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LATEST UPDATES: Racial Justice | Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

No Mask, No Problem?

Cover image for podcast episode

PHOTO BY CLAIRE TRAGESER

Above: People walk on the Mission Beach boardwalk, July 11, 2020.

Even though San Diego County continues to break daily records for COVID-19 cases, local law enforcement remains reluctant to issue citations for violating the county’s health order on social distancing and the wearing of facial coverings. Also on KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: firefighters spent a second day battling a raging fire Monday aboard a ship at Naval Base San Diego, San Diego County is now limiting who can get swabbed for coronavirus at its testing sites and more local news you need.

Firefighters spent a second day battling a raging fire Monday aboard a ship at Naval Base San Diego.

They’ve been working to contain a super-hot, explosive blaze that has injured scores of sailors and civilians and caused lots of damage to the warship.

San Diego County officials are telling residents to assume the air quality near the ship is unhealthy. A smell, kind of like burning rubber, could be detected by residents miles away from the blaze.

Rear Admiral Philip Sobeck says there is 1 million gallons of fuel aboard the ship, which is worrisome for officials.

Absolutely a concern but again we're doing the mitigation and making sure the risk of that is low

The navy says it still doesn't know how the fire started.

***

The San Diego Unified School District announced Monday that it will begin the new school year like it ended that last one: online only.

In a joint statement with Los Angeles Unified School District, San Diego Unified said rising infection rates and a lack of testing capacity have forced the district to keep its campuses closed when the school year starts on August 31st.

Richard Barrera is the vice president of San Diego Unified's school board.

The countries that we see schools reopening are countries that have brought the virus under control. The reality is until we do that as a society, we're gonna continue to be in this situation where schools are trying to figure out balanced risks that we shouldn't be trying to balance.

The district currently has no timeline for reopening campuses, but it has teamed up with public health experts at UC San Diego to develop specific thresholds that must be met before students can return to classrooms.

Barrera said more details on the plan to reopen schools will be available on August 10.

***

California is again ordering sweeping closures of non-essential businesses statewide as the coronavirus continues to spread and hospital beds fill up.

The move is part of a long-held promise by Governor Gavin Newsom to scale back the state's reopening if the coronavirus begins to spread beyond control.

Following Newsom's updated health order Monday, all indoor operations in gyms, houses of worship, non-critical office businesses, hair salons and barber shops, indoor malls and personal care services like massage and tattoo parlors will need to close by midnight Tuesday.

Kerry Davis Duffy, founder of Gila Root Salon in San Diego, took to Facebook Live to talk about the shutdowns.

I’m heartbroken...we just got up...but i’m just so thrilled that we’ve created such a safe environment that we haven’t had a case of covid linked back to our salon, but this isn’t just about us, it’s about our community and about everyone staying safe.

***

From KPBS, I’m Kinsee Morlan and you’re listening to San Diego News Matters, a podcast powered by our reporters, producers and editors.

It’s Tuesday, July 14.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

San Diego County is now limiting who can get swabbed for coronavirus at its testing sites.

KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento tells us officials say once again supply chain constraints are making it difficult to keep up with demand and track the virus.

More San Diegans are seeking tests at a time when supplies are running thin. This means longer waits for testing appointments and results.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher … speaking remotely… says that makes it more difficult to contain the novel coronavirus.

(:13) "These delays negatively impact our ability to effectively contact trace. Testing is a key part testing tracing and treatment is a key part of our strategy to try and mitigate the slow the spread of coronavirus"

The county won't be cancelling testing appointments like in San Bernardino County. San Diego officials announced a new partnership with a local company to provide more tests. But testing is now limited to symptomatic individuals or asymptomatic people who are at a higher risk.

***
As of May 1st, all San Diego County residents were required to wear face masks. Despite that public health order, local law enforcement agencies are not punishing those who are out in public without a face covering.

KPBS reporter Claire Trageser checked in with every local police department and has this report.

A KPBS reporter visited Mission Beach and the Pacific Beach boardwalk multiple times over the weekend and saw more than 100 people not wearing face coverings while walking on the sidewalks, riding bikes through the crowd, or waiting in line for a restaurant.

Despite this, police remain reluctant to issue citations for violating the order. In June, San Diego Police Department officers issued just three citations and the Metropolitan Transit Service (MTS) issued one.

Police have said they are hesitant to issue citations because they worry about coming off as heavy-handed. Also, they say the county's public health order is very difficult to enforce. The rule says people must wear a face covering when out in public and within six feet of another person who is not a member of their household.

