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Infectious disease specialist talks Omicron transmissibility

Speaker 1: (00:00)

Two cases of the Omicron variant. Now in the U S

Speaker 2: (00:04)

CERN, as we may have seen in South Africa is the replacement of one variant with another

Speaker 1: (00:11)

I'm Jade Heintzman with Maureen Kavanaugh. This is KPBS mid-day edition. Local researchers are using sewage to identify cases of the new COVID variant Creighton

Speaker 3: (00:30)

With the alpha and the Delta variance. We actually take both of them up about two weeks ahead in our wastewater. And then we saw them in our clinical trials.

Speaker 1: (00:39)

December nights in Balboa park is still on. We'll tell you about the safety measures and the band baby Bush got plays there for a show since the pandemic started that's ahead on mid day edition, Two cases of the Omicron variant have now been detected in the U S the first was found right here in California, despite the confirmed presence of the new strain president Biden indicated in his morning remarks today that new lockdowns or federal mandates will not be part of the plan to fight the virus.

Speaker 4: (01:19)

My plan and I'm announcing today pulls no punches. And while my existing federal vaccination requirements have been reviewed by the courts, this plan does not expand or add to those mandates a plan that all Americans hopefully could rally around, and it should get bipartisan support. In my humble opinion,

Speaker 1: (01:37)

The presence of the emerging strain of the virus in the U S raises questions over its potential transmissibility and side effects, and whether it could replace Delta as the dominant strain of COVID-19 joining me now with more is Dr. David pride, infectious disease specialist, and head of the pride lab at UCS, which plays a role in the research and identification of variants. Dr. Pride, welcome to the program.

Speaker 2: (02:04)

Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here. And

Speaker 1: (02:06)

What do we now know about Omicron

Speaker 2: (02:09)

That it was first identified in South Africa. We know that since it has been identified that mutation or that variant has made its way really across the world, through Asia, through Europe and now to the United States. And I think the expectation it having made it so far so quickly that it will probably make it all the way across the world.

Speaker 1: (02:31)

So what are some of the challenges to knowing that information right now, given that there are so many people infected with this new variant already,

Speaker 2: (02:38)

The biggest challenges, just the concern about mortality in general, the other concern is the concern about whether or not the vaccination will protect you. So what we've seen in the past is that we've seen relatively similar mortality rates based on the different variants. What has been different amongst the different variants has been there infectivity. So the concern as we may have seen in South Africa is the replacement of one variant with another. Um, so the question becomes is Alma Cron going to be more effective than the Delta variant, which is an obvious cause for concern. And then of course we want to know about mortality with it as well. And then lastly, we want to know how effective is the vaccination, because a lot of our populations and certain areas are really highly vaccinated, but if the virus is more infective for vaccinated individuals, then that means that it's probably going to spread through the population a bit better. So

Speaker 1: (03:42)

Are people in Southern Africa who are infected with Omicron presenting with more severe disease?

Speaker 2: (03:48)

Not that we know of, uh, thus far, um, many of the symptoms and the sort of rates of, uh, of, uh, uh, of disease or the rates of which they show symptomatology has been very similar to what we've seen for past viruses. Um, so, uh, at least early on in the process, there is some optimism that it's, uh, um, the symptoms that you will get are pretty much the same as what we've seen from previous versions or previous variants of the virus.

Speaker 1: (04:22)

What are the major factors then that set Omicron apart from Delta with regards to side effects and transmissibility?

Speaker 2: (04:29)

The primary concern has to be that this particular variant of the virus is going to basically be more fit than for example, the Delta variant that's out there. Um, so that it might persist for long periods of time in our population. And we're obviously concerned about the idea that, you know, we're ultimately going to have to learn to live with the virus, because it's just going to continue to mutate because there's so many people out there who are not protected against infection.

Speaker 1: (04:56)

What role does the high rate of disease circulating in unvaccinated? People play in mutating, a virus like this,

Speaker 2: (05:03)

It plays a huge role. Um, it, it's, uh, very similar to sort of the things that we were taught in high school and in college, um, really about simple virology. And that is that, um, when you have, uh, an infectious entity like a virus that has a very high mutation rate, if you will give it a host that is susceptible, it will continue to change. And those changes that make it more fit will ultimately pass through the population. And that is exactly what we're seeing, uh, with the alpha than the Delta. And perhaps even now the Omicron variant is that we're just seeing more fit versions of the virus. And one of the things that is of primary concern to many of us is that, you know, the virus is mutating to become more fit and those who are unvaccinated, but it's also mutating to become more fit in those who are vaccinated because we're giving it the opportunity by having so many people in our population who are susceptible to the virus by not having the vaccinated.

