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California school mask mandate remains for now, but could lift at month's end

 February 15, 2022 at 4:18 PM PST

Speaker 1: (00:00)

The latest on mask mandates and schools

Speaker 2: (00:03)

That we're getting to a place where we can relax the statewide masking requirement in school.

Speaker 1: (00:09)

I'm Jade Henman my co-host Maureen Kavana is off. This is K PBS midday edition. We'll tell you about a program to help keep seniors in their homes.

Speaker 3: (00:28)

This is a cost effective way and really kind of a new approach, which is focusing on preventing the homelessness from occurring in the first place

Speaker 1: (00:37)

And efforts to keep cyclists safe on San Diego. That's ahead on midday edition Yesterday, California officials announced no changes to its statewide school masking requirement. At least not yet. That announcement can with few details and has many parents frustrated as the state plans to loosen mask mandates tomorrow. For many types of public spaces here to tell us more is Joe Hong education reporter with Cal matters. Joe, welcome.

Speaker 4: (01:22)

Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: (01:23)

So yesterday state health officials made somewhat of an announcement on masking mandates for California's school children. Here's what Dr. Mark Galli had to say yesterday.

Speaker 2: (01:33)

We, uh, will today not make a change. There'll be no change in the masking requirement, but on February 28th, full two weeks firm, now, uh, we will reassess the data.

Speaker 1: (01:46)

Did they give any indication of what benchmarks would be used to make a decision on school masking on February 28th?

Speaker 4: (01:54)

So this was kind of the frustrating thing about this announcement is that there were no sort of set thresholds for how they would determine whether or not to lift the mask mandate for schools. Uh, galley did say though that his team would look at sort of, uh, holistically, um, things like vaccination rates, hospitalization rates and case numbers, but yeah, no real set thresholds yet.

Speaker 1: (02:19)

And how have parents been reacting to this news?

Speaker 4: (02:22)

There is a, a, a mixed response, right? So you have parents on one hand who are saying, you know, yeah, masks should stay on until we can really eliminate the risk of death. You know, people are still dying. Um, but on the other hand, what what's sort of interesting is that you're seeing parents who earlier in the pandemic supported strict safety protocols are kind of saying like enough is enough. We need to have off ramps and masks at this point, they feel are doing more harm than good. You see a lot of, uh, the perspectives shifting at this moment.

Speaker 1: (02:58)

Have there been any discussions about ending mask mandates, uh, specifically for vaccinated children, like we've seen in certain public spaces in the state?

Speaker 4: (03:07)

Yeah, so I haven't heard anything from state health officials about this particular issue, but, you know, I spoke with one, uh, superintendent at school district in Ventura county who said that this sort of middle ground would be, uh, a logistical nightmare for educators because they would sort of have to keep track of who's vaccinated. Who's not, and figure out who they need to watch for, you know, are they keeping their masks on? So this would be, uh, particularly challenging for, for teachers right now.

Speaker 1: (03:43)

And what do we know about the impacts of masking on children? Is there any evidence, it impacts a child's learning in the classroom.

Speaker 4: (03:51)

That's a great question. And, and you know, this is, I think something that needs to be talked about a little more at, at, especially at this point in the pandemic, I haven't seen any studies that have, you know, quantified the impact of, of masks on learning, but I think it does have a significant impact on sort of the social and emotional experience of being a student. It makes it harder, especially for younger children to, to make new friends. If you can't see face expressions for, you know, reading instruction and for kids who are maybe speech impaired, you know, these students rely a lot on reading lips and, and things like that. So that can be a challenge for those student groups, especially.

Speaker 1: (04:34)

Hmm. So we're talking about statewide masking requirements here, but local school districts can also implement at their own rules to some extent isn't that right?

Speaker 4: (04:43)

Yeah. So counties are allowed to have stricter rules than the state. The state rules are sort of a floor and not a ceiling like in LA county and Alameda county up in Northern California. You know, students are, are required right now to, to wear mask both inside and outside, but the sort of state guideline is that students have to wear masks only inside. So to answer the question, local counties can be stricter, but they can't be more lenient. Mm.

Speaker 1: (05:14)

Have you heard any response from local school districts in the state?

Speaker 4: (05:18)

I haven't heard any response after are sort of this, uh, semi announcement, but before I spoke to, uh, superintendents and, and teachers who feel like it's time to, you know, again, start considering off ramps, I think it's, it's important to also note that this is a change, right? Like we're talking out educators and, and also parents who felt differently maybe 10 months ago about masks, but now they're feeling like, um, this sort of disruption to education has been going on for far too long, especially as we see the Omicron case numbers sort of declining. And I should also note that public health experts are also saying, I, I spoke with one public expert at UC San Diego who said, you know, if I had a 17 year old who was fully vaccinated, I'd feel okay sending him to the school without a mask.

