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Rise in European COVID cases signals troubling trend for US

 March 16, 2022 at 2:23 PM PDT

COVID cases are rising in some countries. What does that mean for us ? We know there's already internal signs within this country that the virus is coming back. I'm Jade Hindman with Christina Kim. Maureen is off. This is KPBS Midday Edition. As Ukrainians seek asylum at the U.S. border , racist immigration policies are highlighted. There was two Mexican guys who stayed in business for 12 hours and officers from the U.S. train them just like we don't have place for you guys. Sorry. Still struggling to adjust to daylight saving. We'll tell you about proposed legislation that could help. And a look at how performers are recovering from the pandemic. That's ahead on Midday Edition. As global leaders continue to drop restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID 19 , all too familiar warning signs are emerging that point to the same uncomfortable reminder this pandemic isn't over yet. Rising COVID infections in the United Kingdom and Western Europe are coming just weeks after longstanding efforts to mitigate the virus were dropped. Nations formerly deemed model countries for their swift COVID response tactics are now contending with some of their highest daily caseload ever , all while a highly transmissible sub variant fuels outbreaks overseas. So what do these signs mean for us here ? Joining me now with the answer to that question and more is Dr. Eric Topol , director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Hoya. Dr. Topol , welcome back to the program. Thanks , J. Always good to be with you. Likewise. So now Europe has seen a dramatic increase in cases as of late. What could this trend mean for us here in San Diego ? Well , things are really quiet in San Diego right now. Wastewater surveillance looks very favorable. But what's going on throughout Western Europe , a significant new wave is certainly that steam. A lot of that is related to this , as you mentioned , B.A. to sister variant of our crime one. But also , as you mentioned , the lack of mitigation and also the immunity waning of our vaccine. So it seems inevitable that here in the United States , we're going to see a new wave , hopefully not a major one , but it looks like it's inevitable. If you had to calculate the timing of that new wave , what would you say ? Well , we're five , four , five when UK and Europe have warned us of being 2 to 3 weeks later. It's showing up here five out of five. This is the sixth warning they've given us. So in the next few weeks , we should start seeing indeed our wastewater surveillance in other places in the United States , we're seeing in some places more than a thousand fold increases. So we know there's already internal signs within this country that the virus is coming back. I mean , what do we know about the Omicron sub variant B2 ? It's a lot different than the one , the original one that led to this remarkable spread ability like we've never seen before. I actually jaded , never thought we'd see a variant that could be more transmissible , but this one is about 30% more transmissible. So that spread is even further enhanced when you have no mask , no mitigation measures of any kind , and you have waning of the immunity , whether that's from vaccines or from infection , acquired immunity. So it's already a variant that is different pretty substantially from the original American and it's human behavior as well as vaccine of potency wearing off. That's putting us in a tough position. So it's more transmissible. But do are the symptoms any different ? No , it doesn't look like it makes for worse illness. But remember , our crime is not at all mild. If not more disease causing or the term pathogenic. Virulent , but it's virulent for sure. Pfizer is seeking authorization for a second booster for people 65 and over. What does the data say about the need for this and how well that could work ? We have data from two studies from Israel , one that looked at infection. That's being published later today where there wasn't much protection at all from a fourth shot from Armstrong , as you would expect , because it wasn't much from the third shot. But there's another study that came out February 1st. So several weeks ago from Israel with over a million people , 60 and over where there was a four fold or more protection against severe illness from the fourth shot , as compared to a large group of people who only had had the third shot. So we do have some data. It isn't that we know how durable that benefit is , but it certainly is protective. And that's why I do think that people over 60 and older will benefit from a fourth shot until we have something better to come along if this wave as we are seeing , materializes , because at the moment there's not a lot of circulating virus , but there could be in the weeks ahead. Does this additional demand for booster shots underscore the global vaccine inequality we've seen and the lack of availability in poorer nations ? Yes , we haven't yet established this vital mission of vaccination throughout the world , this equity cardinal objective. We need to do that. At the same time , we have places like China that's lighting up and two of the largest three cities have a major outbreak and their vaccines. They have a lot of vaccines there , but they're