Skip to main content

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

Opening The Casinos

Cover image for podcast episode

Four San Diego Indian casinos will reopen this week. Also on KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: expanded COVID-19 testing and new testing sites in central and southeastern San Diego, the COVID-19 numbers in San Diego County suggest the virus was likely not widely circulating before stay at home orders, as it may have been in other places like New York City and more local news you need.

Hate crimes based on bias and prejudice are on the rise amid the pandemic.

In Santee, the man who wore a white KKK hood to the grocery store did not face criminal charges...the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said there was insufficient evidence.

But in response to that incident and incidents in which people used their COVID-19 face coverings to display symbols of racism and hate, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Sunday that he will propose the creation of a human relations commission to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The proposed commission would consist of 25 voting members representing a cross-section of the community.

And Fletcher said the objective of the commission will be to, quote, “foster an inclusive
culture and more equitable San Diego County.''

***
San Diego County health officials announced expanded COVID-19 testing and new testing sites in central and southeastern San Diego, beginning Monday.
The new locations include an appointment-only drive-up site in Mission Valley in the San Diego County Credit Union Stadium lot, with a capacity of 180 tests per day. The site will be open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. County residents should call 2-1-1 to make an appointment.
The city also reopened three of its lakes over the weekend.
Lake Miramar, Lake Murray and Lower Otay are now open for jogging, biking, walking and boating.
***
San Diego-based biotechnology company Sorrento Therapeutics says it’s found an antibody that can stop the coronavirus from infecting human cells. Scientists there say - in a lab setting -- the antibody can neutralize 100% of the virus.
The company isn’t the first to find neutralizing antibodies, but it’s the first to report 100% effectiveness.
The next step is to test the therapy in animal or human clinical trials.
***

And for the latest local COVID count: San Diego health officials said 313 new COVID-19 cases were reported over the weekend, and two more people died from COVID on Sunday. That brings county totals to 5,836 positive cases in the county and 209 deaths.

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

It’s Monday, May 18.

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

Four San Diego Indian casinos will reopen this week.

Viejas Casino and Resort in Alpine will open today, followed by Sycuan Casino Resort on Wednesday; Jamul Casino on Thursday; and Valley View Casino & Hotel on Friday.

However, Gov. Gavin Newsom sent a letter to tribes Friday urging them to reconsider. Tribes are sovereign nations and generally subject to federal, not state, law.

The casinos have plans to reopen in phases, with select gaming machines, dine-in restaurants and other amenities remaining closed in the initial phases. Although, Sycuan says it will open some sit-down dining spots in the first phase with limited seating to allow for physical distancing between guests.

Other measures casinos are pledging include deep cleaning, closing every other slot machine and limiting table games to a max of three players per table.

But despite those measures, concerns remain over whether it's safe to return.

KPBS's Amita Sharma spoke to one casino worker who just quit because he's afraid he might get COVID-19.


17:52 " for basically my health and for my family's health, I just had to resign."
That's Tony Wolf, hours after he left his security guard job at Viejas Casino & Resort. Viejas, scheduled to reopen Monday, says on its website the safety of workers and guests is of "paramount" importance. Viejas says it's using ultraviolet light to disinfect the casino. It will also require its employees and guests to wear masks, socially distance, and they will be subject to scans for symptoms at the entrance. But Wolf is skeptical.
17:20 "They're going to be taking their masks off to drink, to smoke, to eat. I don't see it.
He says he's worried Viejas will see a coronavirus outbreak.
6:48 "Right now, the majority of the people that go to the casino are elderly people,and people who aren't even in the best of health, even younger people."
Wolf says he knows Viejas is a sovereign nation but he wants leaders to listen to health experts and not reopen yet. Viejas representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

In some parts of the country, the total number of deaths went up significantly in early parts of this year, mostly due to the coronavirus.

But in San Diego County, that wasn't the case.

KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser takes a look at the numbers.

When did the coronavirus arrive in San Diego? It’s a matter of pure speculation because testing has taken so long to ramp up.

However, death records offer some insight into when the pandemic first took hold. In a number of places across the country deaths were up significantly -- as much as 50 percent -- during the early months of the year. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/28/us/coronavirus-death-toll-total.html

But not San Diego. The numbers barely went up at all in January, February and April compared to 2019...and actually went down by a couple percent in March. Yet, an epidemiologist says we shouldn’t be too quick to draw any conclusions.

SOT
"It's hard to compare apples to apples."

Eyal Oren (AY-al ORR-en) is an epidemiologist at San Diego State.

Eyal Oren
San Diego State Epidemiologist
SOT
"There's a lot of variation: How long it takes a death certificate to be completed, what's the cause of death, what's the delay in reporting and calculating deaths especially among people recently testing positive or recently infected."

Still, Oren says the numbers in San Diego County suggest the virus was likely not widely circulating before stay at home orders, as it may have been in other places like New York City.

Another factor to consider: San Diego has a relatively young population—just 13% of the 3.9 million residents are over the age of 65—which means the virus may not be as deadly here.

There are many variables, Oren says.

SOT
"It's complicated, the number of flu deaths is half of what it was last year, so you have to think of that pie and think about how different parts have shifted."

More people at home means fewer car accidents, which means fewer deaths.

SOT
"There's some silver linings I suppose."

That story from KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser.

***

A program that aims to get meals to seniors during the pandemic kicked off over the weekend in San Diego County.

KPBS Reporter Matt Hoffman says the state, county and federal government are paying for the food which is prepared and delivered by local restaurants.