MASKS 1A
"It's hard to know who's a member of the same household, and who's not a member of the same household."

Lt. Shawn Takeuchi is a spokesman for the San Diego Police Department.

MASKS 2A 0:13
"In the Pacific Beach area where you see big groups of young people walking around together, how are we as law enforcement officers supposed to know who's members of the same household?"

In a statement, a spokeswoman for San Diego County says she understands the order is challenging for law enforcement, and that's why she hopes everyone will use common sense and wear a mask.

***

The state of California has seen nearly 2,000 more wildfires in California from January through July 2020 than in the same period of 2019.

The good news is that the acreage burned is less than half the annual average acreage burned over the last five years.

San Diego's Cal Fire Captain Isaac Sanchez attributes the positive results to the cooperation and communication between California's many fire agencies and aggressive firefighting techniques. .

And, as wildfire season kicks in for real, Cal Fire is acquiring 12 new Blackhawk helicopters to replace the fleet of aging water-dropping Hueys.

The agency is also hiring about 1,000 firefighters to replace the hand crews of qualified prison inmates now unavailable because of early release or because of COVID-19 fears.

Sanchez talked with Midday Edition’s Mark Sauer about how the agency is fighting the state's wildfires in 2020.


Kevin Sanchez start with the outlook. How bad has it been already and what does it look like? We're facing going forward in San Diego and across California, this fire season.
Speaker 3: 00:58 What we're looking at from last year, um, compared to this year is, is we're just about a thousand acres. Um, I'm sorry, a thousand fires, um, more statewide, uh, to date today. Then we fought last year. Um, but the flip side of that coin is, is we've only, uh, those, those thousand additional fires. I've only burned about 600 additional acres. So kind of a mixed bag. We're seeing more fires, but we're not seeing the corresponding increase in acres.
Speaker 1: 01:25 And the state has a new fire suppression goal this year, as outlined by governor Gavin Newsome in his press conference on Friday. Here's what Newsome said. There was a, that there was actually some good news.
Speaker 2: 01:36 The size of the fires have been contained substantively. So in fact, uh, average, now these wildfires about 6.6 acres, we have a goal to get to 95% suppression under 10 acres.
Speaker 1: 01:52 So captain Sanchez, is that a reasonable goal? Have your crews in San Diego been able to meet that quick suppression goal so far?
Speaker 3: 01:59 Absolutely. And that's a, that 95%, uh, of our fires, initial attack fires being kept under 10 acres is not a new goal. That is a goal that we've had for, uh, for quite a few years, for several years, if not decades, uh, here in San Diego, we've responded to numerous fires, we're doing it every single day. And the biggest fire that we've had this year was the skyline fire, which burned about, uh, if I recall correctly about a hundred acres, um, but that's been the biggest fire we've had in San Diego now, um, that speaks to several things that speaks to preparation by public that speaks to preparation by the fire departments, the cooperation from the fire departments, the conditions have changed. It's gotten hotter, it's gotten drier like it does every single year. And, and we're at a point that the fire sizes are going to be bigger sooner. Um, it will be more challenging to keep 95% of the fires under 10 acres, but it certainly is a reasonable goal.
Speaker 1: 02:53 And let's talk about the effects of COVID-19 on fighting wildfires. First, it's really cutting into valuable resource, the fire crews that are made up of prison inmates, right?
Speaker 3: 03:03 Yeah, absolutely. That's a, that certainly is a, um, a portion of our firefighting, uh, um, uh, tools and equipment that we have available to us, um, that has, has been, uh, uh, significantly impacted, uh, when you combine combine that with the, uh, the releases that have been happening over the last several years for low level offenders. Um, there, there certainly is a shortage of, of, uh, of hand proves, uh, but there is a plan in place to help address that, you know, we have, um, hired additional firefighters, um, statewide, I believe it was on the level of, uh, uh, 800 and, uh, 58 additional firefighters statewide to be brought in, um, for the purpose of, of forming up hand crews, um, here in San Diego specifically, uh, we'll be getting additional and additional 50 firefighters that will be split up into two, um, two hand crews. Um, and then, uh, the remaining balance will be sent to fire engines to increase the staffing on fire engines, but it's a, it's a small step towards, uh, replacing, uh, an invaluable resource in an incredibly in demand resource. Once the large fires start to burn later this year
Speaker 1: 04:06 And with the crews out there on the fire lines, how are you keeping them separated and best trying to keep the virus from spreading among firefighters? And what about testing? What happens when firefighters test positive? It's a whole new world, right?
Speaker 3: 04:19 Yeah, absolutely. Um, you know, there are plans in place, uh, um, for big picture things like, uh, um, you know, when, when strike teams are exposed or if, uh, if somebody comes up positive, um, there are plans in place to, to isolate them and quarantine them until we can get everybody tested and, and, uh, figure out what the, what the actual threat to everybody else's. But when it comes to the large scale fires, um, whether it's increasing the, the size of, and footprint of the campsite itself on, in a given area or creating several camps, uh, for a given fire, um, all the way to, uh, enforcing social distancing and mass requirements when folks are in camp. And when they're sitting down to eat their, their meals
Speaker 1: 04:59 Turn to a different firefighting tool, the governor is highlighted, uh, the new black Hawk helicopters. How many, uh, is California getting, what specifically, why are they so valuable in your battles against wildfires
Speaker 3: 05:12 Their, their importance can't be understated. I mean, that this resource is, is a game changer when it comes to capability. Um, we, we've got, we've been operating with our Hueys and super Hueys, which are old surplus, uh, military Vietnam era, uh, helicopters. Uh, we, we started purchasing those back in the early eighties and have subsequently grown our air fleet to the largest, uh, um, agency owned a firefighting aircraft fleet in the world, but that fleet absolutely is aging and, and, and the steps being taken by the governor, uh, to improve that fleet are, are invaluable. Um, the goal is ultimately to purchase 12, uh, Firehawk helicopters and place them strategically across the state. Um, the closest one to San Diego County being, uh, at Ryan air tech base in Riverside. Uh, but in addition to the Firehawks, there, there are steps being taken to, uh, convert [inaudible] to the Cal fire fleet. Um, there, there won't be quite as many, but there they will be here. Uh, there will, uh, there are plans to have one in Ramona, a C one 30 in Ramona.

