure, millions and millions of families at risk of eviction. And now for the 19th straight week over 1 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance. And as I'm sure you saw last week, our nation's GDP saw the biggest quarterly drop on record. So, uh, it's, uh, crucial, uh, that we have, uh, a scientific approach, both to the health, uh, and, uh, public health and, and, uh, testing and contact tracing, uh, strategy. Uh, and then we also have a thoughtful, rational, uh, way to deal with the economic crisis. And, and that's what we need to, uh, crush this virus to try to open our economy as safely as we can to send our children to school as quickly and as safely as we can. And we put our proposal out the hero's Zack over 11 weeks ago, and it was comprehensive.

Speaker 5: 10:04 It had quite a bit in there for, uh, not only testing and tracing, but also for state and local government to support our heroes. That's why we call it the heroes act. If you think of our teachers or firefighters or, uh, you know, all of those that make our cities work. Uh, and, uh, we also, uh, you know, need to put money in the pockets of the American people. Uh, but for again, for 11 weeks, Mitch McConnell is the one who insisted on a pause. And now those critical lifelines that families depend on are expiring or have expired. Our economy continues to be in crisis, and the virus continues to be very problematic in terms of the, uh, infection rate hospitalization. Uh, and it's just simply unacceptable that in the last 11 weeks, McConnell not only failed to act, but failed to coordinate at all, uh, seemingly with the administration,

Speaker 4: 10:55 You, you mentioned a thoughtful outcome, but for people who are losing those $600 per week, this is like a crisis on Friday. We spoke to two San Diego who would be impacted by the federal unemployment benefit, not being extended. Let's just here. One of them is Patrick Ridgewell, who is a professional stagehand,

Speaker 5: 11:13 Beautiful. This benefit isn't continued. I will have to start thinking about taking away from my retirement fund. I will probably have to take away from it to stay alive because I don't want to be homeless. And I, you know, I'm 63 years old, it's a little late to start looking for another line of work when I'm just so close to retirement as it is.

Speaker 4: 11:36 So your constituents, you know, are, are definitely feeling like a speed is of the essence at this point. And so I just want to go back to that initial question about why the speaker turned down, the Republicans offered to extend it.

Speaker 5: 11:50 Sure. Secretary Minutian we're listening in, he would fall asleep claim that the $600 a week, uh, that I believe his name was Patrick, that we'd just listened to. And so many of our constituents in the millions of jobless workers have been receiving Minutian would say that's too generous and a disincentive to going back to work, and we don't need it for a week. Alison, our bill extended it through the end of the year and we need to be serious about this. A week is a, for me, is, is an insult to all those people like Patrick, that we just heard from who desperately need this help. Uh, in fact, a new study released by Yale last week, uh, found no evidence that pandemic unemployment benefits were a disincentive to going back to work. I have heard anecdotal evidence, but the data in this case, in the new study that we saw from Yale suggest that's not the case. In fact, it showed that groups facing the larger increases in benefit generosity, experienced slight gains in employment.

Speaker 4: 12:52 Would Democrats, would, would you be open then to some kind of a decreased amount?

Speaker 5: 12:59 Alison, I don't think the Senate has any bill that they have proposed, whether this heals act, that's what they call their McConnell's bill. The, the, uh, proposal. It doesn't have 51 votes in the Senate and the president and the, uh, uh, Senate can't get on the same page. The president has insisted on new money for an FBI headquarters. The Senate disagrees with that McConnell has insisted on a corporate liability shield, but the administration says that they don't need a corporate liability shield. Again, they've had 11 weeks since we passed our bill, the heroes act, which will actually do the job and they haven't gotten their act together. And to this day, they still don't have a bill that can get 51 votes in the Senate. So we're going to continue to fight Alison, this is a crisis. It is not ending tomorrow or next week, and we can't treat it as anything other than the crisis that it is.

Speaker 4: 13:51 So could you expand on this corporate liability issue, which is a big one for Republicans protecting businesses from liability of their employees, contract crew, and a virus on the job? What, why do Democrats like yourself think it's important to hold the line on that?

