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

A Tragic Outbreak

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Description: San Diego County has nearly 600 assisted living facilities but not a lot is publicly known about how they’re handling COVID-19; inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano tells the story of a tragic outbreak at one local facility. Plus: One superintendent about plans to reopen schools even if the COVID numbers in San Diego County remain high, San Diego records the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases since July 7 and more of the local news you need.

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A conservative legal foundation filed suit today to overturn Gov. Gavin Newsom's order on school starts this fall.

In response to soaring coronavirus infections, Newsom has barred schools in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside and elsewhere in the state from bringing students into the classrooms this fall.

The Center for American Liberty brought the complaint against Newsom and other state officials, challenging new rules that would force many of the state's districts to teach remotely when school starts next month.

The plaintiffs allege that the restriction violates the constitutional guarantee to a basic education, federal due process and equal protection guarantees, as well as the federal right to an effective education for disabled children.

Harmeet Dhillon, founder and CEO of the Center for American Liberty, called the online learning kids did at the end of last school year a ``failed experiment.”

All of these children we saw in the spring semester were failed by the state of California…parents reported depression, withdrawal, anxiety issues, a lack of motivation..

A spokesman for Newsom's office said that the governor's decision was the result of consideration for the safety of students and teachers. He said the state would address the challenge further in court.

Families experiencing homelessness began moving into a transformed Super 8 motel in San Diego this week.

The city, the San Diego Housing Commission, homeless service provider Alpha Project of San Diego and the City Attorney's Office worked together to renovate the units as a temporary housing solution for homeless families and children.

San Diego County public health officials announced 385 new COVID-19 infections and nine deaths yesterday, raising the total number of cases to 24,520 and the number of deaths to 487.

Tuesday's cases, by the way, are the fewest recorded since July 7.

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

It’s Wednesday, July 22.

And yesterday, by the way, was an important pledge drive day for us at KPBS. If you’re listening to this podcast right now, and you’re not yet a member, do me a favor and consider becoming a member today. Go to kpbs dot org slash donate and join the KPBS family today.

Now stay with me for more of the local news you need.

So, Governor Gavin Newsom has announced those strict new measures for reopening schools in the wake of surging COVID-19 case numbers…

But those rules came with some fine print.

KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong spoke with one superintendent about how he plans to reopen schools even if the numbers in San Diego County remain high.

Under the governor's mandate, a county must be off the state's monitoring list for COVID-19 cases for 14 days before its school sites could reopen. But there's a clause in the governor's new rules that says superintendents can request a waiver of these requirements for elementary schools. David Miyashiro is the superintendent at Cajon Valley Union School District.

My team is in the process of putting something together now, because we fully intend to show the governor and to show our public health that our programs are running safely, we're following every guideline to a tee, and we're vigilant about safety.

The requests would go to the county health department for consideration. Miyashiro said he doesn't currently know when its waiver request would be approved.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Latino Californians have been vocal about how the virus could hit their community hard. They tend to be in higher risk jobs and have less access to medical care than other groups.

Their concerns are now playing out in the data, with Latinos dying at disproportionately high rates.

CapRadio's Sammy Caiola (kay-OH-luh) has more.

Latinos in their 50s and early 60s are dying from the virus at a rate five times faster than whites and one-point-five times faster than Blacks in the same age group, according to a new UCLA study.

Co-author David Hayes-Bautista says the disparity is driven by Latino farm workers who weren't protected early in the pandemic.

"And for the first two months we never thought of them as being as essential as physicians and nurses."

He says these workers may not take time off when they're sick because they're afraid of being fired. Or they might not know where to get care.

"You can't find a doctor who speaks spanish, you don't have health insurance, how are you going to do that? A lot of Latinos haven't gotten into the systems until after they've been exposed massively, eventually contract it, eventually develop a full blown case of the disease, and then they show up at the E.R."

Earlier this summer, a push to expand Medi-Cal to undocumented seniors got pulled from the state budget due to cost. Advocates hope these numbers will add fuel to the fight for broader health care access for this population.

San Diego County officials announced additional outreach campaigns yesterday to the region's hard-hit Latino community, The effort consists of a new TV, radio, online and signage campaign describing protective measures and community resources during the pandemic..

Ever since the pandemic began, San Diego County restaurateurs have had to navigate an ever-changing series of public health orders.

KPBS reporter John Carroll talked to a local restaurant owner who is figuring out the best way to run his business in the challenging era of COVID 19.

Since Governor Newsom issued the first-in-the-nation stay at home order in March, the people who own and run restaurants have been whipsawed from one public health order to another. Niccolo Angius, who co-owns Cesarina in Point Loma, says he's been able to survive by being flexible. The restaurant added an extra outdoor dining area in their parking lot. Cesarina didn't lay off any of their 46 employees… they shared whatever profits they made with them… and they were able to secure some financial help.

"We were granted Payroll Protection Plan halfway through the stay-at-home order and so that gave us the opportunity to bring everybody back on the normal payroll for 8 weeks."

Now, Angius says he's just taking things day by day, trying to stay nimble as he and his fellow restaurateurs navigate the uncharted waters of COVID 19.

