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LATEST UPDATES: Election 2020: Live Results | Tracking COVID-19 | Racial Justice

Sounding The Alarm

Cover image for podcast episode

COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO

County public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten gives an update on COVID-19, April 8, 2020.

San Diego County officials have sounded the alarm about rising COVID-19 rates, urging everyone to be vigilant and help keep the county from dipping back into the state’s most restrictive reopening tier. Plus: who’s back in school and who isn’t, early voting is underway and more of the local news you need.

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Transcript text:

More than 300 people marched through Balboa Park on Saturday.

Protestclip

They were out to urge voters to cast their ballots against President Donald Trump and other Republican candidates and to support womens’ rights.

Thousands of people participated in Women’s Marches across the country over the weekend.

***

So...On Friday, county officials held an unscheduled press conference to ``sound the alarm…

COVID case rates are getting too close to comfort…

And County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said it looks like the county may cross back into the most restrictive tier of the state's four-tier reopening system if things keep heading in this direction.

Covidclip
We’ve been living on the precipice of tiers, between the red and purple….we now are concerned about the trends and we’re concerned about the likelihood that we could tip back into purple.

If we do dip into purple...it would mean closing businesses that have only just recently reopened.

Health officials overall message to San Diegans at that conference on Friday? Stay vigilant...work from home if you can, stay away from gatherings…. wash your hands and wear your masks.

***
Today...October 19….is the deadline for registering to vote in California in the upcoming general election on Nov. 3.

You can still register online at RegisterToVote.ca.gov...But again...today is the last day to do that in time to vote in the next election.

****

From KPBS, I’m Kinsee Morlan in for Anica Colbert, and you’re listening to San Diego News Matters, a daily podcast powered by our newsroom.

It’s Monday, October 19.

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

A city attorney has to walk a fine line between giving legal advice to elected officials and holding those officials accountable to taxpayers.

KPBS Reporter Joe Hong spoke to both candidates vying for the job about why they're the best pick to be San Diego's top attorney.

CITYATTORNEY

As incumbent City Attorney Mara Elliott wraps up her first four-year term, she said she's the most capable candidate to navigate the city through unprecedented times. She said her proudest accomplishments include tightening gun regulations and cracking down on domestic abuse.

ELLIOTT.mp4
00:01:04:09
MARA ELLIOTT // SAN DIEGO CITY ATTORNEY
We have a nationally recognized restraining order program that has removed over 600 guns from the street from people who are threatening suicides, domestic violence or mass shootings.

Her challenger is Cory Briggs, a civil attorney who's filed about a dozen lawsuits against the city relating to real estate development. He describes Elliott as a politically motivated attorney who doesn't have San Diego's best interests in mind.

BRIGGS.mp4

CORY BRIGGS /// CANDIDATE FOR CITY ATTORNEY
You just don't know what she's doing unless you read headlines. And there you know all she's doing is reaching for headlines and trying to advance her career as opposed to advancing the quality of life for San Diegans.

Elliott has described her opponent as chaotic and emotional. She said she trusts voters to choose the more level-headed candidate.

For more on the upcoming election, check out the KPBS voter guide online at kpbs dot org slash election.

***

Hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots are coming into the San Diego County Registrar of Voters Office.

County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu says the Office goes through numerous scanning and sorting steps to ensure every ballot is correctly filled out and appropriately counted.

That's necessary Vu says, because every election year there are lots of ballots that have to be fixed.

BALLOTS 2A
"When you think about that 1.9 million voters out there, let's say 80% of those individuals vote, and you have even half a percent, that's quite a bit of damaged ballots."

KPBS reporter Shalina Chatlani got an inside look into how those ballots are dealt with.

BALLOTS 1 (sc)
AMBI THUMP THUMP A group of men, part of the election staff at the registrars office, drop bunches of ballots into a machine. THUMP The machines shakes the ballots up so they can be pried open and sorted.

This room, lined with walls of yellow ballot envelopes, is just one step for these ballots which go through multiple stages of verification and sorting, says County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu.

ADU 8106
00;20;57;14
"Once we receive the ballot, all the devices are tracking that ballot all the way through the system… The system is actually expecting every single envelope in its respective place, and if it's missing, it flags that."

So, far Vu says around 355,000 thousand ballots have been received by the Registrar's Office. Vu says the majority of ballots will come through the mail, but these opening, verification and scanning steps will be the same on election night.

***

The Vista Unified School Board is planning to open all schools within the district on Tuesday.

KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne tells us many teachers feel the reopening is putting them and the students in danger.

VISTASCHOOLS 1 (0:50)

Teachers and parents rallied in Vista Thursday evening before the board meeting where the district decided to proceed with in-person learning for all grade levels starting Tuesday October 20th.

But Madison Middle School teacher Mary Moffett says not enough has been done to ensure the safety of students and teachers for in person learning.

MARY MOFFETT/ MADISON MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHER (29:27 - 29:51)
"Just because we can doesn't mean we should."

Classrooms could have up to 38 students with some teachers teaching 5 classes back to back.