Speaker 5: 14:06 Well, I think it's important that we, uh, think about not only the employer, but the employee and some of the more recent articles I've read on this suggests that an employer could in turn, go after an employee for making a, uh, a claim of, uh, getting, uh, COVID at work, uh, though in California, I do know that, uh, you know, the state legislature to move forward with that presumption, that the employee, if they are at work and they get COVID for purposes of, uh, uh, workers' compensation, uh, they can file a claim. And that presumption will be that the employee did get COVID at work. So I think we are willing to have a discussion, particularly as it pertains to things like schools, because it's so critically important. We all agree to get schools open. We may disagree on, uh, you know, the exact details of how you define safely reopening. Uh, but, uh, I think we're open to that sort of discussion for things like schools, uh, but to provide a blanket immunity to all employers and perhaps even allow employers to turn around and Sue their employees. That's something that's simply, uh, not, uh, something we're going to agree to.

Speaker 4: 15:20 Another sticking point I understand is the money for States and local governments. Why, why is that important to Democrats like yourself?

Speaker 5: 15:27 So in our district, Alison, we've got a nine cities and there are nine, uh, mayors, six Republicans, three Democrats, they all signed a letter saying they needed federal assistance, both for the direct expenses related to COVID, but also for revenue recovery, this pandemic has taken a huge toll on revenues in our cities, things like transit, occupancy taxes. If you think about our region as being one so heavily dependent on tourism and the massive hit, uh, that, uh, coven has, uh, uh, dealt to tourism. Uh, so this is not partisan. And unfortunately at first, uh, McConnell had said, well, let's just let States go bankrupt. And perhaps they thought it was only a blue state, you know, thing where it was New York, New Jersey. Uh, well, no, there are red States. There are blue States, there are red governors, there are blue governors. They all need help.

Speaker 5: 16:23 It's academic has taken a massive economic toll. So our bill has 875 billion for state local tribal and territorial governments. And importantly, it includes a provision that I fought very hard for, which is for smaller cities. In other words, cities of under 500,000, uh, to receive some of those funds as well. When we pass the care Zack at the end of March, that included 150 billion for state and local, that money is largely gone. I largely been spent at the state and County level, but for the smaller cities, they got no direct funding. You had to be a city of over 500,000. So the city of San Diego got money. But for example, the city of Oceanside got nothing only pass through the County and a different County is passed through the funds different ways. So I didn't think that was fair. And we fought and we got in the heroes, Zack that state and local money, why the administration has been so inflexible on that, it's just beyond me.

Speaker 5: 17:27 And my great hope is that we can work together just as we had with the first for COVID relief bills in a bipartisan by camera way and get this fifth one over the finish line. But in order for it to pass in the Senate, it is clear to me that there are enough Republican senators who want to do nothing, nothing at all that, uh, to get 51 votes McConnell is going to need to work with Democrats to work across the aisle. And that's what we're committed to do for a bill. That's actually up to the job of dealing with the crisis that we face and saving lives and livelihoods. And that's what we're going to do

Speaker 4: 18:02 Now today, sec, uh, speaker Pelosi and treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and white house, chief of staff, Mark Meadows, uh, met again, they met over the weekend. We heard there was some progress made, but what are the main sticking points at this point?

Speaker 5: 18:17 I think there are several, uh, beyond just the, uh, uh, expanded unemployment insurance. Uh, there's also the, uh, you know, direct cash payments there there's, uh, what to do about the paycheck protection program, additional assistance for small business. Uh, but critically, there are things like the 25 billion that we have asked for and put in the heroes act, uh, for the us postal service. It is deeply disconcerting, uh, to see this administration, uh, undermine the us postal service. We've now read reports in recent days, uh, mail being slowed down, uh, deliveries that normally would take days taking weeks. Uh, and that's particularly of concern given, uh, the election coming up and that you shouldn't have to choose between your health and safety and your, uh, vote. And, uh, we need to make every effort to try to support the us postal service, not to starve it.

Speaker 5: 19:12 Uh, moreover the 3.6 billion that we included in the hero's act for election security. That number was one from the nonpartisan Brennan center at NYU law school. That's what they said we needed in order to have a safe election, to give secretaries of state, uh, the resources, to be able to protect our voters and, uh, and make sure that everybody, uh, who, uh, wants to vote, who is legally eligible to vote is able to do so safely. It's really not that hard. And it's deeply disconcerting when the present United States tries to make false claims about vote by mail, uh, or, uh, you know, most recently something that even the Republicans pushed back on, which is, you know, his saying that he wants to delay the time, the day of the election. So we are in very scary territory and the heroes act that we passed again, 11 weeks ago in the house, uh, would do the job with 25 billion for the postal service and 3.6 billion for the election.