Speaker 1: (06:15)

Hmm. You know, what, what will you be watching in the run up to the state's re reassessment of the statewide mask requirements on February 28th?

Speaker 4: (06:24)

So, yeah, I think I'll be watching how the lifting of the mask mandate for, you know, restaurants and grocery stores for vaccinated people. How, how that change affects case numbers statewide. I think sort of this two week period until February 28th, when galley said he'd make another announcement, you know, we'll give us some time to sort of see what the effect of lifting the, the overall sort of state mask mandate is for, for adults.

Speaker 1: (06:51)

All right. It's uh, it seems to be a tough decisions that have to be made here.

Speaker 4: (06:56)

Yeah. A lot of things can,

Speaker 1: (06:58)

Yeah. I've been speaking with Joe Hong K through 12 education reporter with Cal matters, Joe, thank you very much for joining us.

Speaker 4: (07:06)

Thank you Jade.

Speaker 1: (07:15)

$300 a month. That is the amount of money that can mean the difference between paying the rent for some San Diego, seniors and homelessness, a pilot program from the San Diego county board of supervisors intends to make up that difference. Older adults at immediate risk of homelessness can apply for a $300 rental subsidy. The program was developed on findings from the serving seniors homelessness needs assessment report released last September. Joining me now to discuss the new pilot program is president and CEO of serving seniors. Paul Downey, Paul, welcome.

Speaker 3: (07:51)

Great to be with you Jade. Thank you.

Speaker 1: (07:53)

The pilot program will help San Diego seniors at risk of homelessness with $300 for how was that amount decided?

Speaker 3: (08:01)

Well, through our needs assessment, we surveyed almost 400 seniors. Uh, half of whom had experienced homelessness, half of whom were on the cusp. And we asked a simple question, how much money would it either have taken or take to keep you housed versus unhoused? So it wasn't what is the optimal level of money, but just that basic level housed versus unhoused. And we gave a whole series of answers and a hundred dollars increments and 56% came back and said $300 or less was the difference between being homeless and being housed. And if you take it to $400, it's almost three quarter. And so that was, uh, a sort of a, a lightning moment for us to realize that we had an opportunity to come up with a, a way to prevent homelessness from even occurring in the first place.

Speaker 1: (08:48)

And the serving seniors report found one in four of San Diego's homeless adults are over the age of 55 and more than 40% are experiencing homelessness for the first time in their lives. How many older San Diegos are in a situation where $300 can mean paying the rent or losing their home?

Speaker 3: (09:08)

Well, we know that that 27% translates to approximately 2000 folks that are on the street. And this was from the point in time from a couple of years ago. And the anecdotally, we think that number is higher. If you look at folks who are in that low income range, where they may be spending two thirds of their monthly income on rent and their income, you know, is less than $1,300, $1,200 a month. You're, you're talking about thousand of folks who are at risk of becoming homeless. And so it's, it's a significant number of folks, but when you compare the cost of the subsidy versus the cost of someone experiencing homelessness, it really isn't much of a comparison. I mean, most estimates are cost of a homeless individual on the streets or anywhere from 30 to $50,000 as a year. So we view this as a strategic investment in preventing the homelessness and assisting those that are homeless, you know, get back into a secure housing environment and then layer on some additional services to move more towards an optimal level service.

Speaker 1: (10:11)

Next week in San Diego is the annual count of the sheltered. And unsell altered population in the city. Are you anticipating, we'll see an increase in the number of homeless seniors.

Speaker 3: (10:22)

Yes, we're anticipating, I mean, again, anecdotally from serving seniors, I mean, we have a robust, uh, outreach program for homeless, uh, seniors and anecdotally, we're seeing more folks that are on the streets. Many of our clients are just on that cusp that it's just a little nudge and they fall into homelessness. So we're anticipating that that number is probably gonna go up. Um, and I think that that's cause for concern a from a human standpoint, obviously we're concerned about the folks experiencing it, but the costs of an older adult on the street, because they, they often need more medical attend, then maybe younger folks. Um, it's, it's a very expensive proposition from a human standpoint and from a, an economic standpoint. And I think it should be something that causes concern for all of us

Speaker 1: (11:08)

Is the senior population in particular more vulnerable to homelessness than other populations.

