Skip to main content

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

Six Coronavirus Outbreaks In 7 Days

Cover image for podcast episode

ALEXANDER NGUYEN

Families having picnics at Balboa Park on June 17, 2020, as a bicyclist rides through and a sign in the foreground showing what's allowed in the park during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, reported several new community outbreaks — defined as at least three cases traced to one location — and the last seven days have seen six such outbreaks, one shy of "triggering" a setback in the county's reopening plans. Also in KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: a new report from the San Diego Association of governments says compared to whites, black and hispanics in our county are four times more likely to live in areas impacted by COVID-19 and unemployment, plus more local news you need.

A new report from the San Diego Association of governments says compared to whites, black and hispanics in our county are four times more likely to live in areas impacted by COVID-19 and unemployment.

County data shows Hispanics and Latinos make up two thirds of positive cases and have the highest percentage of COVID-19 deaths.

Paola Martinez-Montez of Invest in San Diego Families says people of color are often working the frontlines of the pandemic in service jobs.

While communities advocated for beach days and reopening of golf courses, black and brown communities are advocating for housing, worker and healthcare protections.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher says issues of inequities for people of color has a long history.

00:31:58:16 Nathan Fletcher, San Diego County Supervisor
I feel like that government system in the last 200 years in america has not been working for communities of color. Th at's why you have the problems that you have
00:32:46:03 Fletcher
What's changed is covid and the accompanying social unrest not just around the murder of Mr Floyd has shone a spotlight on these issues that has engaged a lot of folks that haven't historically been engaged

So Fletcher, other local politicians and communities leaders have created a task force that will meet regularly hoping to bridge that divide.

00:34:26:07
The point of this group is to take the voices of the community and the elected officials and I figure out hey what needs to change

The coalition has its first virtual meeting next Wednesday.

***

Rates of positive COVID-19 test results and hospitalizations in San Diego have remained pretty flat at about 3 percent over time.

But Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, reported several new community outbreaks — defined as at least three cases traced to one location.
The last seven days have seen six such outbreaks, one outbreak shy of "triggering" a setback in the county's reopening plans.
Of the six outbreaks in the past week, two are tied to restaurants, three in other businesses and one to a residence.
Health officials continue to monitor 13 potential triggers, or metrics, that could cause the county to rethink opening certain types of businesses or even pause all reopening efforts.
***

60 to 70-thousand seniors in San Diego County who need food assistance are not getting the benefits they're eligible for. That's according to the San Diego Food Bank.

A bill making its way through the legislature aims to change that. SB 882, authored by Bay Area Democratic Senator Scott Wiener, would streamline the process for seniors applying for CalFresh, making it much easier to simply apply over the phone.

Mira Mesa senior George Rionda says that's a great idea.


"There's a lot of seniors like us, and much worse than us that really, really, really need a simple thing, just a simple call and everything will be taken care of."

Senator Wiener's bill is scheduled for a committee hearing today.

***

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 Thursday, June 18.

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

They’re stifling. You have to smell your own breath. You don’t look as cute…

You may not like it, but a San Diego researcher says wearing face coverings is still one of the best tools to prevent COVID 19 infections.

KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson has details.

Hand washing, social distancing and face coverings are considered key strategies to control the spread of the coronavirus. New research due to be published next week in the Journal Science find the risk of infection from aerosols released by just talking is much greater than initially thought. Atmospheric Chemist Kim Prather says that means masks are essential.

:13
00:07:44 --- 00:07:57 “The number one reason to wear a mask is because you don’t know who’s sick. We can’t identify people. And they estimate as many as 40 percent of the people that are sick are walking around exposing people for days.

Prather says masks are one of the best tools to keep the airborne virus from spreading, but she worries infection rates will go up because people are not wearing masks when they go outside.

00:11:00—00:11:18 “The main route for exposure, many times, for this virus is through the air. And so social distancing is still important, hygiene is till important. But masks are really the thing that will allow us to get back out and function as a society.”

***

UC San Diego researchers claim a tool they call "nano-sponges," can be used to stop the coronavirus from infecting the human body.

These sponges "soak up" the virus before it can get to the cells where it can stick, thrive and multiply. That’s according to UCSD molecular engineer LiangFang Zhang (Lee-Ong Jong).


