Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: George Floyd Protests | Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Moving Toward A New Normal

Cover image for podcast episode

San Diego County remains on track to loosen restrictions Friday on the types of business which can open. Also on KPBS’ daily San Diego News Matters podcast: the first confirmed death of an immigrant detainee from the virus, San Diego County is considering using smartphone apps to do the contact tracing and more.

An Otay Mesa Detention Center detainee died Wednesday from COVID-19.

It’s the first confirmed death of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee from the virus.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed several lawsuits demanding the release of medically vulnerable detainees at the facility.

Last week, a judge ordered the release of 130 at-risk detainees at the facility. As of Monday, ICE had only released two people.

Another hearing is slated for Friday, at which an update on the release of detainees is expected.

***
Pressure is building on state and county leaders to move faster toward reopening the economy. San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman was joined by government and business leaders at the city hall concourse Wednesday morning, to press the point.

"That's why we're here today, to pressure the Governor and the County to move quicker rather than slower and get people back to work where they can support their families."

The mayor of El Cajon, Bill Wells argued the danger of San Diego County's healthcare system being overwhelmed has now passed.

He urged Governor Gavin Newsom to let Californians be safe but also find some, quote, semblance of normality.

***

San Diego County is working on moving toward normality...or at least a new normal.

It remains on track to loosen restrictions Friday on the types of business which can open.

The county now has an official checklist for businesses that want to reopen for curbside service. The list of recommended protocols and strategies is in a PDF you can find and download at sandiegocounty.gov slash coronavirus.

County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten says business owners are asked to contact local police if people aren’t observing social distancing at the line-up outside their facilities.

There may be a few people that do not and are, um, um, law enforcement, uh, will do their part to enforce a violation of the orders. But today, everyone has really done a great job and that is why our numbers, uh, are trending in the right direction.
***
And for the latest local COVID-19 count: Local health officials reported 159 new cases and eight deaths Wednesday, raising the county totals to 4,319 cases and 158 deaths.

So far, about 20 percent of all people here who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 end up being hospitalized, 6.5 percent spend at least some time in intensive care and 3.7 percent have died from COVID-19.

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

It’s Thursday, May 7.

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

MIDROLL 1 AD

As authorities begin to allow the reopening of the economy, they are counting on contact tracing, the tracking of interactions of people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

And some governments including San Diego County are considering using smartphone apps to do the tracking.

KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser looks into the technology and its privacy concerns.

NAT POP
"The way I see it, this is a responsibility."

Marianne Erikson lives in downtown San Diego and says she would happily use a contact tracing app on her phone.

Marianne Erikson
Downtown San Diego Resident
SOT
"If the government really wanted to track me they could. In this case they're tracking because it will help all of us, the more they know, the more we know. And making everyone staying at home so that people are out of work is not good."

But not everyone agrees.

SOT
"Nope. I would not."

Khalid Alexander lives in Southeast San Diego.

Khalid Alexander
Southeast San Diego Resident
SOT
"For me, it's combining the two things I distrust the most: government and technology. Mixing the two together without understanding oversight, objectives, how information be used, so many questions that surround it, there would have to be a lot of information and education to make me remotely comfortable with it."

Contract tracing--tracking infected people to see who they've been in contact with--will likely be a crucial component to reopening society. And some governments are counting on using smart phone apps to do a lot of this work for them. But it’s far from certain whether enough people will agree to use the apps to make them effective.

A recent Washington Post poll found 40 percent of Americans say they are either unable or unwilling to use contact tracing apps. If the non-compliance rate ends up being this high, then the apps won’t work. Still, plans are underway. San Diego County is considering an app, as is California.

All of the apps, which operate on technology from Google and Apple, would likely use bluetooth, not GPS, to determine who you've been close to. Then, if you were infected, you could CHOOSE to send an alert to all those contacts.

SOT
"That's crazy."

Stewart Baker was the head of policy for the Department of Homeland Security and managed other virus outbreaks.

