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Positive COVID-19 Tests Trend Down In San Diego County

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Positive COVID-19 tests are on the downward trend in San Diego. Also on KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: San Diego County officials are moving forward with plans to reopen restaurants for dine in service and retail stores, but healthcare workers want more of a say on how quickly that happens, eleven employees at a VA Counseling Center in Mission Valley that serves homeless veterans have tested positive for COVID-19 and more local news you need.

San Diegans can't dine at restaurants or shop inside stores just yet.

But it could happen very soon.

Officials on Wednesday said the state is still reviewing the county's application to further re-open the region's economy.

Supervisor Narthan Fletcher says he expects Gov. Gavin Newsom will allow the county to move forward, but they haven’t heard back just yet.

“So because we are still waiting on that to be clear in person dining in restaurants is not presently allowed -- the state of california have said counties that meet the metrics will be given approval, we believe we've met these metrics."

The county is also asking the state for an accelerated phase 3 reopening. That would include opening hair and nail salons and gyms.

Funeral ceremonies, however, now can be held. as long as facial covering and social distancing rules are observed.

***

So, one thing the state looks at when deciding to give counties the green light to move forward with reopenings is COVID-19 testing.

And County officials here are successfully boosting the number of tests they can give so they can meet those state guidelines.

The county's chief testing officer Nick Macchione (mah-she-OWN) says local officials can currently test up to five thousand residents a day, and they hope to boost that number to over six thousand a day.

State officials are using the county's testing metrics to gauge whether more businesses can reopen.

00:09:24 – 00:09:43 "They're looking at two things, one the capacity of your testing. And then the actual number of tests that you can accomplish. As they're looking at that they're looking at your infection rate. That is, as you're testing more folks is your infection rate, higher , lower, the same."

Macchione says the county will eventually move to an antibody test, but those are currently not approved by the Centers for Disease Control.

***
As talks about reopening the county continue, the border will remain closed to lots of people who want to cross.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced this week that it will keep the U.S.-Mexico border shut down to "non-essential" traffic through June 22.

The closure has been in effect since March 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

***
Mayor Kevin Faulconer released a revised budget proposal on Tuesday, with state and federal stimulus dollars softening some of the city's major budget cuts.

Tree trimming would still all but disappear, and libraries would still be closed on Sundays and Mondays. But rec center and pool hours would stay at current levels. And the mayor would leave the city's emergency reserves untouched.

And I think having those dollars in our reserves will allow the next administration that comes after me to have some of the flexibility in order to continue to make efforts that need to happen.

Other cuts proposed in April that remain in the revised budget include slashing city arts funding by half and layoffs of a number of city workers.

City Council members are due to discuss the revised spending plan today.

Yesterday, the mayor also announced an additional $13 million dollars from the federal stimulus funding that will go to the City’s Small Business Relief Fund.

That means more small local businesses can apply for loans and grants to help employers sustain operations and keep people employed.

***

And now for the latest local COVID count: San Diego County health officials reported 114 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths Wednesday.

The good news, though: Positive COVID-19 tests are on the downward trend in San Diego.

The county recorded 4,802 COVID-19 tests Wednesday, a single-day high...And the 114 positive cases represent just 2% of all tests reported Wednesday, well below the region's 14-day average of 3.6% positive.

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

It’s Thursday, May 21.

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

So yeah, San Diego County officials are moving forward with plans to reopen restaurants for dine in service and retail stores.

But KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman talked to some people who work in the local healthcare system…

And they told him they want more of a say in how the region reopens.

Scripps Hospital CEO Chris Van Gorder says they got the county's plan to reopen more businesses the morning of Tuesday's supervisor vote.

1:25.408 CHRIS
Didn't give us enough time to really look it over discuss it with them, they are elements in the triggers that we have deep concerns about

Van Gorder says they've been at or near capacity at their Chula Vista hospital for weeks and he says reopening businesses could make that situation even worse..

3:47.461 CHRIS
We've had to transfer 56 patients from Chula Vista up to our northern hospitals

SharpHealthCare said they didn't get the plan before the vote either and had concerns… But County Public Health office Dr. Wilma Wooten says the reopening plan was shared once it was finished.

31:00 Wilma
It was completed over the weekend and we had our partners review it on Monday and we submitted it Tuesday evening so no one was left out

UC San Diego Health and Palomar Health officials support the plan and said they went over it with the county.