Speaker 3: (11:14)

Yes, because, and the one thing we found in the needs assessment was that most of the homelessness for older adults was economic. It was either loss of a job illness of either themselves or a partner or simply living on a fixed income. And the rent exceeded their ability to, to keep up with it. So older adults are particularly at risk because they're quite often not able to go back to work and, you know, or earn additional resources to, to live. And so they're at risk. And so there's a sort of a double edged sword on one hand because there are simply more older adults in this country. We're seeing more folks at risk. The good news is that because it's economic, there's a simple solution, which is bringing dollars to the table. And the hope is that we can move folks quickly through the system and get them back to being housed, as opposed to somebody who maybe has severe mental illness or drug or alcohol, uh, issues or both that you have to spend lot of resource and a lot of time to assist here. We think we can move folks quickly. If we can identify them, get 'em a subsidy and move them into a situation where they can, you know, they can live and, and hopefully thrive.

Speaker 1: (12:27)

And who qualifies for the program?

Speaker 3: (12:29)

Well, we recommended to supervisors Anderson and law firm reamer that they look at folks whose income is less than 50% of the area, median income. So, you know, in San Diego, that's gonna be 30,000, 25, $30,000 a year, perhaps, and then who are spending 60% or more of their income in rent. So it's folks spending way too much money on their rent and very low income. Now they're gonna take a look at it and we'll see what they come back with in 90 days as to what they actually recommend. I mean, I suspect some of it'll be be based on the amount of funding that they have, but we think it should be targeted to, you know, low income folks.

Speaker 1: (13:09)

So when, and how can people apply for this program?

Speaker 3: (13:13)

Well, that's where we're to see. So what the county did is they directed their staff to come back with a program in 90 days that they will review and approve. So that's, that's still to be determined as to exactly how folks will be able to apply. And I guess really how many, how many folks, the county will be able to provide subsidies for still question, but we think it's a good investment. Um, we think there also should be, uh, you know, metrics attached to it and we should evaluate it. And, you know, we believe that we are gonna be able to prove that this is, this is a cost effective way to deal with homelessness, uh, at least for older adults. Um, and, and if it's not, then, then at least we've tried something, uh, a little the box and a little different than what we've been doing, you know, and, and honestly, what we've been doing is, you know, sort of had middle success. I mean, it, in some areas we've, we've done well in some areas. Uh, we haven't, and we just think it's, it's time to, to take a, a different look at it and hopefully come up with a, a solution that's viable.

Speaker 1: (14:12)

I've been speaking with president and CEO of so seniors, Paul Downey, Paul, thank you very much for joining us.

Speaker 3: (14:19)

Appreciate it. Thank you.

Speaker 1: (14:32)

You're listening to KPBS midday edition. I'm Jade, Henman Maureen Kavanaugh, all off. How many times are bike riders and pedestrians involved in traffic crashes in San Diego? The answer is so many times that the incidents are rarely newsworthy unless they involve injury or death. A new Twitter account SD crash bot now allows the public to see how many traffic collisions involving bikes and pedestrians are reported to police. This San Diego bike coalition says it launched the Twitter account because the general public is unaware of the large number of traffic collisions that happen every day will Ragan with this San Diego county bike coalition spoke with Maureen Kavanaugh about the project,

Speaker 5: (15:15)

The latest number we have on car collisions involving bikes and pedestrians in San Diego is over 1000 in the year 2018. Is that about the number you think we're looking at now?

Speaker 6: (15:27)

I think although that number is shocking, it is probably an under count of the true number of crashes involving BI and pedestrians that are happening in San Diego county.

Speaker 5: (15:39)

Why do you think there are more crashes than a thousand each year? What gives you that impression

Speaker 6: (15:44)

Under the current system crashes only go in the state's database. If somebody files a police report and to a complaint of pain is reported. So if no end user are reported, or if the police hear about a crash, but the participants in the crash don't stay at the scene, they don't file a police report. That crash will never make it into the official state statistics. And so we expected, and we've already seen in our initial trials of this program, that lot more crashes happening, where there isn't an actual injury or the police don't file a report, but we still have a situation that could be potentially life threatening, where a driver is hitting a BI pedestrian.

Speaker 5: (16:24)

How does at SD crash bot Twitter account? How does it compile the information about the crashes?

Speaker 6: (16:30)

So we use data from an application called citizen, which is basically monitoring everything that's said on police scanners. Now, unfortunately we're only monitoring police scanners in the city of San Diego from the San Diego police department, because many of the other agencies in the region have encrypted scanners, but citizen listens to those scanners and essentially shares every thing that's said over their application. And our Twitter program is filtering through all of those scanner reports and picking out anything, having to do with a BI pedestrian crash and then posting those details directly to Twitter.