Stewart Baker
Former DHS Head of Policy
SOT
"When you find out you have been infected and it comes time to send a notice, the selfish person would say, what am I going to get out of this? A lot of people could say no, so I'm not sure you should give people this option."

In fact, Baker thinks the government should make the apps mandatory.

SOT
"We're in a different situation, a different crisis, and we need tools that actually save lives. In those circumstances, we're going to make compromises about privacy, as we already have. Two months ago if I said do you think the government could tell you to stay home and lose your job, we would never do that, and now we're accepting it more or less because the alternative is worse. That's a much greater privacy intrusion."

But Adam Schwartz, a senior lawyer at the privacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that's a false equivalency.

Adam Schwartz
EFF Senior Lawyer
SOT
"There's this tendency for people to say, Silicon Valley you need to nerd harder, come up with a magic app to save us from this situation. The problem is when the proposal for the magic app is inherently intrusive to our privacy. "

He says apps are fine, as long as they are voluntary, you can delete sensitive contacts, and the data is only stored for two weeks. And he wants people to realize that apps won't always work.

SOT
"People need to be realistic, because there are a lot of false positives. You could have two cars with windows up that stop next to each other and you'd get pinged as a contact. At best, they are highly limited, and would only make a marginal difference."

Schwartz also has concerns about abuse: police could use apps to track people, or employers could use them to find unionizing efforts.

SOT
"We're all too familiar with the norm that the government, when faced with crisis, seizes new surveillance powers and when crisis abates, it keeps them. Here we are 20 years after 911, and many of those powers are very much still in place."

That resonates with Khalid Alexander.

Khalid Alexander
Southeast San Diego Resident
SOT
"We're not very far off from targeting Muslim communities, FBI surveillance, going into mosques, harrassing people for no other reason than being Muslims."

He would happily talk to a contact tracer on the phone but would definitely not install a contact tracing app.

And that was kpbs investigative reporter Claire Trageser.

***

The Newsom Administration is offering to pay senior assisted living communities to take in COVID-19 patients.

KPBS's Amita Sharma reports that doctors say this would be unnecessary and dangerous.

The California Department of Social Services says assisted living facilities have "an opportunity" to provide additional beds for COVID-19 patients through state contracts. Those with six or fewer beds would receive $1,000 a day.

A department spokesman says only seniors with mild or no symptoms would be sent to the facilities and they must be segregated from other residents. But Physician Michael Wasserman, who is president of the California Association of Long Term Medicine, says he doesn't know of one assisted living facility in the state prepared to handle COVID-19 infected people.

4:10 " They are not hospitals. This virus is absolutely deadly to this vulnerable population. This edict potentially creates the ability for a hospital to send someone with covid into an assisted living facility where they could infect other residents. That sort of approach will get more people killed. "

Sally Michael, president and C-E-O of the California Association of Assisted Living says the group neither asked, nor endorsed the state's decision.

Some new studies are suggesting the coronavirus is mutating and could be more dangerous.

But KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chatlani spoke to a San Diego expert who says there's no need to worry about that.

Human babies aren't just cute, they're mutants…meaning they're modifications of cells from parents. Similarly a mutated virus, is just like a child.. It's evolution..

But some studies are suggesting that Sars-CoV-2 is becoming more contagious and dangerous. However, genomic epidemiologist Kristian Andersen of Scripps Research says

There's actually no data to suggest that that is true. There is no data to suggest that we have a virus that is more deadly, less deadly, for that matter.

He says while there's some evidence suggesting a mutation of the virus has spread from Europe to the US...but the difference is likely negligible. The virus is already transmissible and clearly deadly.

It's just all just one virus. Take that seriously and not be so concerned about mutations...These are a natural part of what viruses do.

So, when it comes to a vaccine, Andersen says the mutations don't make much of a difference either. He says the hard part is finding a vaccine that works in the first place. Adjustments, he says, can happen later.

***

San Diego county has approved and sent to the Governor its plan to reopen some businesses in the area.

The guidelines will require a substantial amount of changes...everything from making sure employees have symptom checks and protective gear… to rearranging the physical layout of stores.