Eleven employees at a V-A Counseling Center in Mission Valley that serves homeless veterans have tested positive for COVID-19.

Staff believe the real number of people who got sick was much higher.

inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano explains how the outbreak unfolded.

CASTELLANO: The first employee with COVID-19 symptoms informed supervisors in mid-March that she was sick, but staff members told inewsource they were never officially notified that their coworker became ill.

Emails from managers show that employees were told they could QUOTE "feel free to spread out" and work from their sick colleague's office, even though the building had not been properly disinfected.

Within three weeks, eleven employees had tested positive for COVID-19.

A V-A spokesperson told inewsource its QUOTE "highest priority is the safety of our staff and the safety of the Veterans we serve."

inewsource is an independently funded nonprofit partner of KPBS.

***

So, less than a month before the pandemic arrived in San Diego County, the Sweetwater Union High School District gave layoff notices to all of its librarians.

But since schools closed, librarians have actually been vital to the district's distance learning program.

KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong spoke to those whose jobs are on the line.

In February, the district approved layoffs for 200 employees, including all of its librarians. It was part of an effort to reduce a 30 million dollar budget deficit. But after the pandemic closed down schools, librarians have been working overtime to help students transition to online learning. Sylvia McBride is a librarian at Castle Park High School in Chula Vista. She says students need their librarians now more than ever.

SYLVIAMCBRIDE.MP4
13:08
SYLVIA MCBRIDE /// CASTLE PARK HIGH SCHOOL LIBRARIAN
It's already stressful as it is. I'm trying to do my job, but I also manage two kids and their distance learning and be supportive to my entire family and my school and my colleagues. And on top of that I have to sit around with a ton of anxiety thinking, am I gonna keep on doing this?

The district is planning to move 18 of its librarians into teaching positions. McBride is in that group. Trevor Angood is not one of the lucky ones. The Eastlake High School librarian stands to lose his job unless the district changes its current plans.

TREVORANGOOD.mp4
00:37
TREVOR ANGOOD // EASTLAKE HIGH SCHOOL LIBRARIAN
In the meantime I've been applying for jobs, interviewing for a job and just trying to get myself out there to..uh.. prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

District spokesman Manny Rubio said the administration is still finalizing the plans. Sweetwater's teachers union president Julie Walker said it's possible some of the librarian positions will be saved.
***
A group of mostly Democratic state lawmakers are asking Governor Gavin Newsom to protect businesses from lawsuits if employees and customers catch COVID-19 on their watch.

KPBS Reporter Amita Sharma has more.


Sixteen state assembly members asked Newsom in a May 12th letter to restrict the "threat of litigation to businesses that adhere to safety standards." This follows requests last month by operators of nursing homes and senior assisted living facilities for legal immunity. But Micha Star Liberty, president of Consumer Attorneys of California, says special immunity for businesses is unnecessary and harmful to the public..

8:40 "We are doing our best to make sure that Californians, workers, people who fall ill, have the right if someone intentionally harms them through negligence, to recover for those damages." 15 SECS

Newsom's office didn't respond to requests for comment.

***

Evidence is mounting that Asian Americans are experiencing an increase in harassment and assaults in the United States, particularly since March when the coronavirus pandemic really began to affect Americans.
This afternoon, a free virtual community conversation will be offered by Jewish Family Service of San Diego.
The virtual event will explore how this trend is affecting the mental health of members of the Asian American community and offer suggestions on how to cope.
Amanda Lee, the division director of Adult Mental Health at the Union of Pan Asian Communities, will be on the panel. She said she has personally experienced being verbally harassed while on public transit for wearing a mask.
And she says we all need to do our part to help stop the hate.

we need allyship from other individuals in the community who may not necessarily identify as Asian American. You know, there's power in bystander intervention. Say if there is an incident of hate going on, you know, being willing to speak up for your fellow Asian American and to recognize that, you know, we're all a part of this American fabric. Right. And to not let that be forgotten.

Two years ago, four Marines died when their helicopter crashed outside of El Centro.

KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh says a newly released report clears the crew of any wrong-doing.

The crash came near the end of a routine mission. April 3, 2018 two Super Stallion CH-53E helicopters were coming back from Marine base Twentynine Palms. They were stopping at a military landing zone in the California desert before heading back to base at nearby El Centro.. (map)
(bring in Casey no sound)
Dave Casey is a San Diego attorney.