not very good against armor. So we may see a variant in a country that has lots of vaccines , no less , as you're getting to a lot of countries throughout the world where vaccination has barely begun. So these are the places where new variants can take hold. And especially concerning is China , because of its massive population and its zero-covid policy with vaccines that are not that effective , that would be a suspect place of a new variant to come along in the months ahead. Also , is there a consensus on what the current definition of fully vaccinated is ? Well , in my view , it should be three shots. If you're using vaccines alone , if you're relying on a prior confirmed COVID infection , if you had had just one shot to be enough , but basically four vaccines is a three shot deal before shot , maybe in high risk people of advanced age , certainly immunocompromised. But the problem we have , and this can't be emphasized enough to listeners is that we have a poor booster rate in this country. I mean , 29% of the population has gotten a booster and people over 65 and older , only 65%. And that compares to 90% or more in many countries in Europe and Asia for people over 65 and 70% overall in the population for three shot in these other countries. So we are not doing well. We're ranked number 70th in the world for boosters. We've got to get that up because that's the main protection at the individual level , family level and the population level. And what do you think's to blame most for the low rate of booster shots ? I think it's our country's poor management messaging communication. Only yesterday did I see an ad on television about how a booster can save your life and reduce markedly hospitalizations. But that has not been the case. We knew this data for boosters back in July and August last year , and it took till the end of November before the CDC ever said that all people age 18. Now it's 12 , 18 and older should get a booster. But they were very reluctant to get behind the booster story. And now there's still lots of confusion out there , lots of reluctance. And so , ironically , these are people who are willing to take the two shots , but we don't have them getting a third shot because we didn't emphasize how incredibly protective it is , 96% against death , the third shot , 95% against hospitalization. It's phenomenally we're very lucky that boosters can get to that ultra high efficacy level , but we're not getting enough people to get booster shots. Long COVID continues to be one of the least understood aspects of the virus in general. Has any recent data illuminated our understanding of it at all ? We know that there's a kind of mosaic. There's some people that have immune response issues that is autoimmune or persistent virus that's evoking the immune system. And then there's others that they have this so-called autonomic nervous system , overactivity or lack of regulation. The main thing , though , is that it's not uncommon. It's very disabling for many people. We have millions , perhaps as many as 10 million Americans that are suffering still , and we don't have a remedy. The only thing we know that works is preventing COVID from occurring , getting vaccinated. That's our best shot of preventing long COVID , but we still don't have a treatment. And that's highly frustrating for those people that are really having severe symptoms now up to even two years later. In the coming weeks , what are your thoughts about safety measures and the need for masks ? Well , for the people who are vulnerable , like 60 plus , certainly immunocompromised , it's really important as ever to wear high quality masks when going indoors , avoid if possible. But if you're going to go indoors , gear up and obviously you want to be in places that are either outdoors or have really good ventilation , air filtration , you know , for for people who are not in a high risk group when there's not a lot of circulating virus , as there is in San Diego right now , it's it's it's we're in good shape. But keep an eye on things keep an eye on the wastewater in San Diego and on the new cases and the testing percent positivity , because there will be a time in the weeks ahead likely that more people we need to gear up rather than just those who are at high risk. I've been speaking with Dr. Eric Topol , director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Hoya. Dr. Topol , thank you very much for joining us today. Thank you. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the U.S. Congress this morning , asking for President Biden to continue sanctions and step up as a leader , adding It's not enough to be the leader of the needs to be the leader on the wolves , being the leader on the means to be the leader of this. President Biden is expected to respond to these remarks later today announcing 800 million additional dollars in aid. Meanwhile , Ukraine's capital , Kiev , remains in a 35 hour lockdown and over 3 million Ukrainian refugees have left due to the war , according to the U.N.. Many refugees are arriving at the US-Mexico border in the hopes of making it into the United States. KPBS investigative border reporter Gustavo Solis has been following some of these families and he joins us now for more. Welcome back , Gustavo. Hello , Christina. Thank you. Gustavo , you spoke with Natalia Polyakov , a Ukrainian refugee who fled on the fifth day of the Russian