Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

New COVID-19 Disruptions For Local Schools

 December 4, 2020 at 9:27 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 With the latest surge of COVID 19 San Diego schools postpone a plan January reopening plus who will be first to get vaccinated here and why more than a thousand San Diego ones have died from this virus this year, I'll look at pandemic victims and how their families are coping. Plus the rollercoaster ride for cherish museums in Balboa park, how they're trying to survive the pandemic. I'm Mark Sauer. The KPBS Roundtable starts. Now. [inaudible] welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Mark Sauer, and joining me on this remote version of the round table today. KPBS education reporter Joe Hong reporter, Joe Castillano of I new source and reporter John Carroll of KPBS news from kindergarten to college. This week brought new disruptions to the chaotic school year. San Diego unified announced distance learning will continue indefinitely and San Diego state canceled it's spring break in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. It's been a busy week for KPBS education reporter Joe Hong, Joe. Welcome back to the round table. Thanks for having me. Well, let's start with San Diego's largest school district. Uh, what did San Diego unified announced? Speaker 2: 01:21 So, uh, the announcement, wasn't a huge surprise with San Diego County, still in the purple tier and cases still kind of spiking, but, uh, the district is planning on continuing, uh, virtual learning for the vast majority of its students through the first part of 2021. The district had originally planned on doing a limited sort of a hybrid learning model, starting January 4th for elementary students in January 25th for high school students. And as of now that timeline has just been, been halted until case numbers can go down in the queue in the community. Yes, Speaker 1: 01:58 The case numbers are, are bad as the governor's announced this week and more restrictions coming. Uh, what have you heard from families who have had to juggle virtual learning with their own jobs during the day is the pandemic fatigue really setting in, Speaker 2: 02:10 Uh, I mean, uh, the pandemic fatigue has been there for months now, parents really, you know, they, a lot of parents really do need to send their kids back to school. Um, students with disabilities, uh, students who are English learners, they're the ones who really need that in-person learning. You know, that's not to mention parents who have needed childcare during this whole pandemic. So the struggle is definitely ongoing and the pandemic fatigue definitely isn't, um, isn't new Speaker 1: 02:41 And the teachers are also feeling burnout and a lot of pressure for some to not even take a day off. You recently told the story of a teacher in Chula Vista had to cut medical leave short. How is that an example of teachers struggling with a work-life balance during this crisis? Speaker 2: 02:56 Yeah, so that story was about, um, the challenge of finding substitute teachers right now and sort of the shortage that some districts are experiencing, but yeah, teachers are, uh, that one teacher I spoke with, uh, sort of against her doctor's wishes came back early because she just didn't want to deal with the stress of not just finding a substitute, but forcing her students to sort of adapt, to adapt yet again, to another sort of variable, right. To, um, she wanted her students to have as much stability as possible. And there's just sort of this guilt that comes with missing a day of school for teachers. Yeah. Speaker 1: 03:33 The whole thing is missing a big part of it, of course, which is in person and it constructions. And you've been reporting on the learning loss among kids really do need that in-person instruction. How might the problem Morrison as this period of uncertainty continues? Speaker 2: 03:48 Yeah, so right. The longer that students are not on campus, the, just the more they're going to struggle. And right now I am, uh, reporting on a story about just, uh, the higher rates of D's and F's in, uh, across the country really, uh, in school districts across the country. And it's really going to be, uh, it's going to have some long-term consequences and districts are getting better at reaching out to students and students who are struggling and, you know, providing the supports they need. But yeah, it's for students who are struggling before the pandemic, this is, uh, this is an even worse time for them. Speaker 1: 04:28 No, at the college level, San Diego state has had a, been a trouble spot for the County it's issued cease and desist orders a few weeks ago to reign in off-campus parties made a lot of news, a lot of headlines on that. Now the university is canceling spring break to limit the spread of the virus. What's the plan there. Speaker 2: 04:45 Yeah. So the university canceled its one week spring break, and instead they're going to have four sort of what they're calling rest and recovery days intersperse throughout the semester. And this was sort of a plan that, that was supported by, uh, we'll know, Wooten, uh, County health official. And the goal really is to limit sort of travel and, and large group gatherings, you know, that are more likely to happen during the spring break period. If, if a full week is taken off. Speaker 1: 05:14 Yeah. It's an interesting concept, but you can imagine people breaking away for a week and going to a party somewhere at some regional hotspot right now, many students joined a