Although the district requires face coverings, many of the classrooms don't have desks that are 6 feet apart. Teachers feel the district has not provided enough protective equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19. District officials say they've spent millions on PPE.

***
Last week San Diego Unified announced it was bringing back about 10 percent of students for in-person learning.

But that move won't help the vast majority of kids still trying to learn from home.

KPBS reporter Claire Trageser checks back in with kids who are attempting to do kindergarten remotely.

KINDERFOLO (ct) 4:03 soq

NAT POP
"I have PE today."
"But it's at 10:30 right?"

It's very quiet in the Ramos household as four kids sit and work on their laptops. The living room has been completely remade into a classroom--there are word cards on the floor, charts on the walls and a giant timer to help the kids stay on schedule. It smells like warm muffins, and pretty soon the kids stop to take a snack break.

NAT POP 10;12;50;04
"What's a good word that starts with J?"
"Jellybean!"

Two families are in this learning pod. They've paid Karla Howarth, a private tutor. $2,500 a month to guide their kids through online lessons each day, plus come up with extra activities. Howarth moves between the kids to see if they need help.

Karla Howarth
San Diego Pod Teacher
10;26;29;23
"The first day, the Kindergarteners, their face was like, what's going on. Actually, one of them was in tears and I was so glad to be able to be here."

There are two kindergarteners in this learning pod, and Howarth says they especially need her help. They've never been in school before and are learning to read, follow a teacher's instructions, even do gym class, all remotely.

10;25;51;07
"Reading, writing workshop, they have kind of a checklist of independent activities they have to do every day."

That's true across the school district, but for families without extra help, it's really difficult to handle.

Dannia Hernandez
North Park Parent
00:01:28:06
"When we first started zoom classes it was a disaster."

Dannia Hernandez's daughter Jasmine is in kindergarten in North Park. Dannia can't work from home, so her plan was to have her mother help Jasmine with online school.

00:02:10:19
"Jasmine needed somebody who can help with assignments, and there was times where my mom was telling Jasmine to sit down and pay attention to teacher, but she said, no, the teacher is telling me to stand up."

So then Hernandez brought in her cousin, who takes night classes in college, to help guide Jasmine. It's better, but there are still lots of issues.

00:03:50:15
"She had a couple fits. She was like, I know the answer, I know the answer, but there's too many kids."

Hernandez is worried about her daughter being so stressed out, but also about her falling behind.

00:04:27:12
"I've thought about just pulling her out. But then at the same time, I think, maybe just a little bit that she's getting, or the assignments, or the one on one she's getting from my cousin, it is helping her."

Across the district, kindergarten enrollment is way down. There ended up being about 2,500 fewer students than expected, and two-thirds of that drop were kindergarteners.

Richard Barrera
San Diego Unified School Board
00:06:59:01
"In some cases, parents are making a conscious decision to not enroll their students, but there are other cases where parents may not be clear about the process."

Richard Barrera is vice president of the San Diego Unified School Board. He says the district is trying to find families of kindergarten students to get them signed up.

00:07:35:06
"That's a challenge because if a student is not in our database, because they've never been enrolled in our district, we might not actually know who they are."

He says even if online learning is far from perfect, they want students to be enrolled.

00:07:55:16
"There are very clear benefits to students starting in kindergarten, being part of a classroom, part of a learning community. We're able to distribute laptops, include those students in our food distribution program."

Getting students enrolled in school may benefit them, but it won't fix the huge inequities online learning is creating. While some parents like Hernandez are thankful if their kindergarteners can get just a little learning--that something is better than nothing--others are launching ahead in their kindergarten curriculum.

10;39;40;02
"I feel like Maya and Kaia are learning to read."

Nicole Ramos is one of the moms in the learning pod we visited. She says all things considered, it's going really well.

Nicole Ramos
San Carlos Parent
10;32;53;04
The kids every morning wake up and they're excited for school, excited to see their friends and get to learn next to them and find those moments to connect and play. My kids don't wake up moaning and groaning that they don't want to do school, at the end of the day every day they tell me they had a good day.

In fact, even if her kids' schools reopened, she's not sure she would send them back, because she doesn't want to disrupt the routine they've established.

KPBS investigative reporter...Claire Trageser.

***
Coming up on San Diego News Matters…

Early voting is underway...and...in a pandemic... early voting takes on added significance.
That story after a quick break.

Over 150,000 San Diego ones have already cast a ballot. And many more will do so in the days ahead.
From our KPBS Roundtable team...host Mark Sauer talks with KPBS reporter Shalina Chatlani about how things are going and what it could mean for Nov. 3.

