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Contact Tracing And Free COVID-19 Testing In San Diego

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San Diego is gearing up to deploy hundreds of coronavirus trackers. Also on KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: a new program is letting San Diegans get tested for COVID-19 for free, what the pandemic means for the future of legal pot in San Diego and more local news you need.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a framework for reopening businesses during the pandemic.

The framework offers guidance on how local businesses can ensure employee and customer safety as the local economy gradually restarts.

It requires businesses to post signs enforcing social distancing, facial coverings and other safety guidelines. It also requires businesses to have employees work from home as much as possible and that work spaces be disinfected frequently.

Governor Gavin Newsom says this “new normal” will stay in place until we get immunity or a vaccine.

Newsom held his press conference yesterday at a small Sacramento business that sells California-made products. He called on businesses and their customers to do what they can to follow the new rules.

"It's incumbent upon all of us to work with businesses like this to make sure that when we do start to open up the economy we do so in a safe and judicious way."

This next phase of reopening California's economy is mostly focused on retail but …. dine-in eating at restaurants or the reopening of offices or schools? Those are both still a ways off.

***
San Diego biotech company Illumina announced yesterday it’s donating $1 million to k-12 students and local front-line workers affected by COVID-19.

$300,000 will help pay for front-line worke rs' “critical needs'' such as personal protective equipment.

And $700,000 will support distance learning, technology and STEM education for San Diego-area students.

Illumina CEO Sam Samad said the ways in which San Diegans have come together to help one another through the pandemic have been inspiring.

From individuals to communities, from companies to countries. We're finding ways to support each other during this challenging time in order to address the pandemic together. We believe the only way to emerge out of this crisis stronger is together.

***

California is suing ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft. The suit alleges they mis-classified drivers as independent contractors under the state's new labor law, A-B-5 .

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday that drivers lack basic worker protections.

"From paid sick leave to the right to overtime pay, Uber and Lyft both claim that their drivers aren't engaged in the company's core mission and cannot, therefore, qualify for benefits. We say otherwise."

A-B-5 took effect in January and makes it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors instead of employees entitled to benefits.

In a statement Lyft said - quote - "we are looking forward to working with the Attorney General ... to bring all the benefits of California's innovation economy to as many workers as possible."

****

And for the latest local COVID-19 count: health officials announced 140 new cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths, raising the county's totals to 4,160 cases and 150 deaths.

***

From KPBS, I’m Kinsee Morlan, and you’re listening to San Diego News Matters.

It’s Wednesday, May 6.

We’re still in fundraising mode here at KPBS. And this podcast right here is powered by the editors and reporters and producers in the newsroom. It takes a big team to make shows like this happen, so please, if you’re listening and you like listening and you want to keep listening, consider supporting us at any level you can. Go to kpbs dot org slash donate.

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

A few months ago, few of us had heard of "contact tracing," which means tracking down everyone who might have interacted with someone with a disease like COVID-19.

But now state and local officials are ramping up contact tracing programs.

So how exactly does it work?

KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser says the process is actually a lot like what’s depicted in the movie Contagion.
___________

NAT POP
Kate Winslet: "Was there anyone else who had contact with her?"
Other guy: "Barnes picked her up from the airport."

This is Kate Winslet playing a doctor with the CDC in the 2011 movie "Contagion." Cut to the man--Barnes--on a bus looking really under the weather.

SOT con't
"I really need you to get off that bus. It's quite possible you've come into contact with an infectious disease and that you're highly contagious."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8elHn_fQFmM

This is a pretty dramatic version of contact tracing--Kate Winslet literally runs to meet the man as he gets off the bus. But aside from that, it's basically how contact tracing works.

Eyal Oren
San Diego State Epidemiologist
SOT "The idea of contact tracing is to identify new positive cases and track down their contacts who may or may not be sick."

Eyal Oren (AY-al ORR-en) is an epidemiologist at San Diego State and led contact tracing for Seattle's King County until 2012.

SOT con't
"Then we help that sick person, and those exposed to the sick person, isolate themselves, to stop further transmission of the virus. If one contact tests positive, they become a case, that same idea would follow."

Right now, that wouldn't be too difficult.