Speaker 4: 20:12 So what's your opinion on this $1,200 stimulus check to be sent to all Americans. Do you think those who are still employed need that money or could it be better used elsewhere?

Speaker 5: 20:22 I think there's general consensus that, uh, another round of direct cash payments is likely in the works. I don't think that, uh, is, uh, one of the great areas of disagreement. I do think there's a lot more disagreement around, uh, the future of the expanded unemployment insurance, uh, and, uh, what to do, uh, about small businesses and state and local and, uh, postal service. So I do think that there is general consensus that another, uh, direct cash payment would be in the best central purpose of our, uh, economic, uh, stability, uh, as, uh, you know, we've seen the unbelievable Q2, uh, GDP number and, and we know that we need to continue to stimulate the economy during this time.

Speaker 4: 21:06 There is great concern about increasing the national debt further. Where do you stand on that?

Speaker 5: 21:11 Well, I am concerned as well. Uh, I was also concerned when the first thing that the Republicans did when they took over the house in 2016 is passed a massive tax cut where 83% of the benefit went to the top 1% and added almost $2 trillion to the debt. So I find it fairly hypocritical for them now to be so concerned with the data after, you know, uh, adding 2 trillion to it, a pre COVID with, with the, uh, 2017 tax cut, uh, moreover, um, you know, I, I think longterm, uh, we are going to have to figure out a way to get back towards, uh, fiscal solvency, but the challenge that we have a university of Chicago study a while ago suggested that 42% of the jobs lost, uh, during COVID would not be coming back in the calendar year 2020, uh, and that if we did not substantially invest in, uh, everything we could do to put people back to work and to prevent another great depression in effect, um, that is for today with rates being what they are that is money well spent doing nothing would be even worse would cause even greater havoc and devastation either way.

Speaker 5: 22:25 We're going to have a big problem with our deficit to GDP ratio being as high as it's ever been estimates of around $4 trillion this year for the deficit and our debt, you know, 28 to $30 trillion, uh, is the projections that I've seen. Uh, the analysis suggests that it's going to take many, many years for us to dig out of this hole.

Speaker 4: 22:47 How long do you think the two sides can afford to continue this standoff before the damage of holding off becomes too great?

Speaker 5: 22:54 Well, the damage is, uh, already, uh, to great Alison and, uh, I wish that our friends in the Senate had come together a lot earlier. Again, they wasted 11 weeks while we had passed our bill. Uh, and during that time clearly had no consensus with the administration on how best to move forward. And the president was pushing a payroll tax cut, uh, and that is a nonstarter, uh, among both Republicans and Democrats. Uh, meanwhile, the bill that the Senate did come out with, I don't even think had, uh, the 51 votes in the Senate. Uh, so, uh, I, I am deeply frustrated that, uh, the Senate sat on this, uh, in specifically McConnell for 11 weeks without putting together a comprehensive plan that could actually pass the Senate. I'm on 24 hour notice to head straight, back to Washington, as soon as we made sufficient progress on the negotiations. Uh, and

Speaker 6: 23:46 Again, because of what is at stake, I hope that it happens this week. We've been speaking with Congressman might live in of the 49th district here in San Diego County, a Democrat. Thank you very much, Congressman 11. Thank you, Alison, appreciate you. This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm Maureen Cavenaugh with Alison st. John at least 7 million Californians have lost their jobs since the pandemic began earlier this year, many of those struggling to make ends meet and feed their families still haven't gotten their unemployment benefits. Antonio Raphael had to make a full time job out of fighting for his benefits. KQBD reporter Mary Franklin Harvin has the story last week, Antonia Ray out finally got an employment development department worker on the phone who could recertify his claim.

Speaker 7: 24:46 I told him, I go, you do, you're going to, you got wings. You're going to heaven.

Speaker 6: 24:51 Rayel a makeup artist and TV stand in who lives in West Hollywood says he's called EDD 5,600 times since March.

Speaker 7: 24:59 I have it on speed dial. Let me tell you, I have it on speed dial. I even know like the codes, you press one seven one six seven three to get through you put in your social security number, press one. And then, and now they have it where it just hangs up on you. Sorry, we can't help you. You know, once you do all that

Speaker 6: 25:16 Is 56 in the last five years, he says he survived cancer and a heart attack. He'd just gotten back into a routine with work last July.