Speaker 1: (06:13)

So how do you distinguish a new Corona virus from a SARS cov two various

Speaker 2: (06:18)

In general, we sequenced these genomes. I mean, that's how we identified this sort of our original SARS cov two, uh, just by sequencing the full genome. And the technology now is available to do these sorts of things rapidly. If you suspect someone has a viral infection that you do not have a test for it, you can literally take their cells, extract their DNA and RNA and sequence it and look for viral structures. And it just so happens that, you know, SARS, cov two is a Corona virus, very similar to other coronaviruses that we've seen before. Um, so it's very easy to assemble these smaller genomes from that, uh, material so that, uh, anyone who is infected or displaying symptoms because sequencing is so prevalent. And so cost-effective now across the world, we have the ability to sort of sequence and figure out whether we're seeing something new, whether we're seeing something that is basically a newer version of something we've seen before, or whether we're just seeing the same old thing that we've seen before. All of those things are possible in a very rapid time for

Speaker 1: (07:29)

Some have said that the travel bands instituted in countries like South Africa are not effective measures to contain the new variant. Do you agree with that?

Speaker 2: (07:37)

I do agree that it's probably not going to be effective with that said though, by having these travel bans, you can perhaps alter the curve at least a little bit, meaning that it goes up a bit more slowly than it would otherwise. So that places may be able to alter the curve slightly just by instituting some type of a travel ban. They will not be able to prevent this virus from ultimately making it into their population. And of course, if it is as fit as many people believe it is already, there's obviously the potential that it will take over and become the new dominant variant.

Speaker 1: (08:16)

I've been speaking with Dr. David pride, infectious disease specialist, and virologist at UC San Diego, Dr. Price. Thank you very much for joining us today. No

Speaker 2: (08:25)

Problem.

Speaker 1: (08:31)

Who would have thought sewage would be of any value, especially in the fight against COVID? Well, scientists at UC San Diego are now using it to detect the presence of the Alma Cron variant early. Joining me to explain just how this all works is smoothie. Karthikeyan postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego school of medicine and lead on the wastewater screening project smoothie. Welcome.

Speaker 3: (08:55)

Thank you for having me. So first,

Speaker 1: (08:57)

What is the significance of sewage in the fight against COVID

Speaker 3: (09:01)

And when the pandemic first started, and there were not enough testing rates, but there were high prevalence rates. We have to somehow keep up with tracking the actual or true infection dynamics. This is specifically important because now we know people who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic and still spread the virus to other people. So sewage is, um, agnostic in that way. So anyone who's infected can potentially shed the virus in their stool, your respect to of the disease severity. So looking for the star scope, two vital loads, and the RNA in the sewage will essentially give us a snapshot of how well a community is doing in terms of SARS, cov, two infection.

Speaker 1: (09:42)

Um, how much sooner would you be able to detect the Omicron variant by testing wastewater than through a regular no swab test? For example,

Speaker 3: (09:52)

Actually just depends on how frequently or how intensively we're testing for, in, for instance, with the alpha and the Delta variance, we actually picked both of them up about two weeks ahead in our wastewater. Then we saw them in our clinical swabs. The main advantage sewage offers is that it does not depend on someone actually going to get tested or choosing to get tested. And it's very likely that someone who does not think they have symptoms would be potentially infected, and there's no chance that, you know, someone who is not showing any symptoms is actually while interiorly going to go get tested, unless they think they've been exposed, but wastewater will pick that signal up no matter what, whether you're choosing to get tested or not. If you're infected, we'll still pick it up in the wastewater.

Speaker 1: (10:38)

And so at this point, you've not picked up any of the Omicron variant in your samples.

Speaker 3: (10:44)

That is correct, but however, we haven't sequenced the latest samples yet, and those are going on the next week and this week. So our samples range from the entire idea of UC San Diego campus. In addition to that, we also get waste water samples from a bunch of different schools around the San Diego school districts. And in addition, we also sample the San Diego counties main wastewater treatment plant at point Loma that wastewater treatment plant aggregates waste or sewage from the entire San Diego county, which captures about two and a half million residents. So that one gives us a bigger picture of what are the main lineages or variants of concern circling in the entire San Diego county. And, um, our, um, data so far has shown that, um, the wastewater actually provides a really accurate estimate of the relative abundances or proportions of the circulating lineages with a lot of times the new or emerging variants appearing in based water ahead of our clinical detection.