ANIMATED GRAPHIC 1:
Phase 1: Single stick figure with a + sign to show positive COVID test
VO: Under stay at home orders when someone tests positive...

Phase 2: 4 arrows from the first person appear pointing to 4 other stick figures
VO: ...you need to get in touch with their immediate family

Phase 3: 4 more arrows and 4 more people appear
VO: ...maybe the checker at the grocery store they visited, and if they went into work, whomever they spent time with there.

Phase 4: A + sign appears with one of those secondary stick figures
VO: If one of those contacts tests positive...

Phase 5: A new network of people appears from the second stick figure
VO: ...you start the process over again with that person's contacts.

GRAPHIC 2:
Phase 1: Single stick figure with a + sign to show positive COVID test
VO: Without social distancing, if a person tests positive...

Phase 2: 4 arrows from the first person appear pointing to 4 other stick figures
VO: ...you still need to get in touch with their immediate family

Phase 3: 20 more arrows and 20 more people appear
VO: ...but also many more contacts. People who sat near them at a restaurant, were around them at the zoo, worked near them at the office.

Phase 4: A + sign appears with one of those secondary stick figures
VO: If one of those contacts tests positive...

Phase 5: A new network of 20 people appears from the second stick figure
VO: ...you start the process over again with their contacts, which again is far more people.

Contact tracing has been used for 100 years, all the way back to the Spanish Flu in 1918.

SOT
"It didn't work in 1918 very well."

Stewart Baker was the head of policy for the Department of Homeland Security and managed other virus outbreaks. He says contact tracing is much easier with sexually transmitted diseases like HIV.

SOT con't
"Because those contacts are more memorable."

Though with stigmatized diseases like HIV, it was harder to get people to say they were positive and name contacts they'd had. Contact tracing is also credited with helping stop the spread of SARS.

But there are added challenges with COVID 19, says Eyal Oren, the epidemiologist.

Eyal Oren
San Diego State Epidemiologist
"The need for rapid case identification is really important. We know people can transmit the virus before they've had symptoms, so we have to find and quarantine people really quickly."

Traditionally, contact tracers get in touch by phone, but sometimes they need to go to people's homes. And they of course have to worry about people who are homeless or otherwise difficult to find.

Because of these potential obstacles and the need to reach people very quickly, several states are dramatically ramping up contact tracing.

SOT Oren "The estimate is you need 30 workers per 100,000 people, and that's double what you usually need. Most places don't even have what you'd usually need because of budget cuts."

San Diego County is in the early stages of developing a program and is planning on hiring 450 contact tracers, which is about half of what Oren recommends.

One thing is certain -- they won’t have trouble finding people who want to do the work. So many responded to an ad the county put on its website last week that they took it down almost immediately. But it still could be months before any program is fully up and running. Massachusetts started an aggressive contact tracing program a few weeks ago, but it has only hired about a 10th of the 10,000 people it wants making calls.

There are privacy concerns even in old-fashioned contact tracing. In the movie Contagion--spoiler alert--Kate Winslet tells Matt Damon his wife was cheating on him.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3rSiibWlM8).

But some states are taking contact tracing a step further with smartphone apps--the question is whether they'd work, and what privacy concerns surround them. We'll talk about those more tomorrow.

And that was KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser.

So, contact tracing and increased testing go hand-and-hand. And having robust testing and contact tracing programs up and running has been at the center of the conversation when it comes to what needs to happen before we can safely continue reopening society.

And now a new program is letting San Diegans get tested for COVID-19 for free.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman says the state is partnering with the private sector to open sites across the county.
________________________________________________________

The testing is by appointment only. It's completely free and doesn't require a doctor's referral. There are three sites, one in Escondido, Chula Vista and at Grossmont College in El Cajon.

Dozens lined up on the college campus for testing Tuesday. But those who had appointments for 9-am weren't tested until 11-am. Raul Samaniego (salmon-yego) of Kensington says it's a pain waiting so long in the sun, but he says the actual swab test is quick.