Detecting cancer early on can be a life-saving measure for many people.

KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chatlani says UC San Diego researchers have developed a blood test that detects some types of cancer up to four years earlier than many diagnoses.

The World Health Organization says there are few types of screening tests that are proven to effectively detect breast and cervical cancer across a healthy population. UC San Diego Bioengineer Kun Zhang and his team launched a ten year longitudinal study to try out their own minimally invasive blood test on hundreds of people.

Zhang says the test takes less time to administer and has shown five types of cancer early on in many asymptomatic individuals.

ZHANG: You can identify it and then follow up and take action early on and that will lead to significant increases in survival.

The types include stomach, esophageal, colorectal, lung and liver cancer. The study is just a preclinical trial though. So Zhang says more robust studies are necessary to confirm these initial results.

San Diego County has nearly 600 assisted living facilities but not a lot is publicly known about how they’re handling COVID-19.

inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano tells the story of a tragic outbreak at one local facility.

CASTELLANO: Betty Gentry was a nurse’s assistant in World War II and the Korean War. She was the mother of four children, including two she adopted ... And she was one of three residents in a Chula Vista assisted living home to die from COVID-19.

GENTRY: “I’m upset that she’s gone, ‘cause I think my mother could have lived to over a hundred years old.” (4 seconds)

CASTELLANO: Gentry’s son Chris said his 94-year-old mother was taken from the assisted living home to the hospital in late April with a bad cough. During her stay at Sharp Chula Vista, he called her to check in.

GENTRY: “She was hard of hearing, so she barely could hear me. I know for a fact that I said, I told her, I love you. And she said, same. That was the last words I heard from my mom.” (10 seconds)

CASTELLANO: She died a week later from heart failure, pneumonia and COVID-19. She was one of five residents in the home to test positive for the coronavirus.

GENTRY: “I’m comforted that she’s with my dad and that they’re in heaven and she’s at peace.” (6 seconds)

CASTELLANO: Despite the three deaths linked to the Chula Vista facility, called Aury’s Home Care, there’s no way for the public to see how it’s been affected by COVID-19. The state and the county refuse to release the names of assisted living homes with fewer than 7 beds that have had outbreaks, saying they need to protect the health privacy rights of the residents.

MURPHY: “My view is that this issue of confidentiality is really outrageous.” (5 seconds)

CASTELLANO: Chris Murphy is the executive director of a San Diego nonprofit that advocates for residents at assisted living homes.

MURPHY: “If I’m a consumer and I have to place my loved one in an assisted living facility, I don’t have any way to independently verify on a state website whether the six-bed facility that I’m thinking about has COVID or not. So to not share that information with consumers when they have big decisions to make is, I think, irresponsible.” (28 seconds)

CASTELLANO: Assisted living homes are run differently than nursing homes. Nursing homes are medical facilities that have healthcare workers on staff at all hours, while assisted living homes have aides who help residents with daily tasks. When the pandemic began, these kinds of facilities didn’t have proper medical gear or infection control plans ready to fight a deadly virus.

CASTELLANO: Aury McDaniel, who runs Aury’s Home Care, gave inewsource a tour of the private rooms in her assisted living home.

MCDANIEL: “Here is an idea of a private room.” (3 seconds)

CASTELLANO: McDaniel said one of her caregivers contracted the virus from her husband and brought it into the facility before having symptoms. She said she did everything she could to protect her residents from infection… limiting staff hours, keeping out visitors and disinfecting every shopping bag that her workers brought in.

MCDANIEL: “I never went shopping. I never left home. Every single potato, every orange was disinfected.” (9 seconds)

CASTELLANO: McDaniel said that publishing data on COVID-19 would stigmatize her facility. People would get the wrong impression that she didn’t care, even though she loved all her residents, including Betty Gentry.

MCDANIEL: “Betty had a personality, very appreciative, very, very loving, that was easy to love.” (10 seconds)

CASTELLANO: Betty’s son Chris said he wishes McDaniel had taken more precautions, like checking her staff’s temperatures. He hopes his mother’s death will lead to more transparency at assisted living homes so the public can see how many cases they’ve had and make informed decisions about where to send their loved ones in need of care.

GENTRY: “I think it’s important today, the access to information like that to see how safe these facilities are, because you never know when a situation like this will come back up.” (10 seconds)

CASTELLANO: Betty Gentry is survived by 4 children, 2 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.

inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano…. inewsource is an independently funded nonprofit partner of KPBS.
Coming up…

Testing in more than 1,000 people found a new COVID vaccine spurred an immune response and had no severe side effects.

That story after the short break.

Promising results out of the UK this week…

Scientists at the university of Oxford have been working on an experimental coronavirus vaccine and the early trial results show that the vaccine has produced an immune response in hundreds of people, months after they got the shot.

The research came out in the journal Lancet on Monday.

KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chatlani spoke about the results with Shane Crotty, an infectious disease expert and vaccine scientist out of the LA Institute for Immunology.

