Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Coronavirus Hitting South Bay Communities Hard

 April 24, 2020 at 2:00 AM PDT

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a big drop in home sales during the second half of March. But the dip has since leveled off and even begun to recover. A report released by real estate site Zillow found that San Diego is still one of the better-off large cities in the country when it comes to home sales. While sales are still down about 22 percent year-over-year here, Los Angeles has seen a nearly 60% drop. San Diego's sales have improved over last week's figures by about 23 percent, a sign the market could be recovering. BEAT Three weeks into the soft launch of distance learning, San Diego Unified School District will begin graded online instruction on Monday. Superintendent Cindy Marten said the district has distributed more than 47,000 chrome books since April 6th as well as half-a-million meals. Teachers have also participated in more than 13,000 hours of professional development. SDUNIFIED 2A CLIP We're also starting to see the results of these efforts because close to 90 percent of all our students have connected to school during this soft launch period. This is the biggest challenge public education has ever faced in a generation. " Online learning will look differently depending on the teacher and the students' needs. But it will be more forgiving for everyone - students' grades can’t go only go up, not down during this time of distance learning. BEAT And for the latest local COVID count: San Diego county officials Thursday said 100 people have died in the region. They also reported 152 new cases, the greatest one-day increase so far. But county supervisor Nathan Fletcher said that spike corresponds with a significant increase in testing. THURSCOVID 1A "We are reporting 152 new positive cases on the same day we are reporting a significant day-over-day jump in testing. We're reporting 2,255 tests." BEAT I’m Kinsee Morlan and you’re listening to KPBS daily podcast San Diego News Matters. It’s Friday, April 24. Stick with me for more of the local news you need. MIDROLL 1 AD San Diego's South Bay cities are seeing higher volumes of COVID patients and are now tightening regulations about mask wearing. KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento says Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and National City want increased testing in their cities. _____________________________________________ SOUTHBAY National City and Chula Vista officials say residents now need to wear face coverings while in essential businesses and Imperial Beach hopes to implement the same order in the coming days. Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas says they're also putting pressure on the county to increase testing in the area to better track the virus. 00:10:50:10 "We want to know when the testing is coming and we want to know where it is being administered and what population is being served." She and other South Bay officials will meet with the county next week about more testing for the area. Public health officials have created a task force to expand testing to vulnerable groups, including low-income communities like many in the South Bay. Tarryn Mento. KPBS News. So, the South Bay does have the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the county. But recent data show the region also has the fewest hospital beds. KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser talks to hospital officials about how they’re handling the situation. BEDMAP 1 In the South Bay, zip codes from Otay Mesa and Chula Vista both have more than 100 cases. And there are just two major hospitals that serve the area: Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center with just over 330 beds, and Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista with just over 170 beds. In fact, 87% of the region's 7,000 beds are in San Diego and cities north of San Diego, leaving less than 900 total beds in South Bay cities, according to data from the Dartmouth Atlas Project, which is studying medical resources across the county. However, hospital officials said if South Bay facilities are filled to capacity, they could move patients to other regions. Sharp Grossmont CEO Scott Evans said the Chula Vista hospital is also working to increase its capacity. "Most recently we have added additional ICU beds. And so normally we operate with about 48 ICU beds. Today we are operating with 75 and I can tell you that we are already overflowing into those additional ICU beds." In addition, hospitals across the San Diego region are collaborating to help each other handle patient volume, said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego Health. "During this crisis we are all working together across usually competitive lines to make sure that we can serve the population well." That story from KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser. To explore the map showing hospitals and number of beds, go to KPBS dot org. BEAT And the hits to the South Bay keep coming. New estimates show that San Diego County's unemployment rate has gone from 3% before the coronavirus pandemic to more than 20%. KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen says South Bay communities have taken the biggest hit. __________________________________________________ SANDAG AB: Logan Heights has the county's highest estimated unemployment rate as of mid-April, at 26.5 percent. That's one finding in an analysis of the pandemic's economic impact from the regional planning agency, SANDAG. Chief economist Ray Major says the tourism sector — with jobs in hotels, entertainment and high-end restaurants — will not recover quickly. RM: Businesses usually look at business travel to