11;43;17;24 Raul Samaniego, lives in Kensington
Two hours in line, and then once you get in you should be out in ten minutes

Results are promised within 72 hours. There are two ways you can sign up for a test. The first is by going online to L-H-I.care/covidtesting. You can also call 2-1-1. Keep in mind you don't need to be a first responder, essential worker or be showing virus symptoms to get a test.
Appointments are available Monday through Friday, and strict social distancing guidelines are in place at the test sites.

***
Until recently, San Diego's legal cannabis industry was seeing slow and steady growth.

But like so many other sectors of the economy, it's been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen talks to experts in the field about what that means for the future of legal pot in San Diego.
_______________________________________________________

RONA SESH 0:05
Yeah, so what's everyone up to this week?

AB: It's a Monday evening, and five cannabis writers and industry professionals are holding their weekly hangout session on Zoom.

RONA SESH 0:12
Let's see, taking care of my plants that are now in a hoop house outside.

AB: One of them is Jackie Bryant, a cannabis writer based in San Diego.

RONA SESH 1:29
JB: I just don't have enough work right now, so it's like, alright. (You gotta do what you gotta do). I'm waiting on unemployment, they just cleared unemployment for independent contractors last week.

AB: Bryant visited a San Diego dispensary recently. She told me it feels safe… but less enjoyable than it used to be.

0:32
JACKIE BRYANT
CANNABIS WRITER
JB: They were spacing everybody apart, everybody's got PPE on, it's a very regimented, isolated, impersonal, sanitized, kind of freaked out situation. Honestly it feels like we've gone back to prohibition a little bit. (1:08) The whole thing is honestly a little depressing. I'm glad it's open and I'm glad it's there, but it's a little sad.

AB: Despite the more somber mood, dispensaries ARE still doing business thanks to Governor Gavin Newsom's decision to designate them as essential businesses.

In March, before that was clear, customers flocked to San Diego dispensaries to stock up. Rocky Goyal co-owns Apothekare, a licensed dispensary in Mission Valley.

GOYAL 0:23
ROCKY GOYAL
APOTHEKARE
RH: In the initial phases of the lockdown sales saw a big boost, really unexpected boost. Same thing we saw at the grocery stores and kind of all around town. Nobody was really ready for it, but I know that we handled that rush pretty well.

AB: But the rush ended almost immediately, as people started losing jobs and cutting back on discretionary expenses. Goyal has reduced employee hours to compensate for lost revenue. He's also looking to revive Apothekare's delivery service.

2:32
RH: We had a delivery service for a while, and we shut it down last year because we just couldn't get it off the ground successfully. The black market was really hard to compete with, we couldn't compete with those prices and that type of turnaround time that they offer. So we shut it down, and we're actually looking to start it back up again.

AB: Meanwhile Harbor Collective in Barrio Logan has seen a surge in deliveries. But less than 2 miles from the Convention Center, the shop has suffered from the evaporation of the tourism industry. Chief compliance officer Andrew McPartland said July would always bring a surge in business, with customers visiting for Comic Con, San Diego Pride and other summer events. With everything canceled, that's a lot of lost business.

MCPARTLAND 2:10
ANDREW MCPARTLAND
HARBOR COLLECTIVE
AM: Not to mention we just had the 4/20 that people were waiting for for arguably 10 or so years, where the entire month of April was 4/20. And then most people had to not only shelter in place but events all over the country and all over the state were canceled that would have raised huge revenues for both the local and state markets.

AB: McPartland said at the very least, he's glad dispensaries were allowed to stay open.

MCPARTLAND 5:34
AM: Being declared an essential business is a huge step in the right direction for us and making sure that the patients and the consumers are really protected and able to get a secured, quality product that we know has been tested and healthy and untainted.

AB: At the same time, most cannabis entrepreneurs agree the current situation is a setback for the legal market. Even before the pandemic, licensed pot shops struggled to compete with the untaxed, unregulated black market. Goyal says he doesn't expect an enforcement crackdown anytime soon.

GOYAL 3:48
RH: I get from a consumer's perspective, it's difficult to know, hey, is that illegal? Is it legal? And frankly I don't know that a lot of consumers care as much, right? Especially right now where there's so much uncertainty economically, if something's cheaper you're not going to ask a lot of questions, I think, about it, you're just going to go and do it and buy it.