3:15.860
Everything helps these days the local restaurants that are still open

Brant Crenshaw is the owner of Social Tap -a downtown restaurant with a patio in Petco Park. Recently Crenshaw has had to go from nearly all dine in sales to all takeout and delivery sales.

0:47.214
You know with limited success - it's tough.

His restaurant is among the two dozen chosen by the county for the "great plates delivered" program. It gives three meals a day to seniors who aren't using other meal assistance programs like CalFresh or Meals on Wheels. Crenshaw says he can feed hundreds each a day.

6:01.214
i hope it's overwhelming to be honest but if it's five to 10 meals a day a week, whatever it all helps

The goal of the program is to provide free nutritious meals to seniors in need while also helping restaurants. To see if you qualify call 2-1-1 or go to KPBS.org for more information.
Social tap says over the weekend the program assigned them four seniors to serve.

***

California is facing a $54 billion dollar deficit.

And that’s prompted governor Gavin Newsom to outline a budget revision that would slash spending on a variety of government services.

One group that's being hit particularly hard by the cuts is Immigrant families...people who are already reeling from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler has more.

In his January budget, Governor Newsom outlined an expansion of programs aimed at immigrant families.

This included allowing undocumented immigrants 65 and up to enroll in Medi-Cal, the state's subsidized healthcare program.

But on Thursday, the governor announced that spending was no longer being considered.

Immigrant advocates believe this is going to hurt an already vulnerable population, as the elderly bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sarah Dar works for the California Immigrant Policy Center.

Dar: Just saying that you can get a COVID test or you can get treated for COVID, really doesn't cut it from what we know about how the disease spreads and what comorbidities can mean for someone who has COVID.

The state legislature's Latino Caucus has also promised to fight back against the proposed budget revision.

***
A new study from UCLA shows broad support among servicemembers for transgender troops serving in the military.

But the Trump Administration bans transgender people from enlisting.

Emily Elena Dugdale reports from Los Angeles for the American Homefront Project.

[Notes:ambi: driving]
SHINN: If you get to the stop sign, you've gone too far
Marine judge advocate Emma Shinn directed me to her new home - a big hillside house outside of San Diego.
[Notes:ambi: hi hi..walking inside…]
We met before the coronavirus pandemic forced us all to keep our distance from each other. It was just after Shinn moved here to serve at Camp Pendleton. Her home was filled with cardboard boxes.
A new city, a new house - she says it's been a little stressful.
But what hasn't been stressful is reconnecting with marines who knew her before she transitioned in 2016

SHINN: They knew me as the old captain Shinn, right?
Now as she reconnects with them, she says they accept her and don't treat her any differently.
Shinn is also the president of SPART*A - a national support group for transgender service members.
She recently bumped into a Marine she hadn't seen in years in the parking lot.
14:52 SHINN: So I salute and he pulls over just a little bit and he rolls down the window, and he says Emma, right and he calls me over. And it was this really amazing, fantastic experience to have my name and who I am right validated.
A new study from UCLA shows that two-thirds of cis-gender active duty military support transgender service members. That number goes up among service members who identify as women or people of color.
Shinn joined the service in 1994. In 2004, she was deployed to Iraq. She hadn't transitioned yet.
SHINN: I am 100 percent confident that if I was in that same situation today, I would be a better platoon sergeant than I was in 2004 and 2005. Being able just to be whole, and to be authentic with your troops.

In 2016, President Obama allowed trangender people to serve openly in the military.
But in 2017 President Trump said allowing transgender people to serve would be costly and disruptive.
Now, transgender people can't join the military if they've medically transitioned or been diagnosed with gender dyphoria.
People like Emma Shinn can stay in the military because she had enlisted before the policy change.
Shannon Dunlap is a PhD student with the UCLA department of social welfare who cowrote the study showing wide support for transgender servicemembers.
Dunlap says they found servicemembers who identified as gay, as a woman or a racial minority were more likely to accept trangender people in the military.
DUNLAP: Black and Latin-x service members reported the highest support for transgender people, with 69% and 75%, respectively
.
She attributes that to their own ongoing fight for equality.
The military historically has been one of the largest employers of transgender people in the country. Many of them are not serving openly.
And now Dunlap says the stress of hiding their identity?
DUNLAP: It looks like discrimination. It looks like stigma. And it's a real lack of those protections and resources that are afforded to their cisgender counterparts
Emma Shinn says the ban on open transgender service is affecting military recruitment. Potential soldiers are asking themselves questions like -
SHINN: is joining worth not transitioning? Right? We are losing folks from our recruiting pool in a time where recruiting is challenging.
She says the old captain Shinn lived two lives - a marine corps life, and a private life.
SHINN: And never the twain shall meet. It's like this nagging pressure, this itch that you just can't scratch, that wears on you. And some days, that itch may be more persistent than others, but it's there until you transition and that itch goes away. (0:14)
The pressure can be too much for some servicemembers.
Shinn says the military is losing talented people as a result of the Trump Administration's policy.

And this story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

***
The San Diego Zoo has announced the first successful birth of an endangered pygmy hippopotamus at the zoo in more than three decades.

Mabel, a 4-year-old pygmy hippo at the zoo, gave birth to a 12-pound male calf on April 9.

I don’t have any cute sounds for you, but seriously, take a minute to look on social media so you can see this adorable doe-eyed hippo.

The zoo announced the birth on Friday in recognition of Endangered Species Day.

There are fewer than 2,500 pygmy hippos living in the wild.

That’s all 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.