Speaker 7: 25:25 I was starting to get, you know, my mojo back cause you know, um, I was trying to get on top of my bills because the cancer had bankrupt me pretty much.

Speaker 6: 25:34 Then COVID-19 hit first. He applied for regular unemployment, but EDD said he wasn't eligible

Speaker 7: 25:42 Because, uh, you know, I guess, cause I had cancer. I hadn't put in enough time. Um, they go 18 months previous and I was sick. So, um, they said that I didn't have enough hours.

Speaker 6: 25:53 He kept trying and finally got eight weeks worth of pandemic assistance. Unemployment recipients are required to recertify their applications. Every two weeks. It's a process. Even EDD says is confusing. And if the applicant makes a mistake on the form, it won't go through and their payments will stop. And there's another hurdle. The people who have the most direct access to update those forms generally just work morning hours.

Speaker 7: 26:20 Well, the only people that can really change your account unless they call you back for an appointment. So the lady I had to go question by question my question and I I'm telling you, I had her on the phone for an hour and a half. And I said, okay, what am I doing

Speaker 6: 26:35 For Antonio to get recertified? It took more than 2000 calls and hours on the phone with seven different representatives. He says he also got some assistance from his assembly member. Richard bloom. Now rail is working on squaring, the debt he's built up while trying to get through to EDD. So far, he saved from eviction because of a state moratorium, but that may end as soon as next month, he also got a thousand dollar grant from a local nonprofit to put towards his housing costs,

Speaker 7: 27:05 But I'm still three months behind on my rent. I owe $600 and like utility bills, um, probably shouldn't be saying all this, but um, I, you know, I'm, I'm behind on everything. My credit score is a hundred shot, 150 points down

Speaker 6: 27:19 And he still doesn't think he'll be able to get work in his field anytime soon.

Speaker 7: 27:24 They're like, you know, Oh, well they don't want to go back to work. There's no work to go to dude. You know, the entertainment industry has shut down. I mean, I can't go to a job cause I mean there's jobs as a grocery clerk, but why should I put myself in harm's way?

Speaker 6: 27:38 Well, he waits for jobs in his industry to open up again. Rail is spending his time organizing classes for kids stuck at home right now.

Speaker 7: 27:46 I'm actually starting my online art classes for children right now. I'm actually, I was just assembling some shelves that I went to Ikea and purchase. I'm not spending a lot of money because I needed it to pay, you know, make sure I have the rent and I'm an artist. So I just, I can do it really inexpensively and I'll start filming the art classes, posting them on Udemy and, and also on, uh, on YouTube.

Speaker 6: 28:09 And he's also staying active on social media posting about his experience to try to help others who may be even worse off than he is. I'm Mary Franklin Harvin.

Speaker 4: 28:29 The end of summer vacation is fast approaching and many parents and students are devastated by the news that schools will not be opening their doors. This fall, San Diego County is on the state's watch list for COVID-19. And until that changes, the governor has said, schools may not reopen, but some are pitching an idea that could be one solution to bringing students back on campus safely when the time comes. And that is moving classrooms outside here to discuss this idea and what parents and schools are doing to prepare for the new year is will Huntsburg who reports on education in San Diego County for voice of San Diego will. Thanks for joining us.

Speaker 6: 29:04 Happy to be here. Okay.

Speaker 4: 29:06 So of course schools are opening. They're just not opening physically. So first of all, tell us what's the plan and what are schools doing to prepare that's right, right now on schools,

Speaker 6: 29:19 The mini educators have have noted throughout that online education is a poor substitute for in person education. And so the trick is to figure out when we can bring students back to school safely and how to do that. Does that mean bringing everybody back at once? Not,

Speaker 8: 29:42 Um, does that bring main, bringing everyone back on a part time basis or does that mean bringing back our most vulnerable students who we know really need the stability of school? And so as we try to figure that out, I think a really important question in San Diego is how are we going to utilize outdoor space to do that? Because we have gray outdoor space and we have the weather to do it.

Speaker 4: 30:08 We heard that San Diego city, Councilman Chris Cates sent a memorandum to several officials. Um, recently suggesting that idea. What was the reaction to that?