Speaker 1: (11:48)

So tell me, how does this work? How do you all actually collect the wastewater? So we

Speaker 3: (11:53)

Have, um, wastewater sampling rural that are placed at manholes, our sewer systems throughout campus, for instance, um, UCFD has about 130 of these auto samplers that are programmed to collect, um, wastewater at every given interval. So we can program them to collect every 15 minutes throughout the day, and then it collects it in a bottle and stores it. So that next day we just pick up these bottles and screened for the SARS cov two viral RNA in them. So in campus we have about 360 campus buildings that are covered by our Bayswater program. So in essence, the entirety of UC San Diego campus is covered by the Reese water surveillance program. And we screened for the source code to RNA every day in all of these buildings. And every time we see a positive, we alert the building's residents saying that someone there is potentially infected and they sh they should go get tested.

Speaker 3: (12:49)

Once that person is identified, they're moved to an isolation dorm. So this is something that is being done every day. So we sample in the morning and we get the results of the evening. So within the same day, we can notify the buildings that have a potential infected individual in them. And this is especially important because we don't have any mandated testing, um, testing policies on campus, because most of them are vaccinated at this point. So unless someone gets a notification saying, um, there was a wastewater positive, it's very unlikely that they're going to go and seek out clinical testing for the county. We do the same thing. We pick up wastewater samples every day, five days a week from the school districts. These are all school elementary schools and middle schools distributed across the San Diego county. And we screen for the Sanchez group to viral RNA in the samples as well. And every time we find a positive, we alert the principals of those schools so they can notify the staff and the parents of the students who are in that school on that day.

Speaker 1: (13:50)

How helpful has this method of detection for the presence of COVID been in the past?

Speaker 3: (13:56)

So it's extremely effective because a lot of times, if it gives you a good lead time, that gives the public health enough time to adjust their interventions accordingly on campus, especially it enabled the detection of 85% of our campus infected individuals earlier than what clinical or diagnostic testing would have done.

Speaker 1: (14:16)

And so at this point, no detection of Omicron here, but given another week, we may have a different picture.

Speaker 3: (14:23)

That is correct. So we're still processing samples from this week. So yeah, it, it could all change quickly.

Speaker 1: (14:30)

I've been speaking with Smithy, Karthikeyan postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego school of medicine and lead on the wastewater screening project. Some Ruthie, thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker 3: (14:41)

Your walk, hope you have a wonderful day.

Speaker 1: (14:50)

This is

Speaker 5: (14:50)

KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavenaugh with Jade Hyman. The December 9th celebration takes place in bellboy park this weekend, but just like last year, the event will be an in-car drive-through experience with food vendors and entertainment that drive through decision might've seemed like an overabundance of caution a couple of weeks ago, but now with the new Omicron variant, it seems like a wise choice that tastes of December nights event starts tomorrow. And it was happening through Sunday in the inspiration point, parking lots near bell boa park. And joining me is the city of San Diego special events and filming department, executive director, Natasha Collura, and Natasha. Welcome.

Speaker 3: (15:33)

Thank you. Can

Speaker 5: (15:34)

You explain how this drive-through version of December nights will work?

Speaker 3: (15:39)

Absolutely people will be coming in through inspiration point way off of park Boulevard. They'll drive through, they'll get their map, which has a list of all the vendors and their menu items. So we'll have a chance to take a look and see where they want to stop at and what they'd like to eat. And they can go through the various vendors and decide if they want to try a different vendor. There's a passing light in our main lot. They can jump in that passing lane and then head over to the vendor that they would like to order from. So there's a little bit of something for, for everyone. And

Speaker 5: (16:11)

Do people stay in their cars to order the

Speaker 3: (16:13)

Food? Yes, people will be staying in their vehicles for everybody's safety and hopefully to keep everybody moving through the event and to get to as many locations as possible. But it is a drive-thru. There is an option though, a very limited option for those who do not have access to a vehicle. Uh, we do have electric carts that will be driving through and people can queue up and wait for a cart. We'll have about three to four available. Again, it's a limited opportunity, but we did want to offer an option for those without vehicles.

Speaker 5: (16:44)

What other kinds of safety precautions are in place?

Speaker 3: (16:47)

The drive-through is designed to keep everybody safe and, uh, tell, eliminate the crowds and the interactions between all the individuals. As you know, our traditional December nights is 350,000 people over two days. And this is something that again, is designed to keep people safe and then their vehicles and being able to move through, uh, in the safety of their cars.

Speaker 5: (17:08)

No, I checked out the taste of December nights website, and you certainly have a lot of food. Can you give us an idea of the range of tastes that are available?

Speaker 3: (17:18)

Absolutely. So we have amazing fade. We have Kenyan food, we have Cajun food, next chicken food, you know, for, for little ones, maybe we have the corn dogs. We have, um, Blasian food. There really is something for everybody. And we also have the international cottages from Bebo park who have home-baked goods from all around the world.