zoom call when that decision was made. Um, they weren't happy. How did they voice their opposition? Speaker 2: 05:29 Yeah, so, uh, the, the SDSU Senate voted in a, in a public meeting and, and students since then, um, that vote was on Tuesday and, and since then students have been really upset. They've sort of said that, you know, it's this spring break this year, isn't really about travel and having fun. It's more about mental health and students need a break, uh, within a 15 week semester to sort of just relax. And, and yeah, yesterday there was a small, you know, on, on campus protest, but so far the, the university hasn't really budged. Speaker 1: 06:04 Yeah. It's the, I guess it's the dilemma between take a block of time and really get a break and get away or a day here and there. And maybe it gets lost in the shuffle. Speaker 2: 06:13 Right. And I think a lot of the students believe that, you know, because the university is already virtual, that students are going to travel if they want to, you know, because they can do, I think, you know, one quote I saw was a student said, you can still log into your classes from Hawaii. So it's, it'll be interesting to see how successful this plan is. Speaker 1: 06:36 And of course we're all hopeful of vaccines going to improve our local situation and across the country and the weeks and months ahead now, where does schools land in the pecking order of who gets the vaccine first? Speaker 2: 06:47 Yeah. So this is something I asked Richard Berrera who's, who's the school board vice president for San Diego unified. And, uh, he told me it's still very early to, to know, but he, uh, the district is a part of the, the conversation around that they've been communicating with, uh, district officials have been communicating with the governor's office about, you know, trying to get teachers, uh, up there on that list, the priority list for getting vaccines, just so you know, students can go back to campus as soon as possible. Speaker 1: 07:19 I know there's a lot of questions and of course it's a fluid situation, but wondering about schools since they're a spread out and located in communities everywhere, uh, might they be a site where folks come in and get their actual vaccines there? Speaker 2: 07:32 Yeah. Um, there's again, it's still very early in the process, but, uh, Richard Bharara, uh, the, uh, S the unified told me that, you know, they're, they're planning on doing asymptomatic COVID testing, uh, they're partnering with UCLA, so they'll have a pretty robust testing infrastructure. So the goal might be to use that infrastructure to administer vaccines when that time comes. Speaker 1: 07:57 And might we get to a point where, uh, kids are gonna have to show they've been vaccinated before we can get back into in-person learning Speaker 2: 08:04 That I'm still not sure of, but, you know, vaccines have always been kind of a kind of politicized kind of tricky issues. So it'll be interesting to see how that plays out. Speaker 1: 08:15 Yeah. It could be a big fight over that one going forward. Definitely. And before we go, wondering what stories you're looking at and pursuing it's a fluid situation. As we mentioned at the outset, the governor announced more restrictions this week, the hospitals are really getting slammed right now. Which stories are you looking at on the education beat? Speaker 2: 08:31 Yeah, so right now it's holiday application season at CSU and UC San Diego have both extended their deadlines for college applications. So I'm, I'm talking to, I've been talking to students about how this college application process has been really impacted by COVID. And additionally, I'm also reporting on, I mentioned the issue of more students getting DS enough's this year, and I've been talking to districts Speaker 1: 08:56 And teachers about how they're working to sort of remedy that yeah. Such a difficult year, especially in the schools, uh, maybe the spring and spring break will, uh, give us all a break and we'll look forward to things turning around at that point with vaccines and such. Yeah. Let's hope. So, I've been speaking with Joe Hong education reporter for KPBS. Thanks, Joe. Thanks for having me. The day-to-day story of COVID 19 is often told in metrics, raw data and numbers, and they are staggering. Especially this week, Wednesday brought more than 2,800 deaths across the United States. According to Johns Hopkins university in San Diego County, 22 deaths reported Tuesday was a single day record, California, governor Gavin Newsome, and pose more restrictions on businesses. This week, fearing hospitals will be overwhelmed. The centers for disease control warns against holiday travel and says, the months ahead will be the worst in public health history, but there is a person, a human story behind every statistic about cases and deaths, Joel Castillano and her colleagues at I knew source. I've worked to find these stories and she joins us now. Welcome back to the round table, Joe, thanks for having me. Well, I, new source recently wrapped up a series of reports. You called uncounted. What's the focus behind these stories. Speaker 3: 10:08 Driving force behind the uncounted series is to explore the people who don't get counted in these official statistics. That's one of the important things to remember when we look at these numbers, even though they do look pretty bad, they're not the whole picture. There is more suffering and more loss of life than is captured in them. And there are a few reasons for that. One is some people never get tested for COVID. So they