Speaker 8: 30:19 Uh, Richard Barrera, the board vice president kind of told Kate to like stay in his lane and manage the public health crisis and not tell them how to run schools. San Diego unified tends to, um, do things by consensus behind closed doors. They're going to have a plan on August 10th. And when that plan comes out, we may hear more about if they're going to try to bring special education students and homeless students back, for instance, is there a way to bring our most vulnerable students back like 20% of the population and have class with them outdoors? You know, we have not had really any outdoor outbreaks yet in San Diego of the virus and research suggests that it's 20 times less likely to be transmitted outdoors.

Speaker 4: 31:08 Lantech wrote about this topic just last week and our local school district communications director, Maureen McGee, since the author statement about San Diego's position on outdoor classes, in which she said, quote, the use of outdoor space is among the options under consideration by individual schools, as they plan on how to welcome students back to campus. However effective use of our outdoor environment is not a substitute for controlling the spread of the virus. We did invite someone from the school district to come on the show and talk about it and they eventually declined. Why do you think that they're so cool to the age?

Speaker 8: 31:45 Yeah. Your guess is as good as mine. I think the fact that the school district doesn't want to openly talk about this is frustrating. How could it not be frustrating in, in San Diego where so many people have moved here because of the climate, frankly, on top of that, the school district in the past several years has spent more than a hundred million dollars upgrading their fields, creating new fields, upgrading their stadiums. So, you know, we know they have the space, I guess they want us to believe that behind closed doors, they're talking about how outdoor education could be a part of this. And right now, you know, we're in a world where daycares exist, camps are popping up left and right. The Y YMCA has created one, we're seeing gymnastic schools. So there is going to be care and tutoring for students who can pay for it. The real question is, is the school district going to be creative enough to try to provide for its most vulnerable students who can't pay to go to a day camp and have a tutor guide them in their online learning.

Speaker 4: 32:57 Right? And then one of the other things you've written about is, is some parents who've been so frustrated by this distance learning that they're trying their own own solutions like, like pod learning. What's your assessment of that solution.

Speaker 8: 33:09 Yeah. Pods are definitely something that I think we're seeing parent groups on Facebook just light up with conversation about right. You know, some people are just creating a pod where they don't necessarily hire a tutor. They're just gathering, um, four or five families together and it's like homeschool pod, but some families are actually, you know, pulling their money and hiring a tutor for their pods of children as well. You know, if you put these professional learning pods into practice, the halves are going to advance further ahead and the most vulnerable are gonna fall further behind.

Speaker 4: 33:43 So apparently there are some individual schools that are thinking about using outdoor spaces to help bring students back safely. Have you heard of any, I've heard of the grower school, which is a private school in North County is doing it, but any schools in the unified school district,

Speaker 8: 33:58 You know, I actually spoke to a teacher at Montgomery middle who has managed the garden there for a long time. And she's a big advocate of using outdoor space more in general. Um, she's asked the district, she's reached out to the board members to say, what do you think? And she has not gotten an official response back. So for now, I don't think we're going to see any pilots like that in San Diego, San Diego unified, even though there may be individual teachers on the ground who want it very much

Speaker 4: 34:26 Finally, have you talked through with anybody, what it would take to move classrooms outside, what it would cost? What are the considerations?

Speaker 8: 34:35 The, the district has been relatively silent on this point as you noted, but I did speak to the CEO of green schoolyards America. And, um, and she said, our campuses are, are more ready than most peoples. You know, we have a lot of schools where you have two doors of classrooms that actually face out onto the outside. We also have, you know, huge covered breezeways that are like outdoor hallways. We also have lots of outdoor cafeteria space. Obviously you might need tents, you might need more shade. It's not like it's just ready to go, but there is a lot of available space. Thank you so much. Will. All right. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 4: 35:16 We've been speaking with will Huntsburg who reports on education in San Diego County for voice of San Diego, San Diego unified. We'll discuss going back to school next Monday, August the 10th,

Speaker 8: 35:36 San metropolitan

Speaker 9: 35:38 Transit system lost its CEO. Paul J Blonsky in may, after he died from a sudden heart attack within days, the agency's board of directors appointed Sharon Cooney to replace him. Cooney has worked at MTS for 15 years. Most recently serving as deputy CEO. She's the first woman to lead the agency, KPBS Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen, spoke with her about her plans for the future.