Speaker 5: (17:06)

And is the Twitter account also gonna track where most of those crashes happen?

Speaker 6: (17:10)

Yes. And is generating a map of where every crashed in the city of San Diego occurs.

Speaker 5: (17:16)

Why is the San Diego by coalition taking on this project?

Speaker 6: (17:19)

The largest reason is to draw more awareness to what a public health crisis traffic violence is in San Diego. We are seeing over a thousand people, 1,148 pedestrian specifically in 761 bicyclists per year, on average being injured in traffic accidents or traffic crashes, I should say. And if we were seeing those numbers caused by any other issue, really gun violence, another pandemic, or really anything else, we would expect a swift and decisive response from the government to try to bring those numbers down, to try to make the situation safer, unfortunately, over 100 years or so of car dependence. I think the public has become so accustomed to that kind of violence on our roads that we haven't asked for the kind of action to make roads safer that we would expect if we had these kind of numbers for another issue. And so our thought is that by sharing the details of every crash happening in San Diego with the general public, and even with the media and with elected officials, we could help generate some of the urgency around this issue that we think it really deserves. And of the eventually prompt and advocate are elected officials to install the kind of road safety improvements that have resulted in really dramatic decreases in traffic violence in other cities and countries that have taken this problem. Seriously.

Speaker 5: (18:42)

Yeah. Let me talk about that a little bit. What could be done to prevent many of the traffic collisions involving bikes and people on foot?

Speaker 6: (18:50)

So there are a lot of specific measures, but the general platform for what can be done is something called vision zero. So vision zero is an international movement that focuses on using evidence based methods to reduce traffic violence. And the two largest components of that method are first reducing traffic speeds as speed is the just factor in determining whether someone is injured or killed in a crash and second separating road users who are traveling different speeds. So what that looks like in real life is you're looking at traffic calming measures that are from everyday things like speed bumps to narrowing traffic lanes and some kind of more innovative things like enhanced pedestrian crosswalks, which are gonna bring the curbs in intersections to make that crossing shorter, putting neighborhood traffic circles at intersections instead of traditional traffic lights. And then in terms of separating road users, we're looking at not just your conventional bike lane, which is a Stripe in the road, but actually, um, physically separated bike lanes that have something that is preventing cars from driving to the bike lane and everything that can make sure that people traveling different speeds, cars, bikes, and pedestrians are all physically protected from hitting each other.

Speaker 5: (20:01)

San Diego has been part of vision zero for a number of years and K PS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen has done stories on the lack of progress the city is making toward that goal of zero pedestrian traffic deaths by the year 2025. Why do you think San Diego hasn't been successful so far?

Speaker 6: (20:20)

So first, I think it's important to acknowledge that the city has been working on this and is facing some external factors that are out of control, but there is a lot the city of San Diego could be doing. And I think one reason they haven't gotten as far is they have wanted to get on this point in the song and the kind of traffic calming and bike lane features that we just talked about is that a lot of the projects that the city of San Diego and SANDAG our regional transportation agency have proposed to pursue vision zero have run into a tremendous amount of opposition from, I would say small, but very vocal parts of some of our communities who oppose things like bike lanes and traffic home streets, because of concerns about, um, commuting speed and parking. And so we're encouraging the city of San Diego and the county, uh, and SANDAG to really, when they're making these trade offs of what kind of projects should go in their communities to prioritize human lives really above all other concerns. I don't think there's any amount of parking spaces or minutes added onto a commute that can account for a human life loss on the road.

Speaker 5: (21:28)

What do you hope happens as a result of the at SD crash bot Twitter count

Speaker 6: (21:34)

First, we hope that we get a lot more awareness of just what a crisis traffic violence is. And second, we hope that awareness will channel more members of the community to begin getting involved in road safety advocacy. Once people understand that these crashes are a true threat to them and everyone they know on a daily basis, we hope that'll prompt them to begin working as advocates in their communities to ask for the kind of road safety improvements that save lives.

Speaker 5: (21:59)

I've been speaking with will Ragan with the San Diego county bike coalition will thank you so much.

Speaker 6: (22:05)

Thank you. I really appreciate the chance to talk to you.

California health officials announced on Monday there will be no changes to its statewide school masking requirement. The announcement has many parents frustrated as the state will end mask mandates on Wednesday for many public spaces. Next, a pilot program passed by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors could help seniors at risk of homelessness with $300 in rental assistance. Lastly, a new Twitter account @SDCrashBot - allows the public to see how many traffic collisions involving bikes and pedestrians are reported to police.