don't end up in those official numbers. You need a positive test to be counted. Another reason is there are people who end up in this category of indirect deaths, so they never had COVID-19, but they maybe lost their job or were suffering from isolation. And the stress of that could have led to their death, or maybe the shutdown of vital services, um, led to difficulty accessing medical care or medications that could have led to a death. These are called indirect deaths. And when you capture those two, you start to get a much fuller picture of the pandemic's toll on San Diego County. Speaker 1: 11:08 That's true as we go across the state of California and across the nation. Now, was there a particular person or a family that made a strong impression on you? Speaker 3: 11:16 So many people in so many families since I've started reporting on this back in March for the most recent project that I've been working on, the uncounted series, one of the desks that stuck with me is Rosie Sanchez. She was an 81 year old who died of post-polio syndrome in August. It's a rare condition that she had. And we spoke with her daughter, Becky McBride, who explained that she was living with this condition very well until the pandemic, which really turned her life upside down. Her exercise was very important to her. She was a devoted gym goer, and that helped her with her condition. But when the pandemic hit, her routine was no longer possible. Her muscles atrophied. And that ultimately led to her death. Becky believes that her mom died prematurely because of the pandemic. This is something that we've heard several families talk about who described the painful circumstances that COVID has caused them, even for these people who did not contract the virus. Speaker 1: 12:14 Wow. What a remarkable story. I've done a lot on post-polio syndrome myself over the years, I had polio as a child and boy that one, that one really hits home. Now, uh, how does the County declare someone was a victim of COVID-19 and not some other condition that may have contributed to the death. Speaker 3: 12:30 This all comes down to testing. If someone has a positive COVID-19 test, like in the weeks before they die, then they very likely will be listed as a COVID-19 victim. It'll be on their death certificate and there'll be counted. But on the flip side, if someone was never tested for COVID, then there's no way to know for sure if they died of COVID or died of something else, you know, sometimes COVID manifest as a heart attack or a stroke. And you don't know for sure. So even if the family has strong suspicions, that it was the virus, they won't be counted unless there is a positive test on record. This is why epidemiologists and County officials are trying to remind people. We're not capturing all the deaths out there. Speaker 1: 13:14 And the County pushed back on some of the reporting by new source. What were some of their complaints? Speaker 3: 13:18 That's right. As a part of our project, we performed a pretty detailed data analysis. It's called an excess deaths calculation, and it's meant to quantify the total loss of life since the pandemic began. So that includes people who are missing from the counties official COVID-19 list. We share this information with the County and a spokesperson said to us that our analysis was premature and should not be conducted until after the pandemic is over. Uh, we consulted with many epidemiologists for this project and we couldn't find a single one who agreed with those concerns. In fact, the experts we spoke with strongly disagreed with those statements and believed that now is exactly the time to do this kind of reporting. Speaker 1: 14:03 And your team wrote about your takeaways from these reports. One is that racial disparities may be more severe than the numbers indicate how so? Speaker 3: 14:11 Yeah, that's right. But that's something we found that the pandemic is hitting communities of color, even more significantly than what's previously been reported. When you look at the people missing from the county's official total, they're more likely to be Hispanic, Asian, or black and less likely to be white. And the experts we spoke with said, this is for many reasons, one of them is people of color may not have the same level of access to good medical care. So they may be less likely to get tested before they pass away. And if that happens, then they won't be counted. So the result is the people missing from the official list are disproportionately people. Speaker 1: 14:49 Well, it's fascinating when you really start digging into these numbers. And I knew sources also following the COVID-19 situation and periodic County, the rural area East of San Diego. Now what's the situation like there now, are they also seeing a surge in cases? I remember we did some stories early in the year where our hospitals are overwhelmed. They were sending patients to San Diego as far as North is the Bay area what's happening. Speaker 3: 15:12 That's right. It's a similar situation. Now, not quite as, not quite at the level that it was at the beginning of pandemic, but there is a surgeon cases. Imperial County now has the fourth highest hospitalization rate in the state. The County has two major hospitals. And as of last week, the last time I reported looked into it, they had just four ICU beds available. If you look at it from another metric, the percent of positive COVID-19 tests, this is a measurement that's used to judge the spread of the virus. That number has more than doubled in Imperial County. In the past month, that being