It's not targeting the individual virus or virus species. It's protecting our host cells, our lung our organs.

KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chatlani has the story.

When a virus enters the body it looks for cells to latch onto so it can thrive and multiply. So, UCSD molecular engineer Liangfang Zhang thought - why not target those cells and organs and protect them instead of attacking the virus?

That's the idea behind these nanosponges. They're tiny biodegradable particles that are coated in cellular material. Zhang says the virus or toxin is attracted to these decoy cells, which then "soak up the virus" like a sponge, and divert it away from the cells they can actually stick to and infect.

ZHANG: So we created two types of cellular nanosponges and they can inhibit the viral infectivity over 90%.

Those results were from petri dish studies in the lab. So now Zhang says it's important to try out this method in animal models.

President Trump has signed an order to extend the use of the National Guard through August to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That ends the latest controversy over the benefits guard and reserve members receive when they are called up.

Supporters say it's part of a long march to achieve parity with active duty troops who have been increasingly called to action over the last 20 years.

KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh has this report.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

For the past month, Specialist Richardo Benitez has been staying in a hotel outside LA, while his Guard unit works at a food back in Los Angeles.

00;11;57;10
"So basically I wake up at five. I prep for myself at the hotel. It includes some hot coffee and some oatmeal and we just drive out over here. We meet up at 7:30 a.m."

Then pack meals which are sent to drop off sites around LA County, then head back to his hotel. Benitez doesn't even get to see the people he's helping. Instead, during downtime in his hotel, he follows some of the local nonprofits on social media.

00;08;14;05
"I do see how the cars line up, break of dawn basically, to get some meals in their trunks. So that give me a little bit of, piece of mind, where my work is going to."

The response to the coronavirus is among the largest domestic call ups of the national guard. Roughly 41K troops were mobilized in March. In L.A. County, the guard was dispatched to nursing homes when staff became ill with the virus. In several states, guard troops are administering tests. They're deployed in nearly every state and US territory.

00:17:18:04
"With everyone on lockdown people are afraid to go do that work but the national guard is there to step in."

That's Frank Yoakum, who leads the trade organization for people enlisted in the National Guard.

00;17;36;01
"We will do whatever mission you want to give us."

But during several recent missions, there's been a debate over how to compensate the guard. Advocates in and out of Congress cried foul when the Trump administration called up the guard for 89 days for the COVID response -- one day short of the 90 days needed to qualify for early retirement and GI Bill benefits.

Originally during the pandemic, the guard was called up for 30 days -- one day short of when they would qualify for a larger housing allowance, as well as medical benefits for their families under the military's Tricare.

Yoakum says the federal government should give the guard the same benefits as active duty troops within few days of when they're called up.

"It would put everyone under the same status immediately, you wouldn't have to beg DOD. You know if the president signs an executive order that says there is a nation disaster…"

...then everybody would get the same benefits.

The immediate problem was corrected by the president's recent decision to extend the pandemic deployment into August. [Notes:California] Congressman Mike Levin has held hearings on the pay inequity issues between guard and active duty troops.

00;02;21;02
"I'm very happy that the administration corrected what I thought was just a terrible decision that seemed designed to deny benefits from service members."

When a similar discrepancy came up for National Guard members deployed at the border, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued a letter that allowed those troops to earn equal time toward GI Bill benefits. Levin says guard service has changed.

0:02:47:24
"Now day in and day out they're doing the same things. They are taking similar risks. As a result I have believed and will continue to believe that they ought to be getting the same pay and the same benefits as well."

Congress is looking at whether guard troops should receive hazard pay for their work in the pandemic. But a long term fix to the pay and benefit issues has been elusive, even though more guard troops than ever are being called up domestically.

KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh.

***

President Trump's wall now appears along 200 miles of U.S.-Mexico borderland. Progress hasn't slowed during the coronavirus pandemic; in some places it's even accelerating.

But Arizona Public Media's Alisa Reznick [Notes:uh-LEE-suh REZ-nick] reports there's a tiny swath of tribal land on the Colorado River where that's not the case.