Speaker 10: 36:04 Sharon Cooney. Thank you so much for speaking with us. Oh, thank you for having me. So you took the helmet MTS in a time of real crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt your ridership. It's hurt your finances. What are your priorities as you try to navigate this really difficult time?

Speaker 9: 36:20 Sure. Well, it's been a challenge, but you know, it's been great being part of such a great team at MTS. Um, we get through it together. Um, I think one of my highest priority is to continue with the excellent level of service that we've provided, um, pre COVID, um, to make sure that we continue to be the best transit agency, um, to continue to reach all of the goals for things like ridership. Um, as people come back to work, make sure that we have a really great on time performance. Um, all of the things that matter to people when they're choosing transit for their commute and their, their daily lives, um, that's my highest priority. And we have some really exciting projects coming up this year. Um, over the next 24 months, we're going to be finishing up with the Midcoast trolley opening. Um, in November of 2021, that's really exciting and we're really doing everything already buying the vehicles and training up staff so that we'll be ready to open when it's handed to us.

Speaker 9: 37:23 Um, we also are working on our new fare collection system, which it's really a great, um, opportunity for us to add amenities for our customers, um, and to really come into a more modern modernize, um, and already existing, pretty good, uh, fair collection system. Um, and you know, we have a new Irish, uh, rapid that's going to be opening up and also in about 18 months. Um, it's actually exciting because it's going to be in the South Bay. It'll be our first all electric, um, vehicle, uh, BRT. So that's really an exciting improvement. Um, kind of jump-starting the, the, uh, rollout into a hundred percent, zero emission bus.

Speaker 10: 38:05 What are the biggest barriers to recovery for MTS?

Speaker 9: 38:09 Well, I think the big challenge is making sure that our customers and our employees are safe. I mean, that's a high priority as well. Um, it's underlies everything we do. Uh, we want to make sure that for instance, if somebody has to now start going into work, as the economy opens up, they choose transit because they know we are a safe alternative to an automobile. Um, we w we've been doing everything from using that immediately disinfect the vehicles to making sure we have germ barriers to protect our drivers on the buses. We're, we're putting those in as we speak and had, we'll have the fleet done by the end of August. Um, we are making sure that everybody's wearing a mask. If you're going to choose chance that you're going to wear a mask. And so, um, if you don't have one, we'll provide one for you, um, to use as well. Um, so that's really the that's the biggest challenge is making sure people feel and understand how we're keeping the system sanitized and safe

Speaker 10: 39:09 MTS partnered with the city of San Diego for a bus only lane on El Cajon Boulevard. What have the results of that project been and where would you like that? Uh, expanded in the city? Yeah.

Speaker 9: 39:19 Yeah, well, uh, pre COVID, we were seeing some on time performance, um, assistance there. Um, obviously traffic has been lighter, uh, since people aren't going to work, um, as much. Um, and so there's, um, it's harder to see how much that does for us, but, you know, I think what it has done is it's allowed people to S to realize that this is something that you could repeat in other parts of the, our jurisdiction that other parts of the transit network could benefit from the, um, faster, more reliable, uh, scheduling of the, of the bus routes. So we're hopeful that we will replicate this in multiple places throughout our network

Speaker 10: 39:59 MTS had for more than a year, been working on a tax measure that would have been on the November ballot, elevate SD 2020, and those plans were abandoned after the pandemic hit. Where do things stand with that? And what's the future of that proposal

Speaker 9: 40:15 That was really kind of a blow. I mean, one more thing about COVID that we didn't anticipate. Um, but elevate SD was not just about, about initiative. It was about really listening to, um, what will make transit attractive to people in San Diego County. And that was one of the best benefits that we got was the real public participation in the process. The, you know, the outreach we were doing was unprecedented. I can't remember any other public project that had that much public participation and outreach. And so that's something that we're going to build on as we move forward, as we try to help, um, San Diego County dig out of what's happening with the economic downturn as we remain here for our essential workers during this time, uh, we are going to use that, you know, um, connection and involvement to really enhance our services and really make it the best system possible. When we come back to full, full, uh, opening of the economy,

Speaker 10: 41:20 I want to ask you about your fare enforcement policies. This has been under scrutiny a little bit or more recently. The voice of San Diego is reported on a big surgeon and fair citations that have been issued over the past couple of, um, how sometimes those FA uh, you know, failing to pay a $2 and 50 cent fair can spiral into hundreds of dollars in fines and court fees and things like that. Uh, what does that tell you? Does this concern you, and what will fair enforcement look like under your leadership?