And that was Cal fire captain Isaac Sanchez talking with Midday Edition’s Mark Saue. To hear more interviews like that one, subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast wherever you listen.
***
Coming up after the break...COVID took out Comic-Con this year, but organizers have put together lots of online offerings.
Stick with us.

For the first time in its 50 year history, Comic Con has had to cancel its pop culture convention because of concerns about large gatherings and spreading the virus.

But the nonprofit organization has come up with a virtual version of the show called Comicon at home. And this year, that virtual version is open to anyone who wants to attend.

KPBS arts reporter, Beth Accamando talks with Comicon spokesperson, David Glanzer about what to expect.


David for the first time in Comicons history, the convention had to be canceled. So what have you guys been doing to create some sort of virtual version of comic con for people?
Speaker 1: 00:37 Well, we've been working pretty hard actually trying to translate the physical show to an online endeavor. And it's certainly an undertaking we've never really done that, but I think one of the great things is we've all tried to step up to the plate. One of the great things is a lot of the people that, uh, have been involved with comic con throughout the years are also stepping up to the plate as well. So we'll have a lot of programming. We'll have a masquerade, that'll be a different, but hopefully we'll still be able to embrace the community
Speaker 2: 01:11 With comic con at home. Do you need to buy a badge? Do you need to get any sort of special access or is this just something you're putting out for anyone to get
Speaker 1: 01:20 We're putting out for anyone? The, I think the tagline was, you know, no lines, unlimited badges, things of that nature. It really was an opportunity to give the community a space to, to congregate. I think you're right. You know, the first time in our 50 years when we had to cancel a physical show, it was very heartbreaking. And I think one of the big things about comic con is just not just the programs and the panels and educational aspect, but the community of meeting with people. So we decided to go ahead and do this online iteration of comic con at home. And it is free to anybody who wants to attend, uh, you know, again, no badges, you can watch it from the comfort of your home, uh, instead of having to worry about, you know, what, what panel to watch at a particular time, your biggest decision is probably, you know, which panel to watch first.
Speaker 2: 02:09 So what kind of panels are you looking to create? I mean, I've seen some already promoted. Like I was very happy to see what we do in the shadows appears to be having one, but, uh, is it going to be the same kind of breadth and depth of panels? Uh, is there anything that you've been trying to get that you're not able to get? I mean, what kind of programming will there be?
Speaker 1: 02:31 One of the many great things about Comicon is the diversity, not only in the exhibit floor, but in programming and panels and participants. And one of the things we're very lucky about is to have with the online, uh, iteration, a diversity of, of panels as well. So yes, I think you'll see a cross section of some of the panels that you might see at Comicon. Comicon has, you know, a great deal of, uh, hours of programming for the four and a half days. I think with the online version, we'll have an excess of hundred and 50 panels, which is pretty amazing. We're grateful to the people who contributed to that. As I said, they'll also be other aspects that you can be interactive. It should be a fun event. It should be a great community gathering event. It'll be different, but it'll still be common.
Speaker 2: 03:17 And I've seen, there have been some panels announced that are specifically on comics. Are there still going to be some Hollywood panels with the fact that so many films have been delayed and there's not production going on, but will Hollywood be a part of these as well?
Speaker 1: 03:33 Hollywood will be a part of it. I think a again, you know, very grateful to the people who, um, have kind of stepped up, you know, we're all at home that includes people who work at the studios, but they've, uh, been able to put together some cool programming. And this is true for publishers. This is true for artists and creators. It's really been, uh, I don't, you know, I want to say, it's going to sound cheesy to say, you know, an effort of love, but I have to tell you a lot of the people who did give us panels had said, you know, Oh, we're really glad you're doing this. We were really going to miss being at comic con and this allows us to still take part again, it's different, but we're grateful that the joining us and it's not an easy task in many cases. So, uh, I think it will be much more appreciated.