The Cocopah Indian Tribe's reservation sits in the river's delta, a corner of the borderland where California, Arizona and Mexico meet. But the tribe's members have been tied to the river much longer than those states have existed.

The Colorado River where we are located is the line that divides us between US and Mexico. So the river itself is also on our land. 15

That's Joe Rodriquez, a Cocopah tribal member and the director of its museum. The Gila River joins the Colorado nearby and water used to flow all the way into the Gulf of California. Rodriquez says it sustained the animals tribal members hunted and provided the mud for the houses they built.

The river water is life, life. Everything that we need to sustain our tribe, ourselves our families is obtained from the river itself. 10

But access to that lifeline has been uncertain. The Trump administration is lining the US-Mexico border with a 30-foot steel wall. Until recently, that included the Cocopah's seven mile stretch of borderland where a portion of the river is. But in May, a court document filed by federal lawyers slashed funding for the Cocopah section.

The document says it's because of difficult terrain and high building costs. But other wall sections planned in the area will cost as much if not more. Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva says the real reason for the change is about tribal sovereignty.

It would be foolish of homeland security of this administration to challenge sovereignty, because you're challenging sovereignty at all levels if you do that.

Grijalva says this point has already been made -- successfully -- by another tribe -- the Tohono O'odham Nation. The southern Arizona tribe has a reservation the size of Connecticut. More than 60 miles of it runs along the border. Tribal leaders like Chairman Ned Norris Jr. have been outspoken about their opposition to any wall on their land.

For us this is no different from DHS building a 30 ft wall along Arlington cemetery 6

Unlike the Tohono O'odham, Cocopah leaders haven't opposed the wall. They declined to comment on news of the portion being cut, but provided a copy of a letter tribal lawyers sent to Customs and Border Protection in May.

It says the Cocopah have cooperated with agency requests in the past, allowing access roads, patrol cars and chest-height vehicle barriers on the seven mile border stretch. Lawyers say the tribe has been kept out of the loop about construction plans. But a 30-foot wall is unacceptable because it would cut off vital access to the river and sacred sites.

And it's not just tribes who are worried about what a wall could do to the landscape. Environmentalists like National Audubon Society's Colorado River Program Director Jennifer Pitt say before agriculture, industry and cities, this delta was an oasis.

This area was once an ecosystem of somewhere between one and a half to two million acres of wetlands, riparian corridors and mud flats. 10

She says binational conservationists have spent years creating restoration sites on both sides of the border. But those could be blocked by other sections of the new wall.

Construction is continuing elsewhere outside tribal land. Isaac Russell lives within a mile of the border just north of one section of the Cocopah reservation. He and his wife used to bike through a thicket of trees on the river's path along the border. But now…

They did massive amounts of clearing and they're still doing more for wall north of the dam. Cottonwoods, mesquites, palms. A bunch of stuff 14

Russell's testimony is part of an environmental lawsuit against the wall project now. He says he didn't know wall segments were even planned in his area until environmental groups told him. Border Patrol requested public comment for the project last summer, but he says the construction contract was awarded a day into the comment period. Construction began last year.

In an email, the agency said it consults with stakeholders like tribes and border residents on wall projects. Over 50 miles of border wall has already been built in the Yuma area. Construction along another 56 miles is ongoing.

That was Arizona Public Media's Alisa Reznick [Notes:uh-LEE-suh REZ-nick], and her story is part of ongoing coverage of the Colorado River basin, produced in partnership with Arizona Public Media and KUNC in northern Colorado.

***
Black Lives Matter protests are expected to pick back up this weekend.

Friday, June 19 is Juneteenth, an unofficial national holiday also known as Emancipation Day. It commemorates the day in 1865, after the Confederate states surrendered to end the Civil War, when a Union general arrived in Texas to tell the last group of enslaved African Americans of their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation.

A local mom called in to explain why she’s been taking her kids to local protests against racial injustice.

My name is Erin Kendell and I live in Tierrasanta and I took my three small children ages one five and seven to a small but very important protest here in Tierrasanta. We attended a protest with about fifty other people and I took my kids because they want them to see that there are plenty of people in the world willing to fight the good fight and I want them to be part of the change.

That’s it for today. Thanks for listening.

San Diego News Matters podcast branding

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.