Speaker 9: 41:49 So, uh, we've already begun working with the board of directors and through our public security committee, our chair, um, Monica, Montgomery, um, it has really helped us drive forward. A couple of new policies. One of them is a diversion program that will start in September. Uh, what this will do is it allows people a chance to first, if you are approached and you don't have a fare on board trolley, we're going to, um, allow you to buy your fair. Um, but then if you can't, then, um, you can expunge the, um, potential citation and you have 120 days to do so. Um, so the diversion program is intended for those who, you know, for, for whatever reason couldn't pay for their fare or didn't pay for their fare. Um, but that they could avoid having to go through any kind of, um, procedure, um, administrative or otherwise. Um, this, this, I think will be a really, um, helpful for those who feel like they've been, um, somehow being harmed by the way we were doing fair enforcement,

Speaker 10: 42:58 Your predecessor, Paul J Blonsky passed away really suddenly in may. And you had worked with him for many years. What did you learn from him?

Speaker 9: 43:06 Um, well, I learned a lot about transit, obviously I wasn't in transit before I started here at MTS. Um, but I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts, but I think more than that, I think I learned the value of team building and really understanding that it's not just one person, it's everybody pulling together to become the most, um, effective, excellent transportation system that we possibly could be. So that's what I learned from him. And, um, I'm hopeful to bring that forward in my own leadership.

Speaker 10: 43:40 What do you miss about him?

Speaker 9: 43:42 I think it was probably his humor. You know, he, he brought humor into almost every situation. We could be facing something that was, you know, technically challenging or dry or whatever, and he could make everybody laugh and kind of, you know, get everybody enthusiastic about it. I hope I can do that too.

Speaker 10: 44:02 You're the first female CEO of MTS. What does that mean to you?

Speaker 9: 44:06 Well, I really value, um, the number of women in the organization who have come forward and, and thanked me for stepping up into this leadership role. Um, if I can be a mentor, if I can bring more women into the public transportation world, I would love to be able to do that. So if that, if my becoming CEO helps that, then I'm

Speaker 6: 44:32 Excited. All right. Well, Sharon Cooney, thank you so much for speaking with KPBS. You're welcome. And thanks for having me.

Speaker 6: 44:52 You're listening to midday edition on KPBS. I'm Alison st. John with Maureen Kavanaugh, well gay activists marched and demanded the government invest more in AIDS research back in the 1980s and nineties, there were some forms of government help that the gay community did not want contact tracing used by public health officials to contain the spread of the virus was very controversial during the AIDS era, similar tensions around it are arising. Now that it's a key pillar of California's strategy for containing the Corona virus. [inaudible] health correspondent, April Demboski explains. We have a lot to learn from the past experience of veteran contact tracers.

Speaker 11: 45:31 Okay.

Speaker 6: 45:40 1968, John Potter had finished his tour of duty in Vietnam and came home to LA where syphilis was rampant. He started working for the CDC in what became a 40 year career as a contact tracer.

Speaker 11: 45:52 In a given day, I would be in the clinic for two or three hours. I would interview one or two people, and then I would go out in the field and drive around and locate the people that had been

Speaker 6: 46:03 Tracking down sexual contacts in the free love era required private ice skills. A lot of people infected with an STD, didn't know the names of the people. They slept with

Speaker 11: 46:13 An example, there is somebody who works in a deli on South Broadway,

Speaker 6: 46:19 But they don't remember the name of the deli either, but they know

Speaker 11: 46:23 That it's the only deli in that neighborhood that doesn't serve breakfast.

Speaker 6: 46:27 So Potter out drives up and down Broadway until he finds it. Then leaves a note for an employee with a thick Brown mustache and scorpion tattoo on his bicep.

Speaker 11: 46:36 The person calls he was located, and he was tested, turned out that he was positive

Speaker 6: 46:44 Seventies. When gonorrhea took center stage Potter, I moved on to a new contact tracing job in Colorado In his Paisley shirts, clashing Paisley tie, and shag haircut working with He tracked people down at the biker bars and gay bars where Giorgio Moroder was always playing.