Speaker 5: (17:40)

Now there's also entertainment. How does that work?

Speaker 3: (17:42)

We have a state located in the middle, and there's a list of the entertainment schedule for when there'll be during the event. It's on the website, San diego.gov/tastes of December nights. And so you can check out the schedule and you'll be able to hear a little bit of entertainment as you drive through

Speaker 5: (18:00)

And who are some of the performers?

Speaker 3: (18:02)

So we have a variety of performers. We have dancers, we have singers, we have a whole list of performers that you can find on our website and can check out and see, uh, hopefully you'll be able to view them as you drive by.

Speaker 5: (18:15)

This is the second year for the drive-through taste of December nights at bellboy park. How popular was it last year?

Speaker 3: (18:21)

Yeah, it was very successful. Last year, we had over 4,000 cars over the three-day period, but we have redesigned the format to get even more vehicles through more quickly and be able to experience more of the food vendors and the variety that we have available.

Speaker 5: (18:36)

And what are you expecting this weekend?

Speaker 3: (18:39)

We expect it to be another successful event. Uh, the first 500 cars a day will receive a goody bag with some fun items, like a bike light from SANDAG, a reusable straw from think Ballou. And everybody gets a bag. We'll get a free ice cream coupon at handles homemade ice cream in Pacific beach. So we are expecting to be a great event and we hope to see everybody there.

Speaker 5: (19:01)

Are you concerned at all that the concern about the new variant will keep people away.

Speaker 3: (19:07)

We have actually been in contact with county public health, and again, uh, you know, the same precautions that have been in place for COVID are still in place. Um, so we do encourage everyone to be safe. We're being safe by having the strive through event. So we feel that this is actually a great opportunity for those who are concerned, who want to remain cautious, that this is an alternative to perhaps other events, um, because it keeps them safe in their vehicles and provides them an opportunity to get out and celebrate the holidays.

Speaker 5: (19:37)

Now, people can also give back and support charities during the taste of December nights. Tell us about the collection drives.

Speaker 3: (19:44)

We are very excited to have the charitable giving elements included this year. So one of the elements is a change for change opportunity so that if you have any spare change, we want you to donate that we're trying to collect a thousand pounds of change to help homeless youth in San Diego, through the YMCAs community support services. We also are asking for food donations for the San Diego food bank, and we'd love for people to bring those soapies carwash. We'll thank you with a free magic joke carwash card while supplies last. So please bring those canned goods. And lastly, we do have a socks and underwear drive that, uh, we would love for people to bring new socks and underwear to donate to father Joe's villages for those experiencing homelessness.

Speaker 5: (20:28)

Now December nights has been a tradition in Balboa park for more than 40 years. And of course, taste of December nights has been adapted to keep that tradition going. How do you see the future for the December nights event? Has the city learned anything new by changing it? Because of COVID.

Speaker 3: (20:46)

We hopeful that we can return back to our traditional December nights in 2022. And of course we are ready to adapt as needed depending on the conditions next year. Um, but we are hopeful that we can return back to our events, but we will continue to be aware of any opportunities and protocols and ways to mitigate any type of health risks. And we're ready to handle that. If it comes up, we are looking at ways for

Speaker 5: (21:11)

The entire community to be able to come to December nights and looking at access opportunities for those that may not have a vehicle to drive down and want to ride their bike or take public transportation. So we want to definitely expand our access and our mobility options for next year as well. So that is something that has come out of this pandemic is how can we do more for this particular event in the future? So December nights takes place this Friday through Sunday from 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM in the inspiration point, parking lots near Bel boa park. And I have been speaking with Natasha Collara executive director of the city of San Diego, special events and filming department. Natasha, thank you.

Speaker 3: (21:54)

Thank you so much.

Speaker 1: (22:04)

California rules meant to protect outdoor workers from the dangers of wildfire. Smoke are almost never enforced. That's the finding of an investigation by K Q E D and the California newsroom for Rita. John Viola Romero has the latest on the ongoing series, dangerous air

Speaker 6: (22:22)

Breathing wildfire smoke can lead to serious health problems like worsening asthma and heart failure. So when there's unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke, California employers are required to reduce exposure such as by moving workers indoors or providing N 95 masks. But in Fresno, the state's top producing agricultural county, many farm workers I spoke with say, they've continued to work in heavy smoke with no protection In a field by the highway and men pools dry great vines from the soil. He's worked in us agriculture for 15 years. I hand them a wrapped in 95 mask and ask if his boss ever offered him one

Speaker 7: (23:07)

No matter. [inaudible]

Speaker 6: (23:14)