Seth Marco is the co-owner of a bookstore called Catapult in South Park. He said his store will start implementing curbside pick ups after the new guidelines go into effect.

"You know, the Governor's announcement is encouraging to us that, you know, it is okay to maybe open up for the curbside. We're still very concerned about social distancing, and making sure everything is clean and wiped down, at this point we can maintain the social distance we are familiar with us at this point."

But at a used bookstore in North Park, it’s a different story.

Justine Epstein (ep-STINE) of Verbatim Books said she’s not planning on opening up for curbside pickup.

so it don't think that verbatim books will be able to do curbside pickup since we don't have our inventory available to the public and since used books can each be so different. I think it would be hard to make the condition clear to our customer and I wouldn't want people to not know what they're getting. We're really set up for browsing and just pivoting into a online distance business model is not something that we're really ready to do, especially for such a short time and I think it's better for us to wait until it's safe to reopen

***

UC San Diego is taking an important step towards getting students back on its campuses this fall.

The university announced a plan to start mass testing students, faculty and staff.

KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong explains what this means for students.

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla announced late Tuesday that the university would test the 5,000 students currently living on campus starting as early as Monday. By Fall, the university hopes to test all students, faculty and staff on a monthly basis. It's one of the first colleges in the nation to go public with plans to test all students. But UC San Diego's experts caution that mass testing is only half the battle.

RobertSchooley.mp4
11:11:24
"So we have a very active program in which this is only a part."

Robert Schooley is a professor of medicine at UC San Diego who's overseeing the plan. He says no one should assume at this point that campuses will be open when the fall term starts in late September.

RobertSchooley.mp4
10:19
ROBERT SCHOOLEY // UCSD PROFESSOR
"We could be in a situation where we're all still working from home and no campuses canopen in the fall. So this is based on the assumption that communities and national conditions are such that we can come to campus and work together."

Considering its prestigious health sciences departments, UCSD is well equipped to carry out mass testing. And Schooley said he would be open to eventually partnering with other local colleges.

Trevor Jones is a premed student at UC San Diego. agrees that testing capacity is crucial, but as of now he doubts he'll feel completely safe going back to his lecture halls come fall.

TrevorJones.mp4
03:52:15
"There would have to be a full vaccine, I do have family members who are in that range and are at risk. Even if I get the test, a week later, that's still enough time for them to become infected."

In the meantime, Jones says he's OK with online classes, as long as he's able to graduate in time.

Construction crews have begun building the border wall in the Otay Mountain Wilderness.

It's the first new miles of border fencing in San Diego county in decades.

KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler visited the site.

AMBI: TRUCKS

On Tuesday, trucks drove up the side of a mountain to deliver concrete and water to the construction site.

The project is moving ahead after a lower court ruling was overturned, allowing the Trump administration to redirect Department of Defense money to border wall construction.

Last year, over 500 acres of land had been transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Army. The new primary fence will run 1 point 2 miles along the border.

This comes as other border wall projects continue across the southwest border amidst the pandemic. The federal government has said these projects are exempt from statewide stay-at-home orders.

In a statement, Customs and Border Protections said "The safety of our employees, including that of our contractors, and the people in the communities in which we work is our top priority."

It seems like the stay-at-home orders have inspired just about everyone to try their hand at baking bread. I mean, for real, it took me WEEKS to finally get my hands on some flour because it’s just flying off grocery store shelves.

My husband has all these sourdough starters sitting out in mason jars on our counter...and I swear, it’s like his own little indoor garden the way he looks after them and tends to them.

Beryl Forman knows a thing or two about sourdough starters…

I've been making olive bread with a sourdough starter for over thirteen years and through this quarantine effort been motivated to barter and all of a sudden started selling scaling up and selling my bread.

Beryl’s day job is running events and other public-facing efforts for the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association, so she’s pretty well known in the community. She says she uses natural yeast and the slow-rise process. and I’ve been seeing the bread pics on social media, and they do look delicious. Email formanberyl@gmail.com for details.

That’s all we’ve got. 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.