AB: A setback for legal cannabis has consequences for the city of San Diego, too. Just a few months ago, city officials were counting on revenue from the local cannabis business tax to help close a budget deficit. Now those hopes have gone up in smoke.

And that was KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen with a solid pot pun there.

***
Many people who've had health problems during the last two months have discovered a different way of getting medical help. Health clinics, doctors and hospitals have created telemedicine platforms to practice remote diagnosis and treatment, due to Covid-19.

I did a telehealth appointment with my son and his pediatrician and, at one point, I was literally stuffing my phone camera up one of his nostrils. And she was able to diagnose him that way. It was pretty cool.

Well, Dr. Eric Topol (TOE-pull), the director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla and author of several books on digital healthcare, told KPBS Midday Edition that these hospital visits, via video, could become standard practice, even after the pandemic.

"We could do remote sensor technology very inexpensively and keep people out of the hospital setting, not just for the coronavirus but also for lots of other things in medicine."

***

Last Friday, a San Diego federal judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to review a plan to release immigrant detainees at Otay Mesa Detention Center who are at high risk for coronavirus.

But so far, ICE has released just two immigrant detainees out of 131 people identified as "medically vulnerable." Another 72 are expected to be released by the weekend.

With nearly 200 positive coronavirus cases, the Otay Mesa Detention Center has the largest outbreak of any immigration detention facility in the nation.

The judge's order stems from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Monika Langarica, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, joined Midday Edition’s Alison St. John to discuss the conditions inside the facility amid the coronavirus outbreak. And Langarica explains why the group is pushing for a "drastic reduction" of the number of detainees at the detention center.

The Otay Mesa detention facility is a minimum and medium security federal prison run by a private corporation, core civic, and your clients are people who are being held there in immigration custody. What are you hearing from them about the current conditions inside.

You know, we've heard, and we've made a record in this case of really what amounts to dangerous and potentially deadly conditions, whereby people are not able to practice.
The only sort of mitigation measures that we know to be effective during this pandemic, which includes social distancing and, you know, very vigilant personal hygiene. People are detained in, you know, housing units with upwards of 100 people. They sleep in cells with, you know, seven others. Um, they are, you know, frequently lack consistent access to very basic things like soap, you know, and we've learned that hand sanitizer, for example, is prohibited in the facility.

Um, access to things like masks and other personal protective gear has been. You know, highly inconsistent at best. So these are, these are dangerous conditions.

How much testing is actually taking place. We know we got updated figures yesterday at a hearing. Um, you know, indicating that obviously over a hundred people have been tested.

Um, and in a good portion of those are being. Are testing positive and some are testing negative. Um, but you know, we don't assume that the testing is enough. Um, and, and importantly, it's not clear whether testing is only occurring as to people who are symptomatic. Um, which sort of follows in this. Larger pattern of ice and these facilities feeling to account for pre symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission of the virus.

And what about quarantines? I mean, if, if people are tested positive, are they put in quarantine? Do they have that ability?

You know, we've gotten a lot of. Different and at times, inconsistent information, including from the defendants in the case, from the government and from core civic. Um, you know, we know that before last week's hearing,the defendants submitted, you know, hundreds of pages indicating that there were only eight, for example, medically vulnerable people, and that all were.Sort of isolated in one housing unit together.even if we took them at their word at that point, we know that only a couple of days later they submitted into evidence indicating that that was actually not the case.

Um, that there were far more than eight people. And now we've learned that there are more than 130 people who fall into this category So I think at best we can say that the information we have as to cohorting or quarantining or lockdown, however you want to call it, that has been inconsistent. And it goes to this larger point that under these circumstances, there's just no.

Reasonably safe way to keep people, especially medically vulnerable people confined in ice detention.

So since judge Dana Sabra issued the order to release a list of vulnerable detainees last Friday, how many have actually been released so far? I said yesterday is hearing, you know, the government had identified over 130 people.

Uh, who fall into this medically vulnerable, had a gory of those hundred of those over 130 people who had been released at that point. Um, and so the judge was very clear and, and setting up the expectation that the government should. Should, he should continue immediately releasing people and the government give an update that they expect that upwards of 70 people will be released by this weekend.