conventions as kind of discretionary travel anyway, so you're not going to send your people if you're going to put them into risk. And so we're going to see probably a year, year and a half for the tourism industry here in San Diego to come back to where it was before. AB: Even wealthier communities like La Jolla or Scripps Ranch are seeing remarkably high unemployment rates around 17 percent. Andrew Bowen, KPBS news. And just on the other side of the border fence from San Diego’s South Bay communities in Tijuana, COVID cases, and deaths are beginning to rise. San Diego's sister city is now in the midst of a dangerous upswing in cases. KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler has the story. TJUPDATE 1 In march, the Mexican government insisted that Mexico would be spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, due to its early implementation of social distancing. But as the weeks passed, and California's own curve flattened, the situation in Tijuana has become dire and deadlier than the situation in San Diego. 86 people have died in Tijuana, and across the state of Baja California, 136 people are now dead from the virus. Yesterday was the deadliest day in Baja -- 37 people died. One huge problem facing Baja California? The lack of ventilators. There are currently just ten ventilators still available in Tijuana. A hospital worker in Tijuana sent KPBS a note describing conditions at Clinica Veinte, which has seen a huge influx of COVID-19 patients and is now building a tent to handle overflow. She says the situation is desperate, and there is a very real possibility that Tijuana will soon run out of ventilators. BEAT The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have been closed to visitors for more than a month because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoo officials say they have a healthy financial reserve. But KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson says the institution is beginning to show the financial strain. ZOOCOVID Rhino keeper Weston Popichak reaches his hand through a sturdy metal fence. (good girl Vicky, good boy Edward.) He’s rubbing the dusty snouts of two southern white rhinos. (Good crunchies, good cookies.) Mom Victoria and her strapping son Edward live at the Safari Park’s Rhino Rescue Center. Edward is the first southern white conceived by artificial insemination in North America. (Edward enjoys his scratches, he likes his belly being scratched. Good boy. Good boy Edward.) A mere 148 pounds when he was born last July. Edward is now a beefy 12-hundred pounds. Those scratches he loves so much might feel a little different these days. That’s because Popichak is wearing plastic gloves and he’s offering encouragement and training through a face mask. It’s all part of the zoo’s COVID-19 protocols. Popichak says the rhinos don’t seem to notice. “They’re just hanging out with their buddies. They’re still going and rolling in the mud wallows and playing with all the enrichment we give them. Getting their regular training sessions. So life is kind of as usual for them. It might be a little quieter. “I think the interactions that we do see between the staff and the animals are pretty critical.” Greg Peccie (PEE-see) is the Associate curator of mammals at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. He says the organization has staggered schedules and created smaller teams to manage the animals. He says team members have a foot in the worlds inside and outside the park. Life doesn’t shut down. There’s things that still need to happen. We have people out there that are risking themselves everyday to take care of human life and to make sure we’re provided with, and quite honestly the animals, they need us. So we come in to take care of them.” Keepers feed, clean and care for the animals. Just like they would if the park was still open to people. But the sprawling Safari Park is a lot quieter than usual. Peccie remembers every time he drives to work. No traffic means no people. No people. “And we’ve even go some of the animals, in the morning they come running up and they’re looking around and they’re wondering where all the people are. There’s no point in these animals being here if we can’t share them with people. We really want to see the people come back.” When that happens is not in the hands of the Zoo. CEO and president Paul Baribault says science will guide that decision. “We’re really going to be following the advice of health professionals. City government guidance. This is going to an all community effort on how the community reopens and we’re going to be a part of that. And we’re looking at a number of options that would be the right ones for us but we’re really going to following county health advice guidelines.” Being closed comes with a cost. Zoo financial documents from 2018 indicate it costs 220-million dollars a year to care for its animals. Visitation and merchandise accounted for 250 million dollars in revenue that year. Baribault says the Zoo’s reserve fund helps, but it has limits. And the financial pressure could impact the Zoo’s conservation work. The way that we approach our conservation work, is that conservation work is largely through grants and independent fundraising efforts. As those fundraising efforts grow, we’re able to do more work on a shorter timeline. As those funding levels slow down, we have to stretch out those programs.” The zoo has engaged the local congressional delegation of lobby for COVID relief funding from the federal government. Zoo officials also launched a fundraising effort to help to fill the funding gap and they furloughed their first workers this week. All of that is designed to keep the organization function as the pandemic changes everyone’s lives. And that was KPBS reporter Erik Anderson. BEAT The book World War Z and the film Contagion accurately predicted many aspects of today's current pandemic and even suggested ways to better prepare for such global catastrophes. But that’s fiction, right, mere entertainment? Turns out, not so much. When it comes to another looming catastrophe -- climate change - Pop culture has been considering the notion for more than a century. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando has this look at some offerings. EARTHFILMS From the earliest civilizations you can find myths, fables, and religious tales about a world besieged by apocalyptic events such as floods or fires -- sometimes in the form of punishments followed by redemption. Later science fiction pondered how Earth might become uninhabitable. Maybe the extinction of the dinosaurs or the theories about the Ice Age inspired writers to think about what could wipe out humanity or drastically change our world. In the 1800s Jules Verne may have been the first to consider the notion of climate change in a pair of books suggesting the tilting of the earth's axis could produce a change in global weather. Storytelling, especially when it takes the visual form of TV or film, offers uniquely engaging ways of presenting hypothetical simulations of possible futures. And though some people may be immune to facts most people are susceptible to a good story especially when it taps into fears and anxieties. TWILIGHT ZONE: One month ago the Earth suddenly changed its elliptical orbit and in doing so began to follow a path which gradually moment by moment, day by day took it closer to the sun and all of man's little devices to stir up the air are no longer luxuries they happen to be panicky keys to survival. Rod Serling's 1961 The Twilight Zone episode gave us an act of god that changed the world's climate. But in that same year, the British film The Day the Earth Caught Fire suggested climate change was the result of two countries conducting nuclear tests that threw the earth off its axis causing temperatures to rise. DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE BILL: Supposing the combined thrust of explosions shifted the tilt of the earth? EDITOR: Come on, Bill. That would alter the climatic regions. BILL: The complete change in the world's weather. A new ice age for some new tropics, a new equator. EDITOR: Then what else? It's all guesswork. It's all science fiction. BILL: So were rockets to the moon and manned satellite. These works were early harbingers of climate change. It would be another decade before sci-fi films would tackle the issue with more gusto. 1972's Silent Running had a space ship carrying the last of the earth's forests and Bruce Dern rails against those that let the environment get so bad that nothing can grow on the planet any more. SILENT RUNNING: Look at that little girl's face, you know what's she's never going to see? She is never going to be able to see the simple wonder of a leaf in her hand because there's not going to be any trees. The following year Soylent Green famously served up a scenario about drastic climate change leading to food shortages with ghastly consequences. SOYLENT GREEN Soylent Green is people! But it's not just science fiction that addresses these issues. Documentaries play a crucial role in raising awareness. Al Gore's 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth showed that audiences will flock to a well-delivered lecture on the devastating impacts of climate change. CLIP An Inconvenient Truth trailer That film marked the beginning of a golden age for documentaries exploring the topic of climate change, films such as Before the Flood, Chasing Ice The 11th Hour. But global warming is slow and hard to see that's why the film The Day After Tomorrow sped up the process to make it more dramatic. It imagined what could happen in a cataclysmic scenario. It may have been more fiction than fact but images of tsunami hitting New York City stirred imaginations and media interest about the topic. Science fiction, especially in cinematic form, is great at taking any hypothetical situation and actually visualizing it in a way that you can't do if you're constrained by rules of reality or physics. In suggesting the worst that can happen, science fiction can deliver a very potent warning. It can also inspire people to come up with solutions. Those musing from KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando. BEAT The process of lifting stay-at-home orders in California depends in large part on the state’s ability to test for COVID-19 and identify those who may have been exposed to the virus. That work is done through a process known as contact tracing. On Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a plan to train 10,000 people to be contact tracers. The state is also exploring the use of digital apps to backtrack the movement of sick people and find out who they may have been in contact with in order to slow the spread of the virus. Andrea LaCroix, professor of epidemiology at UC San Diego, joined Midday Edition’s Maureen Cavanaugh to discuss how contact tracing works and why it's crucial in the fight against the coronavirus. MIDDAY CONTACT TRACING Speaker 1: 02:02 Contact tracing has been used for decades to control the spread of infectious disease. Can you explain how it works? Speaker 3: 02:09 So contact tracing is one of the, you might say bread and butter methods for control of epidemics. What it does in an epidemic like Ebola is you start with the index person who's infected and you figure out, you, you create a list of people that that person was exposed to and you go talk to each of those contacts. You find out who they were exposed to. You test this network of people and the positives you quarantine so that you are tracking the flow