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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Are We Moving Too Fast?

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County health officials began easing restrictions on businesses Friday. But COVID-19 is still raging in the South Bay, where the area's most vulnerable populations live, and healthcare providers worry the county is moving too fast. Also on KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: the region's campgrounds opened over the weekend, sobbing over the loss of Soup Plantation and more local news you need.

The region's campgrounds opened over the weekend, with restrictions.

San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox encouraged people needing to get out of the house to take a ‘staycation.’

And check out one of our campgrounds….upside of outside.

If you go camping, every other campsite must remain empty and only members of a single household are allowed to share a site. Communal areas like playgrounds will remain closed.

The opening of the campgrounds applies region-wide, but city-run campgrounds can be closed by those cities.

The county is also opening tennis and handball courts, provided participants meet social-distancing requirements. Additionally, renting outdoor equipment like bikes, kayaks and surfboards will be allowed again.

Community pools are still closed. And they could be among the last places to be reopened, per the state's guidance.

Retail stores across the region have also opened for curbside service provided they meet San Diego County's guidelines.

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it has now released 65 medically vulnerable detainees from the Otay Mesa Detention Center.

That word came in a federal court hearing Friday, two days after another detainee died of COVID-19.

ICE said an additional 5 detainees were released over the weekend. Twenty more are waiting for medical clearance for release.

Over the past few weeks, the Otay Mesa Detention Center reported an outbreak of 140 detainees positive for COVID19. It’s the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in immigration detention in the country.

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California’s tourism industry is being devastated by the COVID 19 pandemic.

A new Tourism Economics report commissioned by the state’s tourism agency concluded California will lose 613-thousand jobs in that sector by the end of the month.

That cuts the workforce in half.

SANDAG chief economist Ray Major says bringing those jobs back is key to protecting jobs in other sectors.

00:10:25 – 00:10:49 “If that industry doesn’t come back then there is a good chance that the hotel motels won’t need as many employees. The restaurants, if they have social distancing and can only have half as many tables they may not need as many servers or as many line cooks. And so those restaurants might hire back 50 percent or 75 percent of the staff that they had before.”

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And for the latest local COVID-19 count: On Sunday, San Diego County officials reported 150 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths. That brings the county's total number of cases to 4,926, with 175 fatalities.

The total number of cases needing hospitalization so far is 955, and 297
cases had to be placed in intensive care.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration has given a San Diego
company called Quidel , emergency-use authorization for its COVID-19 rapid point-of-care antigen test.

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

It’s Monday, May 11.

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

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County health officials began easing restrictions on businesses Friday.

But COVID-19 is still raging in the South Bay, where the area's most vulnerable populations live.

inewsource reporter Brad Racino talks with South Bay healthcare providers who worry the county is moving too fast.
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LAURINO: "They're doing all the testing, said they got the swabbing. So this one is an unknown still if they're COVID or not."

RACINO: Infection preventionist Myra Laurino gave us a tour inside the Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center on a recent Friday, where medical staff fought to keep alive 58 people stricken by the coronavirus. The hospital has more COVID-19 cases than anywhere in the county.

PROTESTERS NAT POP

RACINO: That same day, protesters gathered in downtown San Diego to demand Governor Gavin Newsom reopen the state. They hoisted signs saying all businesses are essential.

PROTESTERS NAT POP

RACINO: The two scenes show the stark reality of what's happening right now in the county: On one hand, people need to get back to work. At the same time, the coronavirus is spreading fast in the South Bay where the majority of people considered highly vulnerable to COVID-19 live.

DAVIDSON: (NAT POP) "Yea i was here in 2009 for the pandemic and we were actually working …"

RACINO: Corinne McDaniels-Davidson is the director of the Institute for Public Health at San Diego State University.

DAVIDSON: "We know that in disasters, the people on the margins of society are often the most impacted. And what I mean by margins of society are those of limited means or low socioeconomic status — older adults and racial and ethnic minorities."

RACINO: The coronavirus is spreading fast among Hispanics. An inewsource analysis of county data shows in general, that demographic is nearly three times as likely to test positive for COVID-19 as someone who is white.

MENDOZA: "So in March … I only worked four days the last week of March."

RACINO: Patty Mendoza was recently laid off from her job. She says she can't bring herself to imagine telling her two children they'll soon be homeless.

MENDOZA: "I'm their mom. I'm supposed to be the strong one for them. Sometimes I feel like I'm not. Sometimes now I feel like I'm failing."