Well, how, how much of a reduction in the number of detainees do you think would be appropriate to maintain social distancing and keep people safe.

We know the release of medically vulnerable people is a logical first step, both to protect the health and safety of those people and to start us on a path of, of reducing the population, uh, where that population has to land ultimately to render a detention conditions safe.

During this time. Demic, uh, is, is largely dependent on what information the government provides, right? About Beck's of its own facility. And so that, that, that hard number, uh, remains to be seen. But. We know we are equivocal. And knowing that this current conditions call for a drastic reduction in the population.

Well, that raises the question of if somebody has tested positive for the virus when they're released, what provisions are being made for them to go in quarantine?

Right. And one of the things we've been very clear about from the outset here is we're really proposing. An orderly and a safe, uh, reduction in the population.

Here we are calling for a collaborative process whereby, you know, plus council. That's us. We'll work diligently with the defendants, with the government and course civic to ensure that every person. Has a plan that will account for public health guidelines and other public safety measures. This includes things like ensuring that self quarantine is available to people who have been exposed to the virus.

once a detainee is released, will they remain in the United States while their case keeps moving through the immigration courts?

Yeah. For people who, whose cases are ongoing, um, yes. You know, those individuals should be released. Um, they, um, we, we've learned that typically people in this situation have networks of care that are prepared to receive them in the United States. And we know that, we know that detention is not necessary in every single case.

You know, there are a number of non detained immigration court pieces that proceeded through the system on a daily basis. Uh, and, and we know that immigration detention is only. No, it's one tool of immigration enforcement. Uh, but the government has at its disposal a menu of options to ensure, you know, the continuity of these immigration court cases, including, you know, ensuring that people show up.

Um, and, and things like that.

No, we reached out to ice and the spokesperson said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation, but Iceland core civic have said that CDC guidelines are being followed and the warden has. You said they developed quarantine units, uh, implemented staff screenings and, and issued masks and other protective equipment.

Um, what's your reaction to that and what other precautions would you like to see taken.

At this point a judge has, has rolled to the contrary, no federal district court judge has ruled that our plaintiffs and our class members are likely to prevail on the merits of their substantive due process claim.

Right? Which means that these conditions of confinement under the current circumstances violate their rights to substantive due process under the fifth amendment. In this case, that's what, that's what the court is here for, um, to, to, to resolve those disagreements. I to put in place, uh, measures necessary to remedy the harm and the violation posed by these conditions of confinement, which is what judge Sabril has done in this case.

Um, and, and as we've stated, you know, repeatedly in the course of litigation. If we've learned anything from the outbreak at old time, Mesa, the rapid escalation with which the virus has exploded in the facility. It's that even if the government and the facility were to take every available measure during this pandemic, which we dispute.

That they have, but even if they were to take all available measures that still cannot mitigate the rapid transmission because of the nature of this pandemic and of that virus. And so under these circumstances. Release safe release according to public health guidelines is the only safe and available option to preserve the health and safety of people subject to ice detention that would tend Mesa and the broader safety and health and wellbeing of the community.

So, so far, only two have been really used towards the next step.

We have a status conference, like a hearing with the court on Friday, during which time the government is to report on updates as to the number of people released. Um, so we look forward to that. And in the meantime, our, you know. Um, diligently, you know, offering our collaboration to assist in the facilitation and implementation of this order.

And that was Monika Langarica, an immigrants' rights attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, talking with Midday Edition’s Allison St. John. You can hear more interviews like that by subscribing to the Midday Edition podcast wherever you listen.

***
The City of San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture and San Diego’s first-ever Poet Laureate Ron Salisbury are inviting the public to participate in a new public poetry program that’s working to collect a Poetic Response to the Pandemic.

The challenge is a way to engage the public by inviting folks to creatively express and share their feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic. To submit your poem, go to sandiego.gov/blog/san-diego-poetry-together-challenge. And if you want to read me your poem, I’d love to hear it. Call (619) 452-0228‬ and start reading your poem after the beep.

That’s all. Thanks for listening. More soon.

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San Diego News Matters

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