Roundtable
Well, let's start with the basics this time. Remind us about the early voting timeline. When people can vote, how they can find out where to vote and drop off a ballot.
Speaker 2: 01:32 Well, the pools here in California have been open since October 5th. That's when early voting started and people have also gotten their mail in ballots. The first round of Malin ballots for the 1.9 million registered voters in San Diego. And the next batch of registered voters will also get their mail in ballots before the November 3rd deadline as well. And they'll be able to mail it by October 19th, for them to cast that mail in ballot. And if you don't make that deadline, you can go pick up a ballot in person and vote at a local voting site where you can go to the registrar's office. So there will be some major, super poll sites open four days before the election, where you can go cast a vote in person and you will be able to vote on election day, November 3rd as well.
Speaker 1: 02:19 And of course that's a Tuesday and you're telling me talking about several days ahead of time. That means over the weekend. So with all these options and over a weekend, I, there's no way to procrastinate. We got to vote. I've got to go vote.
Speaker 2: 02:33 Exactly. It seems like it actually, it doesn't just seem like it's obvious this year that the registrar's office has come up with so many different ways to make voting more convenient for people, but have also tried to make sure that all of the safeguards and protocols for checking ballots are in place. So there are multiple venues through which people can cast their vote this year. It's almost impossible not to.
Speaker 1: 03:01 So no excuses, everybody's got to get out and vote. Now you spoke with San Diego County registrar, Michael VU this week. What's his takeaway from the start of early voting, any serious issues thus far?
Speaker 2: 03:12 I think the biggest takeaway is that voting is a really ramping up. It's an election year. People are really excited. They're really eager to get out and cast their ballot. Um, especially now with, when it comes to deciding who the next president of the United States will be. And he's already received, you know, around 175,000 ballots back to the registrar's office, which is a huge jump, obviously from this time last year, um, in terms of, you know, Malin ballots being sent out, you know, with there being 1.9 million registered voters. So it looks like the turnout is really big this year. And I think that's the biggest takeaway in terms of any serious issues. Um, he says he hasn't encountered any so far, but there's, you know, the obvious issues that come with a pandemic, which is that you have to make sure that you have the personal protective equipment available, have mass on hand and gloves and sanitizer. It's just adds like an extra layer of protocol to voting, um, that hasn't existed in prior years
Speaker 1: 04:16 Now is Michael VU concerned about the number of volunteers and being able to staff the election this year?
Speaker 2: 04:22 Oh, so the solution to that was to reduce the number of polling locations. There are around 235 super poll locations where voters can go early to cast their ballots for days before election day on November 3rd, then those are going to be in bigger locations, right? So where people can socially distance, they can wear masks in the end so that it helps reduce the spread of the virus. And also the voting time is over a longer period. So it'll reduce the influx of the number of people that are going to those polling sites. And so in terms of the staffing and in terms of spread of the virus, it sounds like the registrar voters office has really thought very carefully about how to control that space,
Speaker 1: 05:08 Right? So a lot of staggered voting that should certainly help as we get closer to November 3rd. Now you reported this week on reports up on authorized ballot drop boxes. These have been reported in other cities in California, but not San Diego. What did Michael VU tell you about the security of the local ballot collections?
Speaker 2: 05:26 Yes. There was news of that happening in Los Angeles County, uh, Fresno and, uh, one other County in California. And so Michael VU said that with 1.9 million registered voters so far and there likely being more, it would be easy for them to get a tip from any voter about whether there is an unauthorized ballot drop off location. Also, he said that a lot of the, or most of the ballot drop off locations, except for one are staffed by people from his office. There's a ballot drop-off box, that's open 24 seven, but every other drop off location has a staff member. So you, you will be able to tell that it is official based off of who is there. Additionally, if you are really concerned as a voter about going to a place that is legitimate, you can look on the back of your voter information card that comes with your ballot, and you can find the three closest polling location addresses. And those are official places where you can go and cast your ballot.
Speaker 1: 06:30 Now, a lot of reporting this summer and issues of the postal service and the ability to process mail in a timely way. Is there any update on that? Is that still a question Mark or anything being done to prioritize mail in ballots?
Speaker 2: 06:42 I think one of the things that Michael VU addresses a lot, uh, when we talk about voting is his confidence in the us postal system. He says that, you know, as you can see, people on social media are getting their ballots. People are putting their ballots into the mail and it is being received by the office of the registrar's office. So it is clear that the us postal system is doing the job it needs to do, and that people are getting the information that they need to get. And so his big point to everyone is don't be swayed by any misinformation that may be coming on the national level, but just focus on the fact that you can have confidence in your local postal system to get your ballot to the place where it needs
Speaker 1: 07:30 And people can attract their ballot from drop-off to receipt by election workers. How do they do that?
Speaker 2: 07:35 So they can go online and they can sign up to track their ballot, SD vote.com, and they can do that even before they get their ballot in the mail, they can sign up and then see when their ballot is being put into the mail by the registrar's office. And when it might get received men, once they put it back into the mail, they can track and see when it was received by the registrar's office and when it was counted. So that's a good option for people that are, you know, concerned about where their, their vote is going to be going to selection.

And that was kpbs reporter Shalina Chatlani talking with KPBS Roundtable host Mark Sauer. And again, for more info about the upcoming election, go to kpbs dot org slash election and give our voter guide a try.
Thanks for listening. Look, if you’re just listening on a website right now and you haven’t yet become a subscriber of San Diego News Matters...do me a big favor and go to wherever you listen to podcasts right now, find this show and subscribe so you never miss an episode again.
Thanks.

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