Dave Casey, attorney for victims' families
00;06;17;17
"They were both going together and they were just a couple hundred feet off the ground when suddenly one just started going down."

(broll of SS taking off and rotor dipping and turning. Then titled forward broll, slow, zoom and freeze on aft servo. Slow transition to heavy dust landing)

Quick flight lesson. Pilots of the Super Stallion tilti the overhead rotor to change direction. When the rotor tilts forward, the largest helicopter in the Marine Corp dips and picks up speed.

KPBS obtained a copy of the recently completed Marine investigation into the crash. After nearly two years of examining the wreckage, the Marines say they believe a defective part froze the rotor in a forward tilt. As the pilot seemed to struggle to pull up, the copter dropped at least 25 feet to the ground before the crew could even radio what was happening.

(dust of landing)

00;06;42;17
"So it happened very quickly, very traumatically, with no ability for the pilots to recover."

(photos of victims over helicopter still)

Pilot Capt. Samuel Schultz, copilot Lt. Capt. Samuel Phillips, crewmen Gunnery Sgt. Derik Holley, and Lance Cpl. Taylor Conrad died on impact. They were from the Third Marine Aircraft Wing based at Miramar. Casey represents the families of the two pilots.

00;05;41;22
"Until that report came out, people were assuming there was pilot error, there was no pilot error. They knew what they were doing. It was a defective part."

(CH53-E in flight, Paladino video only, cuts from the trailer to his film)
This is not the first crash for the CH-53E, which has been in service in the Marine Corps since 1981. Last year, it passed a million flight miles. Journalist Jason Paladino made a documentary about the Navy's version of the same Sikorsky helicopter, after his high school friend Wes VanDorn was killed in a crash initially thought to be pilot error but found to be caused by wiring issues. He says the aircraft's crash rate is higher than other aircraft in the military.

Jason Paladino, documentary filmmaker
00;05;46;11
"The other thing about this aircraft is if you look at a fatality rate, It has a much higher fatality rate than any other aircraft, so basically if it does crash, it's more likely to kill you, even compared with other helicopters in the military."
(pull up fire fighter footage)
It's not just deaths. In southern California, the CH-53E has made at least 4 emergency landings, in public, in the last five years.

The worst was June 15, 2019, when a Marine Super Stallion made an emergency landing at the Imperial County Airport. No one was injured. A firefighter filmed as a fire engine extinguished the burning copter.
(Super stallion broll. Pulling humvees, landing artillery, taking off the flight deck )
After years of neglect, the Marines are in the middle of what they call a reset -- all 142 Super Stallions are being taken apart and rebuilt. The helicopter's replacement, the CH-53K has been delayed until at least 2024. At the moment, the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar isn't scheduled to replace the older CH-53E until the end of the decade.
(photos of pilots and Casey without sound)
In the 2018 crash that killed four Marines, the attorney Casey is suing the companies that supplied the part implicated in the crash.

00;09;01;15
"These were young men who had everything to look forward to. In the case of our client they left young children. So it's a, devastating. And it's unnecessary and it should have been avoided."

(scan down Marine crash report. Highlight passage that says didn't meet specs. End on helicopter taking flight)
In most cases, families cannot sue the military directly. Citing the report, Casey says the part supplied by Kampi Components Co. Inc. of Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, and Diamond Rubber Products Co. of Birmingham, Alabama did not meet the military's specifications. After the crash, the Marines issued a bulletin to remove the part from the other Super Stallions still in the fleet.
That was KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh.

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

****

So, it’s human nature to look for the silver lining of a dark cloud.

And sometimes those silver linings are big things -- like the fact that less people are out driving, so mother nature is getting a nice little break.

But other times, the good in the bad is just a small thing….like this little bit of brightness from Michelle in Oceanside.

Hi, my name is Michelle Montoya and I live in Oceanside when the pandemic I started calling my old friends because I always thought about it and never seem to find the time. And so I take walks in the morning and I call old friends and we catch up and we laugh and it's a great way to start a game.

I’ve called some old friends, too. The pandemic has definitely made me realize that sometimes, texts just aren’t enough of a connection.

Ok, so that’s it for today. Thanks for listening. I’ll be back with you tomorrow.

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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.