No at work. They haven't given us masks at all. He says, we're not using his name because he says he fears retaliation from his employer. And like more than 40% of the state's ag workers, he's undocumented, an estimated 4 million people work outdoors in California. Over the last two years, the rules been in place. The state has faced the worst wildfire seasons on record, but the agency tasked with protecting workers, safety, cited employers violating the smoke rules just 11 times. That's according to data obtained by KQBD and the California newsroom, the official who was in charge of enforcement at CalOSHA just got a bigger job as head of federal,

Speaker 5: (23:59)

Oh morning senators will each have five minutes for a round of questions before

Speaker 6: (24:04)

During his Senate confirmation hearing the spring, Doug Parker told lawmakers a top priority is to enforce worker safety laws.

Speaker 8: (24:12)

And then we also have to be able to deliver the goods. Once those workers have the trust in us to come forward,

Speaker 6: (24:19)

He did to speak with KQBD and director as the Dan Lucido. Who's now the acting chief of CalOSHA.

Speaker 9: (24:26)

We are a leader in providing worker protection, including against smoke.

Speaker 6: (24:30)

Do you really believe that there's only 11 violations of this law over two years?

Speaker 9: (24:36)

So, first of all, we can only respond to complaints that are issued. And in, in all of the cases where we responded and found evidence of a violation, we issued a citation

Speaker 6: (24:53)

Back in the field and Fresno, the worker says he didn't know about the rules. So he couldn't complain about not getting the required protections. His employer never told them how to stay safe. On smoky days. He says other farm workers, I talked to said the same thing, And that's something the rule says employers must also do in a language workers, understand can't do ag management employees, workers in this field.

Speaker 10: (25:22)

We already sent over your email to our attorney. So he is the one that's going to be responding.

Speaker 6: (25:29)

Angie Garcia works at Cantu ag management. I contacted her after sending a request for comment,

Speaker 10: (25:36)

Everything necessary for them to, you know, use while they're working.

Speaker 6: (25:42)

The attorney told KQBD that company is in compliance with the smoke safety rules, but declined to provide any evidence what's really needed advocates and state lawmakers say our strike teams of Callow Shan specters in the fields on smoky days, but a bill to do just that was gutted in the state legislature earlier this year after governor Gavin Newsome's administration posted,

Speaker 5: (26:08)

That was for Rita John vellum Romero with the latest on the ongoing series, dangerous air. The holidays are wrapped in a season of giving and donations in the wake of the COVID catastrophe. Basic food has become an even greater gift for those in need. And right now community college students are among those who need it. Most KPBS education reporter mg Perez shares, startling statistics, and some stories of students hungry for hope

Speaker 11: (26:45)

Sounds of a food drive in action. Hunger is on the move among California's community college students. The state confirms half of them, 50% don't have the money or resources to buy enough food.

Speaker 12: (26:58)

I have some more mashed potatoes up

Speaker 11: (26:59)

Here. 18 year old, CJ is a freshman at San Diego Mesa college. He moved here from San Jose with plans to keep playing soccer and begin his education toward a career in civil engineering. Just before Thanksgiving, he joined hundreds of fellow students lined up in their cars in one of basis parking garages. This is the third annual pack. The pantry food drive a community collaboration between the college, the San Diego food bank and California coast credit union established by teachers in 1929 to improve education, never expecting in 2021, students would be going hungry. Christine Lee speaks for Cal coast

Speaker 13: (27:42)

Because what happens is these students have the potential of, you know, dropping a class missing class, or even not achieving their academics to the potential that they normally might.

Speaker 11: (27:52)

CJ is grateful to be able to fill up his car with so many cans and boxes.

Speaker 12: (27:57)

This helps me because then I don't have to go grocery shopping and I can also afford rent. This is like, there's a lot of food and it's like, it helped me in the long run salary. I'm able to eat

Speaker 11: (28:12)

Mesa college also hosted an early Thanksgiving dinner for students who could use an extra meal. Hunger insecurity is happening on four year university campuses to the university of California reports. 44% of its students often go hungry. And 14% of them don't have stable housing. That percentage is even higher for community college students. When you live in apartment student housing,

Speaker 14: (28:37)

Currently homeless, you are

Speaker 11: (28:41)

Alex Montez represents one of those statistics and he is determined to turn it into his success story. He's an immigrant from Columbia trying to find housing through the San Diego LGBT community center. At the moment he uses Mesa college's basic needs resource center called the stand where there is donated clothing and food.

Speaker 14: (29:02)

It helps me a lot because my budget is really, really limited. So I'm constantly hungry.