invasion and made it to Mexico. Why did she decide to go to Mexico and how long did she have to wait there ? Yeah , well , this is actually Natalia Polyakov , a second time fleeing Russian aggression. She was born in Crimea and she left her home in 2014 when when Russia annexed that and went to Kiev. And now , obviously , she left again for the second time. She came to Mexico , like most war refugees in Tijuana right now , they have family in the US and that's why they're coming over here. In Natalia's case , she wanted to reunite with an aunt in California , and it's much easier for her to get a travel visa to Mexico than it is to get one to the U.S. So people are flying from Europe to Mexico and then trying to cross the border to reunite with friends and family right now. And what ? Natalia spent a total of a week in Tijuana. She actually lost count of how many times she asked Border Patrol agents to let her in. She tried walking. She tried by car. And each time she got turned around , she said basically all she did all day was try , try , try. She didn't really sleep much or shower. She depended on donations from local Tijuana and us to help her out and just ended up camped out right next to the border crossing for three days before she was finally allowed in. You U.S. She was able to cross after three days , but that's not been the experience of many other Central American and Haitian refugees waiting alongside Ukrainian refugees. Here's what Natalia told you about what she saw. There was two Mexican guys who stayed in business for 12 hours and officers from the U.S. them just like we don't have place for you guys. Sorry. And they took it. And there was a lot of families with kids from Cuba , Mexico and other countries , and nobody was allowed. So it seems like Natalia saying that there's kind of a difference in the way that some refugees are being treated. Why is Natalia's experience seemingly so different ? Well , only Customs and Border Protection can really answer that question right there. Agents have discretionary power to grant exceptions , and for whatever reason , right now they're granting them to Ukrainian asylum seekers over others. And you're getting this weird situation which is actually kind of positive and shows the strength of just community where the Ukrainian asylum seekers are asking the border patrol to also let in the Cubans and the Mexicans and the Belarusians. They're advocating for each other so that they can all get in. There's no like this idea of like , Oh , they're cutting the line or anything like that. It's like , No , they all are asking for the same thing. They're all asking for their chance to ask for asylum in the U.S. And right now , it's hard to ignore the different treatment that people from Haiti , Mexico , Central America are getting compared to the Ukrainian war refugees. I know Natalia kind of told you that herself. We can hear her own words now. Everybody deserves to be with families in warm place , with food and everything. I know a lot of these discrepancies. As you said , it's because Border Patrol is able to make these choices themselves. Can you remind us what Title 42 is and why you think it might be causing such radically different experiences at the border ? Right. Title 42 is the public health border that began in March 2020 in response to the pandemic. The Trump administration implemented it. We know now through reporting that top doctors at the CDC pushed back. They didn't want it , but the administration went over their head directly to the head of the CDC to to have it done. And it basically allows border officials to turn away asylum seekers because of the pandemic. But it also gives them the discretion to make exceptions on a case by case basis. And right now , the policy is pretty much discretionary. Right. You have individual Border Patrol agents to think who is worthy of an exception and who is not. And I mean , that isn't really the way our asylum laws are , really international asylum laws have ever worked. As part of your reporting , you spoke with immigration lawyer Blaine Bucky about the decision. She's seeing at the border in terms of how people are being treated. This is what she told you. Yeah. I mean , I think that there's no no way around it. It's it's racist policies that are being applied to black and brown people different than being applied to others. What policies as she referring to ? And what does this tell us about the current state of the country's immigration policies ? The policy she's referring to is Title 42 , the one that lets border officials essentially pick and choose who , if anyone , gets access to request asylum. And right now , it's almost impossible to ignore the optics of white European asylum seekers being let in. But black and brown asylum seekers who have been trying for two years to get in and are still getting denied. Right. Like , it's just hard to look beyond that. And just to be clear. Right. Requesting asylum is a legal right. Everyone has. And just because you requested it doesn't mean you automatically get it right. In fact , most cases are denied. But at least people get due process , right ? And right now , the vast majority of asylum seekers , they're not getting that due process. And just a quick point to be clear. There really isn't. And as far as I've been able to see , not a whole lot of animosity towards the Ukrainian war , refugees from other migrants. People are stoked that they're getting in and they just want that same opportunity for themselves. Right. It's an equity issue right now as more refugees continue to come to the US-Mexico border from Ukraine , Russia , Haiti and Central America. What do you expect to see happen in terms of available resources or the relative ease some people have coming in ? Well , there have been news reports that the Biden administration will finally get rid of Title 42 as early as next month. But but just reports I haven't seen anything official come out of Washington yet. I mean , let's not forget that President Biden ran on a promise to make our immigration system more humane. But he's resisted calls consistently from lawyers , advocates , doctors , even members of his own party now to eliminate Title 42. And until that happens , I don't really expect anything to change at the border. I've been speaking with KPBS investigative border reporter Gustavo Solis. Thank you so much. No problem. Thank you for having me. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman with Christina Kim. Maureen CAVANAUGH is off in a rare display of bipartisan agreement. Yesterday , the Senate unanimously voted to make daylight saving time permanent. The bill still would need to be approved by the House and signed by the president before being implemented in 2023. Meanwhile , similar efforts have been taken up in the California assembly as well. But as many of us struggle to spring forward this week , there seems to be differing views on how these changes could impact our health and day to day lives. Many believe moving permanently to standard time rather than daylight saving time is a better solution. Here to tell us more is Nicole Nixon , politics reporter with CAPP Radio. Nicole , welcome back to the program. Nice to be here. Thanks for having me. So what are the main arguments for and against ending switching our clocks twice a year ? There are a lot of arguments. I think the main one is just that people hate doing it. You know , we do this twice a year. It seems like every single time there are people talking about how they hate going around the house , switching their clocks , and especially hate the few days after when they're struggling to adjust to the time and the light change. So that's why I think it was really surprising when the Senate voted unanimously for this bill , because it's been an issue that is talked about a lot , but never something that Congress has actually acted on. Aside from the debate about whether or not to continue with our biannual time changes , there doesn't seem to be consensus on which time either Daylight or standard would be best to move to tell us about that. Sleep specialists and sleep doctors seem to agree that no matter what permanent switch we make this time change twice a year is detrimental to people's health. They cite statistics about increases in traffic accidents , increases in heart attacks and other cardiovascular events. And just that , you know , it really screws with people's schedule. And we all have a difficult time adjusting between the two changes. Sleep specialists and the American Association of Sleep Medicine , they recommend going to permanent standard time , which is that winter time. However , people in the business community seem to be in favor of permanent daylight time. And there actually have been several states , about 18 states , I think , that have passed legislation and are considering legislation to move their own states to permanent daylight time if and when Congress allows it. That's the big roadblock here , is that the federal government doesn't allow states to go to permanent daylight time. Well , that seems to be changing with , you know , the Senate vote this week. So what other impacts could moving to daylight saving year round have ? I think we'd have to wait and see. I feel like people talk about what they like and don't like. But either way , this is something that's time. Change is something that we've been doing for decades. And in the middle of summer when we're , you know , the time is different than we're used to it , or if we go to permanent daylight saving in the winter , when the sun's not coming up till 8 a.m. , people might change their mind , but I guess we'll have to wait and see. And , you know , no decision is permanent. I think that , you know , whether we make a time change or not or get rid of this , it could always be reversed. California state legislators have been taking up this issue for a while now. How do you think the Senate vote yesterday may impact things here ? It's a really interesting point because if you remember a few years ago in 2018 , California voters passed Prop seven. I think a lot of people thought that that bill meant that we would have a time change , but it actually just meant that the legislature could vote to either move to permanent standard time , like Arizona and Hawaii. Those are the only two states that are on permanent standard time right now. Or the legislature could ask Congress to move to permanent daylight time and make that change when it becomes legal. Prop seven didn't actually , you know , vote for or against a specific time change. Now , the legislature has not passed a bill in those in the years since to actually do that. There is a bill this year. It's by Republican Assemblyman Stephen Choi. And right