said, officials say, they're prepared. They're ready. They're doing the best they can. They've opened an emergency facility at the Imperial Valley college gym. The state has helped set up a 50 bed tent in the parking lot of one of their major medical centers. And they say that they are going to be ready for this surge of patients. Speaker 1: 16:06 Wow. Are there other stories you're working on relating to the pandemic that we're going to be keeping an eye on? Speaker 3: 16:11 There are a lot of stories out there in stories that I'm working on. I think since the beginning of the pandemic, my goal has been to put a human face on the suffering and loss of life caused by the virus. A lot of that involves reading through obituaries, reaching out to families and telling their stories. And that's what I want to continue to do. Speaker 1: 16:31 Difficult. Talking to folks who've lost loved ones and it's, uh, it's tough work, but it's, it's insightful. I've been speaking with Jill Castellano investigative reporter for I new source. Thanks so much, Jill. Thanks for having me. The in-person experience is the very essence of a museum, but this falls resurgence of COVID-19 cases in San Diego means the city's museums most located in Balboa park are shut down once again. How can such institutions survive when ticket sales are such a big part of their revenue, KPBS reporter, John Carroll said about finding out and he joins me now, hi John. Hi there, Mark. We'll start with what's happening at the various museums and elbows park. They were closed than open. And now I guess they're closed again. Speaker 4: 17:12 That's right. It's been quite the roller coaster for them now where we stand today because we're in the purple tier means that everything that has anything indoors, which is of course the lion's share of it has had to be closed. Some museums and attractions haven't even reopened at all since March a few others tried it and then had to close again. So it has just been very, very difficult for them because the whole thing it's not like throwing a light switch. It's very difficult to reopen some more than others. These museums Speaker 1: 17:43 And museums sell tickets. Of course, they also get grants. They have benefactors and gifts left and wills in other ways to, uh, to, uh, enrich the bottom line as it were. How much is it hurting museums in San Diego to lose revenue from visitors paying it? Speaker 4: 17:57 Great. Well, that depends a lot on what kind of financial shape they were in pre pandemic. There are some that have significant endowments like the Tim can museum of art. Uh, they're doing okay. Uh, right now they're actually taking this COVID downtime to do some interior renovation work. One of the people I talked to for this story was Michael Warburton, who works for the Balboa park cultural partnership. They are an umbrella group representing most of the museums in the park. And I asked him if any of the museums or other institutions in the park might not make it to the other side of the pandemic. That's obviously a sensitive issue. He said, he wasn't sure even if he did know, but without question, some of them are really just holding on, you know, even with the decreased payroll, there are still a lot of ongoing maintenance costs for them. And that of course varies from place to place, but it's a tough slog Mark. It really is. Speaker 1: 18:52 And what about the trillion plus dollars in COVID-19 relief that Congress authorized earlier this year? It's a mountain of money to museums get some help from that Speaker 4: 19:01 I asked Michael Warburton about that. Uh, he told me some of the money was made available to arts and cultural organizations through the national endowment for the arts and a group that I've never heard of before called the Institute of museum and library services. Uh, some of that also carried over to the California arts council for statewide distribution that said, unfortunately, uh, Warbritton's as very little of those funds eventually trickled down to San Diego and the organizations in Bellville apart, he says a few of them were able to make use of, uh, the PPP that is the paycheck protection program. But of course that money ran out months ago. Speaker 1: 19:43 We may get some more here coming, but we'll, we'll see what happens with Congress and the outgoing Trump administration. Now, one of the Park's most popular attractions, isn't really a museum at all. It's been able to stay open in a very limited way. Tell us about what's going on at the fleet science center. Speaker 4: 19:57 So the fleet is lucky in that they've been able to welcome elementary school aged children into what they call distance learning hubs. Those are three different locations inside the fleet, where the children come to learn about science and to do science activities. Uh, when I was there shooting on Tuesday of this week, uh, we got to see some of them doing their thing, and they were at their little computers, uh, safely distance from each other. And then there were some fleet, uh, folks there, employees who were sort of doing a, you might call it a science-based arts and crafts type of a deal. So that has helped those people because they've been able to continue on their employment at some level. But other than that, the fleet like so many of their counterparts have moved a lot of their programming online. Uh, they actually did create a new thing called fleet TV and that's something they plan to keep on with after the pandemic Speaker 1: 20:55 Part, two of your series, you also look at the parks international