Speaker 11: (29:07)

Johanna Oliman is the stand coordinator who also comfort students when they need it. Most,

Speaker 15: (29:12)

They don't have anybody who cares, anybody who will help them. And so listening to those stories can get emotionally overwhelming, but we do everything we can. And most of them leave feeling at least that the college loves them. So on this side, we have all your canned foods

Speaker 11: (29:26)

Goods at Cal state, San Marcos, they packed a new pantry. The ribbon was just cut on the school student Cougar pantry, which is now 1200 square feet filled with food, both non-perishable and frozen. There are diapers and hygiene products for struggling students who are also parents all provided by feeding San Diego, the San Diego food bank and local grocery stores as another solution to the problem. Alondra Gutierrez is the pantry.

Speaker 16: (29:55)

Yeah. Having access to a meal or, you know, ingredients that can put together a meal that way you're not stressing over having to worry about what to eat well on top of that, having to worry about different stressors that come from being

Speaker 11: (30:07)

That's food for thought as back at Mesa college, Alex Montez begins in education for his future,

Speaker 14: (30:13)

Probably develop or help develop some of the new generation of bionic arms and lambs. That's probably what I went to a chic

Speaker 11: (30:23)

Feed students while nourishing their dream.

Speaker 5: (30:28)

Joining me is KPBS education reporter mg Perez mg. Welcome. Hello. Now this story of course takes place during the holidays. When food distribution services are at their peak, but to these college pantries operate year round,

Speaker 11: (30:43)

We do operate year round. But as is the case in the rest of the world, we all seem to think about donating, uh, at the holidays. And that is why this story came to our attention and we are happy to promote it.

Speaker 5: (30:56)

So what kinds of foods are available to students at the pantries?

Speaker 11: (31:00)

There's much more of a variety than there used to be. It used to just be canned goods and non-perishables, but thanks to donations, there is refrigeration at many of the pantries, including the two that we visited. So there is frozen food offered, and that obviously increases the variety that is available for students

Speaker 5: (31:20)

Right now. I think many of us from previous generations can remember early days of struggling on ramen noodles and maybe beans and rice, but the need seems so much greater for students. Now, one of the reasons for that,

Speaker 11: (31:34)

It is absolutely the cost of living and where we live. We live in Southern California, San Diego, where the cost of living is so high and inflation is in the news every day. And think about what that might look like in today's terms for students who are just trying to survive. If they were making minimum wage, let's say $15 an hour. That's about $2,000. Maybe take home on a monthly basis. And guess what? Rent averages in San Diego about that amount? So survival is really a challenge for many of these students.

Speaker 5: (32:07)

It sounds like feeding San Diego and the San Diego food bank are taking the lead in providing pantries for students. Are they getting any government help?

Speaker 11: (32:16)

Actually, yes. The good news is the state of California has designated millions of dollars to fund pantries. Like the ones that we have talked about and the ones that exist at so many colleges, that funding is to pay for people, to run them and for resources. So it is truly a community effort, uh, that the government is involved, especially here in California

Speaker 5: (32:41)

And are students eligible for the CalFresh food stamp program

Speaker 11: (32:45)

They are, but it's a fine line that you want because some, in some cases, one student that I talked to, she just made enough to not get those benefits and it's not much, uh, so it really is a challenge. That's a great place to start for them because it's a couple of hundred dollars a month that they can use to purchase food.

Speaker 5: (33:06)

Now, one of the students we heard in your story was homeless. Is that also a big problem for community college students?

Speaker 11: (33:13)

You would be surprised at how many students are homeless and homeless can be couch surfing. Homeless can be, I'm staying with a relative for a few weeks, but then I've got to find someplace else to live. This story, particularly concerns, community college students, many of the four year universities have dorms, and that's not the case for community colleges. So those students are at a particular disadvantage in having to find not only food, but a roof to put over their head.

Speaker 5: (33:44)

Now for a lot of people, it's tough admitting you need help, that you can't afford basic necessities like food. Is there any effort made to overcome the stigma? Students might feel an accepting help from a food pantry.

Speaker 11: (33:57)

Absolutely. The ones that we visited the stand at Mesa college, uh, truly is set up like a department store. There is clothing, uh, and it's also like a grocery store where the food is located. So students have a chance to actually shop. It's not a matter of just being handed something, but having a choice in what you put into your body and you use as a resource

Speaker 5: (34:21)

For the students that are struggling, it must take an awful lot of determination to keep up with their studies and keep their dreams alive. W what do they tell you about that?