Speaker 11: 47:13 We would spend time there. It's sort of a see and be seen type of approach. And we gained that trust through the seventies, but everything changed with AIDS.

Speaker 6: 47:27 A new virus arrived the eighties and it wouldn't go away with a round of antibiotics. There was no test for AIDS. We don't have a test. There was no treatment, or we don't have treatment. And it was 100% fatal. The health department felt pretty helpless. Contact tracers were in a moral quandary, many felt it was unethical to tell someone they might have been exposed. What did we do?

Speaker 11: 47:50 You have to offer these people. We didn't have even hope. And these were young people. How do you tell a 23 year old, you might have two years to live. And here I am working for a medical clinic. This is not a damn thing I can do about it.

Speaker 6: 48:04 But just a couple years later, Potter rock concluded. That was a mistake they could have at least educated people and stop them from spreading the virus further. Eventually they traced HIV infections back to the origin of the epidemic in Colorado Springs. And if you had done that in real time, it would have made a difference in the course.

Speaker 11: 48:25 I think that had, we had the courage and the conviction to go ahead and do that and go visit these people. We could have saved several people. I don't know, dozen 20. I still feel when you mentioned something like that, you make me feel guilty and you should, because on some level I failed. Yeah. I made up for it later, but failure is failure,

Speaker 6: 48:48 But the gay community did not share Potter ads, enthusiasm for contact tracing

Speaker 11: 48:53 AIDS spread. So does the debate over who should be tested and who should know the results?

Speaker 6: 48:58 Even when a test was developed. And even when the first antiretrovirals came out, gay advocates in San Francisco were opposed to contact tracing. They were afraid what would happen if local governments collected a list of gay men in 1987, gay rights, lawyer, Ben Schatz, warned of discrimination, lost jobs, lost housing.

Speaker 12: 49:19 We create public health measures, which are doomed to scare people into avoiding public health departments, nobody gains, and the epidemic spread

Speaker 6: 49:29 Schatz and other advocates said public education was the way to go. Not naming names

Speaker 12: 49:34 Have to be able to protect themselves. If they think that the state is going to swoop in and say, you're a sexual partner has AIDS, then they're just going to continue burying their head in the sand.

Speaker 6: 49:44 Some epidemiologists thought the money needed for contact tracing would be better spent on other things, dr. George Rutherford led the CDCs AIDS response in San Francisco at the time he's a professor at UCF. Now

Speaker 11: 49:57 A lot of my thinking about contact tracing back in those days was, well, what exactly is it supposed to add? We've already told every single gay man they're at high risk and they should get tested that the time, you know, the answer was nothing

Speaker 6: 50:10 In smaller places like Colorado, where Potter at worked, they could do it. But in San Francisco where a third of the population was infected, Rutherford says it wasn't cost effective.

Speaker 11: 50:20 Now with, you know, much better drugs, it's become a much more standard part of a standard operating procedure for any age control programs.

Speaker 6: 50:28 Now veterans like Rutherford are relying on lessons learned in the AIDS era to build the state's new core of Corona virus, contact tracers. Hello, this is Lisa Fernandez. It is June 30th, just finished another team lead shipped with 20 pages of context. It's just getting crazy busy today. It's Latino immigrant communities who are disproportionately impacted by COVID, but the mistrust and fears of discrimination are the same lost jobs, lost housing. And now getting deported.

Speaker 11: 51:01 People are a little hesitant, much like gay men were hesitant to get on a, a list of gay men

Speaker 6: 51:07 Doing the work very difficult because they're a lot more Curt and resistant or suspicious or scared and upset for contact tracers to overcome the mistrust they need backup. They need a leader with a unifying message us against the virus. But the president today just like the president in the eighties is doing the opposite

Speaker 11: 51:28 COVID or HIV pretending that it wasn't there or that it would go

Speaker 6: 51:33 John Potter at remembers how Ronald Reagan alienated the gay community by ignoring AIDS. Now he sees Donald Trump alienating the communities of color most impacted by COVID.

Speaker 11: 51:44 Well, if it doesn't go away, well, it's not effecting people that are really, really very important.

Speaker 6: 51:50 The results are the same without a coordinated national strategy to combat the virus. History will repeat itself. The epidemic will spread and more people will die. I'm April Demboski.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.