now the bill says that it would move to permanent daylight time upon approval from the federal government. But he actually told me that was a mistake and he wants to move to permanent standard time. You know , the legislature , as of right now can do without permission from the federal government. So we've heard that time changes can have impacts on health and increases in things like car accidents. Is there any consensus on which solution would be best ? As with all things in the time change , there's still debate about this. On the one hand , you have sleep doctors saying that , you know , when we change our clocks , our sleep schedules get thrown off. We're more likely to make mistakes. And there are increases in car accidents , you know , those day or two after the time change. On the other hand , you have people arguing that if we got rid of the time change and we were on permanent daylight saving time , well , that would mean the sun isn't coming up in the dead of winter until 8 a.m. and that's the time when kids are walking to school. It would be dark and there's concerns about safety in that aspect , too. So it seems like there could be safety concerns on either side of the debate. So where does the legislation on time changes stand today in California ? Is it likely to pass at this point ? Well , we're still pretty early in the legislative session. There's a several months for this to be debated and possibly changed. I think if this is taken up , there will be some pretty fiery debates in the legislature , much less on social media , as we're already seeing about the merits of each potential time change and which one we should actually go with. But , you know , anything is possible at this point. I've been speaking with Nicole Mixon , politics reporter with KAP Radio. Nicole , thank you very much. Thank you. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates today in an effort to combat the high rate of inflation in the U.S. and higher interest rates mean we could see the pace of San Diego's housing market start to slow down. But the cost to buy or even rent a home here is still out of reach for many families. A new story by Voices San Diego managing editor Andrew Keates looks at the hard choices some people are making to be able to buy a home. Andrew Keith joins me now with more. Welcome. Thanks for having me. Your story chronicles the experiences of Doni Castillo and Marisela Lopez Beltran and their quest to buy a home. They chose to buy a home in Marietta. Why do they say that was the right choice for them ? What led them to to buy there instead of San Diego ? Yeah. I mean , look , I think I think they are really a classic middle class family. You know , they have to steady incomes. They have a daughter who's is 15 and they were getting ready to have another daughter. And they decided they wanted the sort of single family home that in many ways for many people defines middle class existence in this country. And they just weren't capable of doing that , even on two steady incomes in San Diego. And so they , you know , they go in , they get approved for a mortgage and they get approved at about $450,000. And that's just not going to get them a single family home here. So they're working in Chula Vista. They work in in urban San Diego. And that amount of money gets them a condo. And with a condo comes a HLA AC. And somewhere along the line they decided , well , we hear that it's a lot cheaper to live in southwest Riverside County. And so they head up there and , you know , they're sort of blown away by how much more house they can get for that amount of money. Of course , that came with other costs. Right. So there are tradeoffs when families make this decision. You know , how has this move impacted Castillo and Lopez Beltran's lives ? You know , Tony has to wake up every every day at 2 a.m. , gets ready and gets on the road. That way he can get down to San Diego. You know , he starts early. He's a sanitation worker with Republican Republic Services in Chula Vista. So to get down here early enough to start his day without traffic , he's got to leave that at 3 a.m. you know , get up at 2 a.m. , works all day. Comes home as early as he can. But that still means getting home at about 7:00 at night. And I have a four month old daughter , so he's got an hour and a half , maybe 2 hours to play with his daughter. A lot of times she's sleeping by then , so it really just means watching her sleep or giving her a bottle when she wakes up before she goes back to sleep , until he has to go back to bed at 9:00 to be able to wake up and do it all over again. So , you know , he's pouring money into maintaining his car and for gas to get down. But but really , when I as I talk to him , the greater cost seems to be how much time he was missing with his family , spending three or 4 hours on the road every day. Right. It's a very difficult calculus. And now with the cost of gas above $6 a gallon , the trade off in terms of cost of transportation is even more acute. But you report that people who live in Riverside County are already paying more in transportation costs , and that's without a large commute. How does that work ? Yeah , so I was actually quite surprised by this. When I when I got into this story , I thought that , you know , the the 50,000 some people who work in San Diego and live in Riverside , I thought that the story of their