So now that you've had a chance to look through the research, what are your initial thoughts

Speaker 2: 00:38 Encouraged? I think, uh, it's hard to make vaccines and there, there are lots of ways, lots of stumbling blocks along the way. Um, but yet looking at the, these vaccine trial results, they, they largely look like what what's expected, what this particular vaccine candidate was, uh, was hopefully going to be able to do in terms of eliciting immune responses. One key immune response of interest is the antibody response, and it is eliciting neutralizing antibodies. The antibodies we care about the most against, uh, SARS too. And those are, it was basically an a hundred percent of people. And there was a reasonable amount, the amount of antibodies that have vaccine elicits, a key thing that people are paying attention to in this one,

Speaker 1: 01:22 I was just going to ask, how does this vaccine compare to others that are going through clinical trials? Because I know there are maybe close to a dozen under the world health organization right now that are going through anywhere from stage one to stage three clinical trials.

Speaker 2: 01:37 Yeah, that's a great question. And in some sense, it's, it's not answerable basically because, um, immunology is complicated. And so the asset, the tests that get run for each clinical trial are run by different labs in different places, you know, so it's very hard to do, try and do any direct comparisons. My take on these is that there's been a whole bunch of vaccine clinical trial, uh, immune system data, immune response data been been released in the past two weeks and almost all of it's been encouraging, you know? And so to me, it's really good to see multiple different vaccine candidates doing reasonably well, you know, in their, in their either phase one or phase two clinical trials. It's, uh, you know, that the soccer analogy would be shots on goal. You know, you you'd, you'd like to have a bunch of vaccine candidates, cause it's definitely the case that not all of them are gonna work. So you want to have multiple candidates that each look reasonable and a number of these candidates that, that have been in the news today in the past couple of weeks use different technologies. So that's also good as well, you know, that not every vaccine strategy that's moving forward is identical. They are trying somewhat different things. They are eliciting different immune responses as well. Um,

Speaker 1: 03:01 Right. So if I'm understanding you correctly, the idea is that our body has all of these different types of weapons against the virus that can be helpful in stopping it. And this particular vaccine appears to be sort of encouraging all of those different weapons to be active in the body. Even months after the shot was administered.

Speaker 2: 03:24 This Oxford vaccine, you vaccine candidate used, uh, an ad, no viral vector. And yes, it elicited multiple arms of the immune system. And one of the RNA vaccine candidates from Pfizer, there was a report from their clinical trial today too. And in that one also elicited multiple arms of the immune system. Just to be clear, it's not actually months after immunization. At this point, the strongest data in the Oxford report was, um, people got two immunizations, one at time, zero and one at one month. And then they were looking, uh, one month after the booster. And those were the people who I think looked the best. They are, it is accurate that there were people who also just got the one immunization at time, zero, and then they looked at two months and there were responses and those people, but the people who got the two immunizations definitely look better.

Speaker 1: 04:22 You know, as we're talking about this, I wonder, you know, you say it's encouraging, but I wonder if it's too early still to get that excited because we do know that viruses can mutate. And even with these neutralizing antibodies that this particular virus is producing perhaps several months from now, they could be ineffective. So what do you think are the next steps?

Speaker 2: 04:45 Lots of scientists are thinking a lot, right? About those questions. Um, anybody who wants to be skeptical about vaccines success at this point, COVID-19 vaccine success, you know, in the next, uh, six months, it has every right to be skeptical because if you just look at the history of vaccines, they're, they're incredibly successful, right? Like the measles vaccine has saved like 14 million lives just in the past 10 years. That's incredible, you know, nobody even notices, but your average vaccine takes maybe 20 years to develop, right? So there, there are hard problems to solve. Usually they're very valuable to have, but they don't tend to be fast, but there have been things about SARS too, and COVID-19 and newer vaccine technologies that do look like it's, it's reasonable. Also, if somebody wants to be optimistic, you know, that the data available so far from the nature of the virus and the nature of the immune system and the way most vaccines work and the clinical trial data so far about those immune responses and the protective immunity scene and monkeys, um, that they'll look, they'll look reasonable so far. I would say the two to me, actually, the biggest concern is the durability of the, of the immune response. Um, so far just for time, these vaccine trials we've really looked at essentially immediately after vaccination, you know, within a month. Um, and you'd really like, of course, protective immunity to last, at least a year, you know, five years, 10 years, that's what most vaccines are capable of doing.

Speaker 1: 06:21 Even if the vaccine develops, do you foresee supply chain issues much like we have had in the U S with testing, what do you think a timeline might be for the vaccine to be developed? And then for it to actually be administered to all of the people? Um, not only in this country, but globally,

Speaker 2: 06:41 That's really a manufacturing question, which is not my expertise. Um, all I can say to that is several of the vaccine candidates, governments, companies, and philanthropic institutions have been thinking about this issue since at least March of wait a minute, how are you going to scale up the manufacturing and have enough have enough doses? And I, and I know that at least a couple of the vaccine platforms have said that they, they would expect to have be able to have millions of doses by the end of this year, which is really quite soon. And with bigger scale up thereafter, they have already been working on it, right? They're not waiting until they have a successful final clinical trial to try and resolve that.

And that was Shane Crotty, an infectious disease expert and vaccine scientist out of the LA Institute for Immunology, talking with KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chatlani.

That’s the show. Thanks for listening.

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