Speaker 2: 04:19 And Comicon also has, I guess you'd call it more seminar panels or how to panels. And is that going to translate into an online version? Are there going to be classes where people are actually teaching something?
Speaker 1: 04:30 Well, I, you know, I, honestly, I haven't gone through all of the, uh, the panels that have come in there. There, there are a lot, I think there will be stuff that are interactive that you can do that can be, uh, lessons learned and whatnot. And one of the great things is we see that, uh, with the Comicon museum, you know, the common company museum has already started their ad home program. And the great thing about that is the Comicon museum has always had a desire for an online presence. So they were able to start a little bit earlier this summer to create some great workbooks and things of that nature. And if you head over to that site, there's tutorials, there's a lot of interactive stuff. So between the Comicon museum and comic con at home, I think there'll be something for everyone.
Speaker 2: 05:12 And for the person kind of experiencing this, there probably won't be a division between Comicon at home and stuff that the museum is offering. I mean, you can partake in all of that and not really see a difference between one and the other.
Speaker 1: 05:26 Well, I think it's important to note that the common ComEd museum is, is Comicon while the building and the museum itself as an open officially yet, the idea is to create an environment similar to Comicon the year round. And that's primarily educational. You know, I have presentations, workshops, seminars, things of that nature because we're all staying home right now that makes that a little bit more challenging. But, um, yeah, so I think, you know, we, we will find a variety of different things, whether it be the, add a home of comic con or the museum at home initiative. I think some of that stuff will last beyond the, the week of Comicon.
Speaker 2: 06:04 What have been the challenges for the organization itself, having to kind of develop a whole new set of skills for putting everything online?
Speaker 1: 06:13 Luckily we have a very, very adaptive staff. We have people who are willing to help out on any level that they can. Uh, the scary thing for us was, you know, not having the amount of income we were expecting this year because we had to cancel both Comicon and wonder Connor earlier in the year, but everyone has stepped up to the plate. You know, we've all been fully employed. Thank goodness I'm bringing this activation to life. And, um, we've all been adapted. We've been learning new stuff. And I think that will pay off in the future. Also, should we ever need to do something like this or even something similar to this on a smaller level, we now have, uh, learned a lot and have the experience I say that, you know, without the event actually kicking off yet, but I hope it will be a good one.
Speaker 2: 06:58 And one of the great things about Comicon is the dealer's room where people have this opportunity to meet artists and to buy unique things. Is there going to be any kind of online version of the exhibit?
Speaker 1: 07:11 There will be. In fact, the exhibit hall will be up and running. Uh, there'll be a map of the exhibit hall, or you'll be able to visit different exhibitors and see what they have. I think there's some exclusives and a lot of people have specials. So that'll be an aspect that you'll be able to take part in and you won't have to get tired of walking around. You'll just have to, you know, make sure that your, your finger for clicking and working the mouse is up to speed.

And that was Comic-Con’s David Glanzer talking to KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando. Comic-Con AT Home begins July 22. Comic-Con has not decided yet exactly how programming will drop, if it will become available online all at once on Wednesday night or if panels will become available each day.
It’s also not yet known how long these virtual events will remain available. Because of rights issues, some will expire after July 26 while others may be left up indefinitely.
OK. That’s the show. Thanks for listening.

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San Diego News Matters

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.