high transportation costs would be due to their super commute in Riverside. Specifically , what makes car ownership so expensive ? The reason it is the most expensive place for transportation in the country right out of the 20 largest regions in the country is just because the whole place is car dependent. There are no trips , basically , that anyone can substitute walking or taking the bus for driving. So for almost everybody who lives there , every time they need to go somewhere that involves a car , take the kids to school , you need a car , you got to go pick up a carton of milk and nothing else for groceries. You got to go get a car. And so that means you have to have two cars and in a certain , you know , in like a a larger household , which all adds up. And so the bigger way that that transportation can become cheaper in some places isn't necessarily from limiting commutes. It's from the way day to day life comes about. And even if you can't rely on transit always , you can really take a chunk out of your transportation bill if going to get a cup of coffee can be done with the with a walk or if going to school can be done with a walk. We've been focused so much on Donny. And Maricela. But does their decision to move outside of San Diego to Riverside County , is that a larger trend that we're seeing ? Yeah. You know , it's been and it's been a trend for a little while now. It's been a trend. Basically , I would say maybe since the post housing boom or in the run up to the housing boom , you started to see a lot of the suburban communities that San Diego used to build a lot of. You've seen some of that development going to Temecula , Marietta , southwest Riverside County. And so so there is a little bit more of that right now. The best estimate I've seen came from a white paper that was commissioned by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce that estimates 50,000. Some people have jobs here in San Diego , but live in Riverside County. So that is that it is a large group of people and it's a group of people that , you know , if you're only interested in San Diego economy , if for whatever reason you are , you are not sympathetic or you're not disturbed by the folks who have to have to spend all that time up there or you think , you know , they've made their decisions and they're living with the trade offs , so be it. You know , just keep in mind , they take that tax revenue with them. They take all of their day to day spending goes with them. So it's really a loss for the regional economy. The Garcia and Lopez Beltran family have been living in Riverside for a handful of years and still working in San Diego. It's a big change , but with rising gas prices and the cost of living is not sustainable , Tony said that , you know , early on it was really hard and then he kind of settled into it for a while and it's only recently started to really wear on him. And I think the big difference there was was the birth of their daughter , who's four months old right now and the amount of time he misses with her. And he's decided that he's going to actually start looking for jobs in the Riverside area. Now , if he can make as much money to be up there , he's going to try to do it. I imagine it's probably different impetus for every person. But , you know , spending this much time in the car , spending this much time away from your family to to come just to make ends meet , I think is going to be a tough trade off for anybody to sustain for , you know , ten , 12 years I've been speaking with Voice of San Diego managing editor Andrew Keats. Thank you so much for this important story , Christina. Thank you. New research shows that fear of racial discrimination weighs heavily in career decisions among some military service members of color. Troops are turning down duty assignments because they don't want to move to certain bases or military towns that can affect their careers and America's military readiness. Desiree Diorio reports for the American Homefront Project. Almost a third of the military families in the survey say they've refused orders to relocate because of worries about the racial climate at the new installation. And more than half of them say the decision hurt their careers. The study is one of a handful in recent years that explores how race and discrimination affect the everyday lives of service members. The results are mixed. Most respondents say the military has had a positive effect on them overall , but many also reported outright discrimination like racial slurs and fear for their safety on and off base. Jenny Aitkin is one of the researchers at Blue Star families who worked on the study. Active duty family respondents of color are making very big decisions about military life based on perceptions of racism and fear for their family's safety , Aiken says. Many of the service members who turned down relocation orders faced other consequences , like unfair negative performance reviews or opportunities for career advancement that disappeared. Obviously , these are huge conversations. Decisions in all of them that affect overall military readiness and retention. A spokesperson for the Department of Defense did not comment directly on the findings in the Blue Star Families report , but said in a statement that the department is now studying the roadblocks that keep servicemembers of color from advancing. Retired First Sergeant