cottages, the pandemics not stopped some exciting things going on there. Speaker 4: 21:02 That's right. You know, Mark, the international cottages, you've been around San Diego long enough, you know, what a magical part of the park they are. It's just such a serene place. Uh, the cool thing going on there right now is the construction of new cottages, which I'm told should be complete sometime next spring, just in time for the end of this pandemic, hopefully make sure to, uh, the cottages operate under the auspices of the house of Pacific relations, Pacific meaning peace, of course, and they are welcoming nine new groups, including the countries of Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, Peru Turkey, India, as well as the cultures of Palestine and Chamorro, the latter being a culture of Guam and the Marianas islands. Now a neat thing I learned while interviewing Eugenie King from the house of Pacific relations is that the main supporter, the first sponsor of the house of Palestine was the house of Israel. So that is a great example of the cottage is really living up to their mission of peace and understanding between peoples and cultures. Financially speaking, the cottages are okay since they're owned and maintained by the city. And of course they're all staffed entirely by volunteers. Speaker 1: 22:20 Maybe we should move the UN into the cottages that works in online. Presentations are hardly the same as visiting a museum. Everybody realizes that, but are they generating a much traffic at all? Is it, I mean, you mentioned that silver lining there, maybe there's a, you know, some excitement going on that they hadn't thought about before this all happened. Speaker 4: 22:40 Well, you know, for overall information like that, I really had to rely on Michael Warburton from the cultural partnership. I wish I had a week to do this and interview a bunch of different people because there's a lot to tell in there. Warburton tell me that the level of success varies from place to place, but you know, Mark, as you mentioned in the intro, museums are by their very nature in person experiences. So however great the stuff you put online is it really just can only go so far. And typically speaking, you can't really charge as much for a virtual experience as you can for actually coming into a building and seeing things in person. Speaker 1: 23:18 And when you were talking with Michael or Burton, uh, of the elbow park cultural partnership, he's really concerned about the performing arts venues, right? I mean the globe complex is right smack in the middle of the park. Speaker 4: 23:30 Yes, indeed. Uh, none of them have reopened since the initial closure in March. Now, like you were mentioning the old Globes, some like them have enough support that don't make it through. All right. Uh, though, I'm still there. Sure. Happily accepting donations. The Spreckels Oregon pavilion has been put in concerts online, but of course that's not the same thing as sitting there in that beautiful amphitheater, listening to that amazing Oregon. I did press Warburton about, is there anyone that's really in danger of falling through the cracks and he wouldn't go there? Speaker 1: 24:01 Well, I was very diplomatic of him. Um, well finally, let's get out the crystal ball. When might we see the museums and theaters in the, in the park opening up again in some fashion, I don't know who knows three months out. Speaker 4: 24:13 Well, it's safe to say they're all making plans for reopening, especially now that we have vaccines on the horizon, but they're also being really careful and practical about how they're approaching that. You know, some of them, as I mentioned, have reopened only to have to close again, which was really a very painful experience. Warburton pointing out how difficult it is to reopen these institutions, not like just throwing on a light switch. And he says, reopening will be more difficult for some than others. He said that we can expect phase to reopenings, uh, once it's safe, overall speaking, it will probably be a month or so before all of the institutions in the park will be reopened. Speaker 1: 24:55 Well, we're all looking forward to that day. Maybe springtime will be a renewal and what may in many more ways than one is as we go through this period. Speaker 4: 25:03 Yeah. But you know, Mark in the interim, um, there's still the buskers, you know, the entertainers, uh, they're the food vendors and, and just, I have to say spending the entire day in the park shooting, this story was, was a real joy. It, um, no matter how many times I'm there, I'm reminded of what a truly magical place it is and how very fortunate we are in San Diego to have it. Speaker 1: 25:26 It sure is. We've got a lot of people to think going back, uh, well over a century who planned that park and set it aside. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, John Carol. Thanks so much, John. Thank you, Mark. That wraps up another week of stories on the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, reporter Jill Castillano of I new source and reporters, Joe Hong and John Carroll of KPBS news. A reminder, all the stories we discussed today are available on our website, I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for listening today and join us again next week on the round table.

Ways To Subscribe
The San Diego Unified School District announces distance learning will continue indefinitely, local COVID-19 deaths reach a grim milestone, and Balboa Park's cultural institutions struggle to stay afloat during the pandemic.