RACINO: Mendoza lives in Imperial Beach. She has asthma, which the CDC warns could place her at high risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19. So even though she needs to get back to work, she isn't eager for the county to ease restrictions.

MENDOZA: "I think it's too soon. I think there's going to be another spike."

RACINO: Health care providers in the South Bay are bracing for that surge. Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder told inewsource that Scripps hospitals are getting back to doing elective surgeries. But they're doing it carefully and slowly so they don't use up too much protective medical gear and can watch out for a growth in COVID-19 cases.

VAN GORDER: "I think our elected officials must be under enormous pressure to reopen. And I understand the impact on the economy. I mean Scripps, like every healthcare system, is losing money right now as well, but my responsibility is health-related and I just want to make sure that whatever we do, we do it very cautiously. We do it very slowly, so that if we do make a mistake in opening too fast, we can reverse course to get control of this disease."

RACINO: Scripps gave us projections that show the unequal impact the virus has had in the county: At its La Jolla and Encinitas locations, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations are expected to zero out starting in July. But in Chula Vista, if more mitigation efforts don't take place, the hospital anticipates a surge that will peak in September ... with about 300 COVID-19 patients at the same time.

VAN GORDER: "I think it's inevitable, as we loosen up the restrictions, we're going to have more people interfacing with each other, and I think it's inevitable when you do that, that you're going to see a rise. Now it may be a manageable rise. I hope it is."

inewsource and KPBS created an interactive map showing how vulnerable different populations are to COVID-19 in the county.

You can find it at inewsource dot org. inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.

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So, we've been staying at home or six feet away from others for weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but new cases are still reported every day.

A KPBS audience member wants to know why. Like, what is causing the spread if most people are staying at home?

KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento has the answer as part of our ongoing Curious San Diego series.
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Experts at Sharp HealthCare, Rady Children's Hospital and Family Health Centers of San Diego say there are multiple reasons but it's most likely because people either can't or won't abide by the rules. They may be exposed while on the job as essential workers, especially in low-income communities. While others may just not be following the rules well and are too lax on handwashing.

Scripps Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ghazala Sharieff said over a video call that some residents may not be following restrictions at all.

"I see more people out the streets in the last week. Kids play together not wearing a mask. People having potlucks, things like that. And so people are not adhering."

Sharieff also pointed out that new cases continue to grow in the county's border region, where Americans in Mexico may be crossing to access their health care in San Diego.

For more questions and answers about our community and the coronavirus, go to kpbs dot org slash coronavirusquestions.

***
Souplantation announced a few days ago that it would be closing all of its 97 locations.

The all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurant was founded in San Diego 42 years ago, so the news caused a social media storm of shared memories of the family dining hot spot. And some people, well, they were very upset by the news.

Kona, what’s the matter? Cries. Soup Plantation closed.

Meanwhile San Diego restaurant owners are hoping to scrape by in the time of Covid-19.

Restaurant owners didn't have much time to adapt when the pandemic hit.

State guidelines have forbidden seated dining at restaurants until further notice. Han Tran's [Notes:HAWN TRAN] is the owner of Ebisu [Notes:eh-BEE-soo] Sushi in Hillcrest. It quickly changed to take-out only, but that wasn't enough to sustain the business long term.

We kept Ebisu going all the way through, but it's been a struggle. The restaurant business is finnicky. Ebisu has been in a slow decline over time, and it's just a matter of deciding which direction to continue on.

Tran and her husband are part owners of a second restaurant, Shank and Bone in North Park. It's currently closed, and it'll eventually reopen for takeout. But on May 16th, Ebisu will shut its doors for good.

So how about a little bit of good news?

Over the weekend, South Bay Drive-In reopened for business.

Drive-ins seem perfectly designed for social distancing with patrons able to bring their own food and drinks and stay sheltered in their cars.

The snack bar will be closed but bathrooms are open. The drive-in had been ordered to shut down in early April by the city but has now been allowed to re-open according to its website and Facebook page.

So if you want to go out and see a movie you now have an option.

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Seniors have arguably taken the biggest hit in the COVID-19 pandemic. They have the highest death rate and with strict stay-at-home orders, life for them can at times can feel like house arrest.

KPBS Reporter Amita Sharma spoke with a City Heights woman who is crooning her way through the lockdown.