Speaker 11: (34:30)

Worrying as heart-wrenching as this story is, and it is to be interviewing a student who is homeless and still working so hard to get good grades in a degree. What I want you to know is that I saw a lot of hope and resilience. And as I've talked about, I'm a former teacher. And one thing that I've, that I was committed to, to do above anything else was bring hope to my students. And I want people to know that there is hope and that these students are working through some very difficult challenges, and we wish them the best.

Speaker 5: (35:03)

Now, I have a feeling that some people listening will probably like to help, how can they get involved?

Speaker 11: (35:10)

Good news is that many colleges across the county are offering pantry services. So my suggestion would be to find a college near you, a college where you have students attending, or that you have an interest in and go to their website at Mesa college, it's called the stand. And if you go to their website, there is a tab that will make it easy for you to donate and help. Uh, the same is true at city college and the other community colleges

Speaker 17: (35:37)

In the

Speaker 5: (35:37)

County. I've been speaking with KPBS education, reporter, mg Perez and mg. Thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 17: (35:46)

[inaudible].

Speaker 5: (36:01)

This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavenaugh with Jade Hyman San Diego's live music scene has been slowly returning to life in this past several months, though. The pandemic's long shadow still lingers for the first time. Since early 2020, the San Diego band baby Bush got will return to the stage playing a show at the Casbah this Saturday night centered on the music of art pop music, pioneer Kate Bush, baby Bush SCA is a vibrant and eclectic musical experience featuring many of San Diego's most talented female musicians. Here's baby Bush, go with cloud busting.

Speaker 17: (36:41)

[inaudible]

Speaker 5: (37:04)

Here to tell us about what they've been up to since they last performed and how the band has been changed by the pandemic is founder and lead vocalist of baby Bush, Natasha [inaudible] and Natasha. Welcome.

Speaker 18: (37:17)

Hi, thank you for having me.

Speaker 5: (37:19)

I wonder, are you feeling nervous about performing live after such a long time?

Speaker 18: (37:23)

Maybe a little bit. I'm feeling very excited and the anticipation is, is what's getting me and just making sure that everything goes well, just a lot of work and preparation. So just keeping my eye on the ball,

Speaker 5: (37:38)

Maybe Bush fit is based on interpreting the music of British singer songwriter, Kate bushes. I said, and your performances are described as half theater, half rock band

Speaker 17: (37:49)

[inaudible]

Speaker 5: (38:04)

That was baby Bush, go with running up the hill. Now, how would you describe the baby Bush ska band?

Speaker 18: (38:10)

I would describe baby Bush as a beautiful bewitching power house of a show with eight women. There is choreographed dancing for part vocal, harmonies, um, lots of humor and sincerity and magic.

Speaker 5: (38:28)

And you don't like the term cover band. Why not?

Speaker 18: (38:33)

Well, I think when people think of tributes or cover bands, they think of imitation. And, uh, I know that that's not what baby Bush is about for us and our audiences say that as well. You know, it's more of an experience and this beautiful interpretation of her music. And so there is no imitating Kate Bush, you know, we all sing her and it's amazing because I really think it does take eight women to do Kate Bush. And that's, what's really fun about the show.

Speaker 5: (39:00)

You know, although baby Bush got his back, it's not the same band as, before the pandemic tragically, a member of the band passed away over the last year. Can you tell us about that?

Speaker 18: (39:11)

Yeah. Um, Nina Laelani Darian, she was our dark Bush. We all have Bush names and she was our keyboardist and an amazing vocalist and a dear friend. And she was part of many, many projects here. She co-founded voices of our city choir. So when she passed away, it just sent ripples through the entire music community of San Diego. And especially for us, it was really hard. Um, just kind of finding the strength and to continue this project after she died and, uh, finding that way through, through all the grief and, and wanting to honor her and just not wanting our story to end, you know, with her death and the pandemic. So bringing in these two members has helped us find that spirit to continue on and honor her through, um, the music of Kate Bush and connect with the audiences. Again, what we're really excited about. Here's a little

Speaker 5: (40:05)

Clip of this women's work featuring Nina Laelani, Dearing

Speaker 19: (40:09)

[inaudible]. Thank you.

Speaker 5: (40:51)

Tell us a little bit more about that decision to move on after this terrible rupture in your band. Was it a group decision?

Speaker 18: (40:59)

Yeah, I think that we all collectively felt this urge to play again together. So, you know, I asked everyone at the new year, do you all want to continue? And if so, like, um, you know, this is my vision of how we can do that. And, and everyone sort of made their re recommitment, so it was like we got married again or something. And, and so, yeah, that was really beautiful. And Marie came on board and Heather, and, and we've been working the last year to try to make that possible.

Speaker 5: (41:28)

No, besides that great loss, how else has the pandemic changed the and your own personal approach to making music?