KT Moss says she never turned down an assignment in her 24 year Army career , but she's wanted to. Now she runs the Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative for Blue Star families. Back in 2014 , she was a single mom trying to make her way up the Army ranks. I remember originally saying , I do not want to go to Mississippi. I do not hear great things about that area when it comes to my family being an African-American family. But we went because it was going to be great for my career. She says she was in Mississippi only a few months before she became concerned about the safety of her then 13 year old son. My son was racially profiled in our neighborhood where we live twice , twice. And one was from an undercover cop who didn't identify himself. Got to a point where I had to make a decision. So Moss sent him to Florida to live with other family members while he attended high school. That's a situation that I tucked away for many years. I never even thought to talk to my chain of command about it. But she says now those conversations about what's going on in military communities need to happen in the open. It's okay to have these uncomfortable conversations and to talk about this even within our ranks , because we never know who else may have similar experiences. Blue Star Families says that the racial climate in military towns will become even more important in the next several years as the American population and the military become increasingly diverse. One of their key recommendations is to strengthen the relationship between bases and their surrounding communities so that military families of color feel safe enough to stay in the service. I'm Desiree Diorio on Long Island. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman with Christina Kim. Maureen CAVANAUGH is off. Yesterday we began a new series on the second anniversary of COVID 19 shutdowns and the impact they had on events and the performing arts. Today , we continue with the state of the theater. Two years ago , theaters went dark across the country and there was also a racial reckoning. In June of 2020 , theater workers nationwide joined together to build anti-racist theater systems. KPBS producers Emlyn Moeti and Julia Dickson Evans gathered stories from a variety of people working in the theater. We start with a local actor and activist. My name is Joy Yvonne Jones. I'm an actress , poet , playwright and president of the San Diego Black Artists Collective , as well as the associate artistic director at New Village Theatre. The last two years has been incredibly challenging. On March 12th , 2020 , I was in the middle of a phenomenal show. We hadn't opened yet , but we were in tech , and it was the last day of the last tech when everything got shut down and there was so much hope for it to come back. And , you know , it would be two weeks and we'd be back at it again. Now , here we are two years later and the world has changed. I spent a long time just sitting and trying to figure out how to make art. And I found art activism and really found peace and love in creating art with a message that I feel like is important for us today. Like , art should be a mirror to society. So I feel like I'm doing my part. I'm doing something. When I create art with meaning. Zoom plays were like our lifeboat in the middle of the storm. We were trying to create art and tell stories safely. As an actress , my biggest challenge was trying to tell this cohesive story with a person that I am in this moment with who could be a million miles away. But we both had the love and the intention to share with the world our art. So try as we might. We told those stories with whatever we had around us. We carved out spaces in our homes , away from the chaos of just life at home to create. They may not be the best plays in the world , but they were how we survived. And I am very curious to see how they're incorporated in theater in the future. For some working in the theater industry , particularly those working behind the scenes , being in the room was critical to their profession. I am David Israel Reynoso. I'm a scenic costume designer and exhibit designer as well. So much of the work that I do as a scenic designer , as a costume designer , is very much dependent , as you can imagine , on having an audience. And so how do you make theater ? How do you design for theater when there is no audience ? So much of what I love about what I do is the idea of being hands on , you know , really feeling the textures of fabrics or when I'm working on a set , being there to help with the set dressing. There's something very instinctive about the work when I'm getting to use my own hands. There's a lot to that , and I kind of try out right as it feels a bit pretty sculptural. It's something that I think surprises people to hear is that there were projects that were frozen or sort of postponed pre-pandemic. There were contracts that I had signed , agreed to that I was paid for pre-pandemic and then suddenly post-pandemic , had to follow through on because the agreement was there in the midst of the pandemic. Of course , I had to generate other work and be a bit creative in terms of how it was that I was making a living. And then now these shows that were sort of on hold had to suddenly come back. So much of immersive work is really , truly about allowing yourself to get lost in that space , right ? This