ADU6978_01(Sanchez 1)
11:55 I love to sing. I love to, I love to sing for the people."
Seventy-two-year-old Esmerelda Sanchez discovered her talent for music late in life.
11:55…."I was over 60 before I realized it was a gift. That is a real gift. I'll give you a sample, if you don't mind."
12:57 (Music plays, Sanchez sings, "Smile though your heart is aching, Smile even though it's breaking, When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by...If you smile through your pain and sorrowIf you smile through your pain and sorrow Smile and maybe tomorrow You'll see the sun come shining through, for you…."

Before the coronavirus crisis, Sanchez says life was full and she lived it outside of her tiny senior housing studio.
4:48 "I did enjoy very much going to Balboa Park. I'd sing and play a little bit, and then I go into the senior center. I play bingo, usually one at least one game. And then I come out and I'd sing and play some more. I have a lot of instruments and which I only brought the guitar, but I have a whole box of instruments that kids can use to be able to come over and handle the instruments and play with them, you know, pretend THAT they're the musician. So of course I miss that tremendously."
And now...over two months into the shelter-in-place directive, this native New Yorker also misses her friends.
8:37 I've been here only a year, but I got accustomed to going into the dining room and associating. And as I tell you, I started a group we call ourselves Queens. Queens from Queens. And we don't do that anymore. We still socialize on the phone and we still get together, but we're not in the dining room. That one-on-one-kind-of-everyday-sort-of-thing. That's not happening. I miss human contact."

Sanchez says an unexpected benefit of the lockdown is that it's helped her unlock her true self.
ADU 6978-02 Sanchez 2

3:42 I learned that I'm a survivor. I think more than anything,
4:09 I feel I believe for me, the learning is that I'm meant to be here. I meant to be here and I don't fully understand it, and I hope that amongst all the words in the gibberish that comes out of my mouth, that maybe someone else will glean an idea of what it is. But I feel that I've learned to love and to forgive. If you can't forgive, then you can't communicate, you can't collaborate, you can't get along to save this planet, to save our earth.
Add Speaker
00:04:43.470
So as a person who holds a grudge for the first time in countless years I spoke to a sister of mine that I just don't and I love you. You know, from a distance. But we speak on the phone now. So I learned to forgive.

Add Speaker
00:05:27.270
Q: What words of advice would you give to other seniors, who during this time, might feel neglected, isolated, lonely?

7:10 Just get up in the morning and make the bed.
It's incredible. But make that spreaded up, throw a pretty pillow on it, whatever, move around as much as you possibly can

7:41 Do what you can for yourself. You know. Well, and tell me old people. We do have our own people ways do and our own people things, you know, but sometimes, like now reach out, step outside of that little box that we're in and reach out to people, because just like you might need someone, that person that you knock on the door.
That might be just the thing that keeps you from the hangman's robe or the pills or the dope or whatever foolishness that they might think is better than being alive.'

ADU6978_01(Sanchez 1)END with music
:05 "That's the time you must keep on trying, Smile what's the use of crying, You'll find that life is still worthwhile, If you just smile, Smile though your heart is aching, Smile even though it's breaking, When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by"

At the Birch Aquarium, staff have shifted their work routines to keep the animals safe and alive during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chatlani checking in with the aquarium’s staff.
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AMBI: "I'm nervous. Omg! Hi everyone good morning from Birch Aquarium!"

Birch Aquarium Communications director Caitlin Scully introduces a recent Facebook Live chat video with one of the aquarists, who works with the animals…

The guest experience is part of the job at the aquarium. These live chats -- with video of marine life and aquarist interviews -- is one way the team has adapted, among other ways.. says Scully.

00:07:59:14
SCULLY: It's requiring a lot of creative solutions when it comes to not only when it comes to extra care for these animals… but also how to communicate with the team in new ways. What are we going to do if we need to bring the vets?

They've also stockpiled months of seafood to feed the animals. And, the team has been split up to avoid contact, says Jennifer Moffatt, lead aquarist.

Moffat: There's a lot of stress for everybody… the virus, and then you change schedules .. they are used to working with other teams..an education, exhibits and visitor services none of those folks are present. Everything else is quiet. It's also kind of a shining moment for them… because they are still able to tell stories.

Moffat says the 6,000 animals at Birch Aquarium are still getting their daily care and are thriving. Though some are definitely missing the guests.
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So, one way for people to relax and chill a bit amid the COVID-19 pandemic is to sit back with a nice glass of wine.

The owners of The Rose Wine Bar in South Park know this, so when businesses closed, they opened up an online store. But they still missed seeing their clients, so they did something else, too.

To find out more about the online tastings, check out @therosesouthpark on instagram.

That’s all for today. Thanks for listening.

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San Diego News Matters

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