Speaker 18: (41:36)

Well, I think it's just put everything into perspective. You know, I, I don't think any of us will take for granted the privilege it is to play live and, and to connect with audiences and to have to perform, you know, um, and I think that's, what's going to be the most exciting to get on stage. I personally, haven't been on stage since the pandemic. I know some of the other girls have, but I think it's just that, you know, just making sure to treasure those moments together and the time we have in this band and, and to never take it for granted again.

Speaker 5: (42:07)

Now, baby Bush has a band that thrives on audience participation, dancing, partying, the audiences, part of this magic experience. How did your music go on without that, during the pandemic,

Speaker 18: (42:21)

That was hard, but we actually started a Patrion. And, um, that was a really beautiful way to stay connected to the fans. And to also continue to dive into the world of Kate Bush, we called it our school of magic. And so we all, I started a podcast and we dove into the different songs and we made videos and we even cooked recipes that Kate better made. And so that sort of community that patron provides was a wonderful way to continue living in the music and connect with fans.

Speaker 5: (42:51)

Will you be performing this Saturday at the Casbah? Are they going to be your standards or new music?

Speaker 18: (42:57)

So we have added a couple songs and we've also added a Memorial arch and towards the end of the show for Nina, um, where we sing a few songs and we hand out programs and, and we sing her song that she, um, used to sing with us, which would bring audiences to their knees every time that it was, this woman's work that you played earlier. And, um, so yeah, we have this whole moment plan so that we can recognize and acknowledge her passing without actually talking about it. Instead, we can say it all through the lyrics and the music of Kate Bush.

Speaker 5: (43:31)

It sounds like Nina's passing is still pretty raw for you.

Speaker 18: (43:35)

Uh, yeah, I mean, she, she was one of my closest friends and baby Bush could really is a sisterhood. So I think about her every day. And I think, you know, bringing baby Bush get back to the stage, you know, it's actually four years exactly that we even first played her for show the Casbah. So there's just a lot of cosmic poetry involved in this return. And, um, and so her memory is very much burning alive in us, for sure.

Speaker 5: (44:02)

What is it about Cape bushes music that continues to inspire so much of your work

Speaker 18: (44:08)

As an artist? I, she has pulled so much inspiration for her songs, you know, books, movies. So she's like this very interested person in the world, you know, and she's, she's been, so it's almost like this child, who's just like fascinated by everything. So when you listened to her discography and you hear these songs, you know, that so much of them are stories and, and, and she is a performer, you know, using her use of mime and theater and dance and a cinema it's, it's just so rich. It's like this bottomless inspiration. And, um, her story is just fascinating. She's unlike any other artists I think, and she has a serious cult following, and it's kind of remarkable that we are the only CAPAs tribute in America. And, um, and I think that that just adds to the mystery. She's a mysterious woman. And, uh, and just so talented,

Speaker 5: (45:05)

Definitely know about baby Bush.

Speaker 18: (45:07)

I think she does because when we went to the UK, after 10 months of being a band, we, we crowdfunded to go on this pilgrimage tour. We called it to the UK and, um, her ex partner and bass player Del Palmer, uh, actually found out about us. And he wrote to us before we went. So we knew that he knew of us. And he came to our very first show in London. It was absolutely terrifying. We, that we're like, they're going to hate us, but they love this. And so did he, and, and we asked him if he would pass on a letter to her from us and he did. And so I know she knows about us, but she's probably busy making another album, hopefully.

Speaker 5: (45:46)

So after the Casbah water, the plans for baby Bush Bushra,

Speaker 18: (45:49)

We hope that, uh, we will do another set of shows in the spring, right before we go back to the UK. So we are planning to return and do Ireland and Wales and England and Scotland in May, 2022.

Speaker 5: (46:03)

Okay. Then I've been speaking with Natasha [inaudible] lead vocalist and founder of baby Bush. Thank you so much for speaking with us. Thank

Speaker 18: (46:13)

You for having me,

Speaker 5: (46:14)

Baby Bush got at the Casbah is this Saturday doors open at eight 30.

Despite the confirmed presence of the new Omicron strain, President Biden indicated in today that new lockdowns or federal mandates will not be a part of the plan to fight the virus. Plus, scientists at UCSD are now using wastewater to detect the presence of the Omicron variant early. Then, the December nights celebration takes place in Balboa Park this weekend - but just like last year the event will be an in-car drive-through experience with food vendors and entertainment. Also, community college students are among those most in need of food donations. Later, California rules meant to protect outdoor workers from the dangers of wildfire smoke are almost never enforced. Lastly, for the first time since early 2020, the San Diego band Baby Bushka will return to the stage, playing a show at the Casbah this Saturday night.