idea that somehow you are activating your muscle memory , you're moving through a space , your senses are active and you're smelling things , touching things. So one thing that was really sort of interesting to contemplate is how do you evoke that feeling when you're not able to create a space that people are going to be touching or occupying ? The idea that , of course , the imagination is something that's very , very powerful. And when there's an invitation to play to fill in the gaps , I think something very powerful and profound can happen. Sam Woodhouse is set to retire later this year as artistic director of the San Diego Repertory Theatre after an incredibly long career working in local theatre. I asked him what it's been like these last two years. This has been the most difficult two years that I can recall in my 46 seasons as artistic director of San Diego Repertory Theatre. Our business. The reason we exist is to gather. People together live in a room to share a story. And for most of the past two years , we couldn't do that. So we all talk about pivoting to video streaming , which we did a tremendous amount of , but it is simply not the same as the live theater experience. And have you recovered from this or how has it been financially as a theater ? What's the prognosis there ? The revenue from streamed productions compared to the revenue from live productions is generally speaking , I think we saw about somewhere between 20 to 40% of the large revenue when we were streaming. So a huge loss of ticket revenue. And then where are you now with that ? How have you been able to recover or stay afloat ? We are seeing audiences that are about 50% of what we were seeing before the pandemic. So the recovery is going to be a slow one , I believe , and will take time as people remind themselves about the thrills of life , theater , experience , and perhaps even more importantly , as they become less afraid of the COVID virus and more willing to go out and sit in a room with a whole bunch of strangers. Josh Breckenridge grew up in San Diego County and works on the Broadway production of Come From Away , which got its start at the La Hoya Playhouse during the pandemic. When Broadway shut down and work dried up , he moved home and even recorded an album. He spoke to us from New York on March 12 , 2020. You know , we got that official cut off from the Broadway league and and the powers that be that that Broadway was shutting down temporarily because of the pandemic. We did a film version of Come From Away that's available on Apple TV Plus. And that was kind of a baby step back into the world of come from away and then from there took a little more time as Broadway got its , you know , stuff together and and then in the fall came back full throttle , not without our hiccups like everyone had , you know , we had a crown hit and what a huge struggle we had to cancel twice , you know , shutdown twice because of COVID outbreaks in our company. And I don't think I mentioned this before , but I'm the dance captain and one of the standbys that come from away on Broadway. And so it's my job to keep up the integrity of the show from a blocking and choreography standpoint as a dance captain. And so , you know , part of my job was getting putting new people back into the show when we came back , keeping up the cleanliness of the show and at the same time being ready to go on for five of the male roles on the show. That the show is comprised of 12 actors , six men , six women. My job to cover all but one of the men and be able to teach and note and keep tabs on all the other characters. So it's a it's been a busy , busy career especially as of late with come from away and very busy during the the huge kind of splash of of Omicron because we had people dropping like flies. We had no idea what role I was going to be on for next. And luckily there's been a huge resurgence in or I should say , a bit of respect and acknowledgement of standbys and and swings and understudies and covers in general during this pandemic. To listen to part one in this series. Go to our website at KPBS dot org. Tune in tomorrow for the final installment , where we look at the two year impact of the pandemic on live music venues and shows.

As global leaders continue to drop restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, all-too-familiar warning signs are emerging that point to the same uncomfortable reminder: this pandemic isn’t over yet. Plus, as Presiden Joe Biden directs more aids to Ukraine, more Ukrainian refugees are arriving at the US-Mexico border in hopes of making it into the United States. Meanwhile, welcome news for many sleep-deprived Americans, the Senate — in a rare display of bipartisanship — unanimously voted to make daylight saving time permanent. But many believe moving permanently to standard time — rather than daylight saving time — is a better solution. Also, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time in three years and that could mean a slow down of the San Diego housing market, but the cost to buy or rent here is still out of reach for many. And, new research shows that fear of racial discrimination weighs heavily in career decisions among some military service members of color. Finally, in part two of an ongoing series looking at the effect the pandemic has had on the local performing arts scene, we look at the state of live theater.