of the virus in the community and then quarantining people and getting them. Uh, you know, ideally if we have treatment, we treat them, um, getting them out of circulation so that you make it much harder for the virus to spread around. How do the attractors, the contact tracers, how do they track down the people who may be contacts? And what kind of questions do investigators ask? Speaker 3: 03:09 Testing takes, uh, at least, you know, unless it's the rapid test, it takes at least a few hours or days when the person is notified that they're positive, they'll probably be a telephone interview to get a list of contacts. So what kind of person is a contact? Well, the County of San Diego defines a contact as. Anybody you had contact with between 48 hours before symptoms began, uh, with your COBIT infection until the coven person is no longer required to be isolated. And we define a contact as somebody you spent at least 10 minutes with within six feet, or had unprotected contact with their body fluids or secretions, um, including, but not limited to being coughed on or sneezed on, sharing utensils or drinking out of the same container. So it gets hard to do contact tracing, harder to define a contact, um, or to take anyone out of your contact list if you never were symptomatic at all. Speaker 3: 04:11 Uh, for the people that have symptoms, they would think back to two days before their symptoms started, make a list of anyone they spent at least 10 minutes with within six feet. And then those people would be followed up with and tested as well. And what happens if one of the contacts is experiencing symptoms? Same thing. You start over again with them as the case. So, um, you test them and if they're positive, you get all of their contacts and you follow this network until you've exhausted it. There's no more, so you can see it's really quite a huge job. What's your take on the governor's plan to get 10,000 contact tracers on the job in California? Is that too few going to take them too long to train? What's your feeling about that? I think it's a great start and it can be right sized after we see how hard the job's going to be.Speaker 3: 05:03 I think a lot of the contact tracing can be done on the telephone. Um, and if they get some apps that people are willing to use, it'll be, the apps are interesting because they can actually, you can put an app on your phone and the app can, if you're a COBIT positive person, the, your phone knows where you've been all this time geographically. So they're talking about apps that can actually notify people that have been in that same area by virtue of their phone GPS and let them know that somebody's code would positive, might have been in their vicinity at the same time. That's the kind of technology I don't believe we've ever had, um, for contact tracing. I think having a trained workforce reporting to the County or city health departments carefully supervised, um, is absolutely necessary to contain the epidemic. And the main thing we want to do is find the people who have active viral spread and make sure they don't infect many more people. Um, and if that can be done, we will get the virus to die out in our geographic area much quicker. Speaker 1: 06:10 Why is it so important after the stay at home order is lifted, that contact tracing really kicks into gear. Speaker 3: 06:18 It's so important then because we're all back outside. We're all at an, at an increased probability of being within six feet of each other. We're circulating again. We're doing our jobs. We aren't going to be, it's not going to be this easily easy to stay, uh, socially distanced from one another. And that's how the virus loves to get from person to person. Speaker 1: 06:40 Do you have any concerns about the, um, potential pitfalls of relying on apps? Some have raised privacy issues. How would you balance protecting public health with protecting our privacy and civil liberties? Speaker 3: 06:54 if people don't want to use phone apps, that's fine. The method of reliance and contact tracing is really what we call shoe leather epidemiology. It's always been done going from house to house, investigating contacts. And we don't go house to house in this epidemic because we don't want to spread the virus ourselves, uh, by going house to house. But we can use, you know, landlines we can use, we can use regular telephone calls and text messages, for example, um, to communicate with people. And so it's, if people are uncomfortable, I don't think this requires a giving up of your privacy except to reveal the people that you've had close contact with. And you could say, well, I don't want to do that. Um, that's probably your, you're right. But it, it also, I mean, I think we're faced with many situations during this pandemic where we have to decide if we're willing to give up a little bit of our freedom, a little bit of our privacy to protect the whole society. And that's the nature of public health. And that was Andrea LaCroix, professor of epidemiology at UC San Diego, speaking with Midday Edition host Maureen Cavanaugh. BEAT Today, the San Diego Museum of Art is kicking off its weekend-long ``Virtual Art Alive 2020'' event. ART ALIVE CLIP That’s SDMA’s Sarah Grossman by the way. Art Alive is the big annual event at SDMA in Balboa Park that invites florists from around the region to interpret works of art in the museum’s collection in flower form. It is hands down one of my favorite arts events in town. And while one of my favorite parts of it won’t be able to be experienced -- the amazing smell that hits you when you walk into the museum - I plan on taking the virtual tour to see what the flower creatives have come up with. You can check it out at

Ways To Subscribe
The South Bay has the most confirmed cases of Covid-19, but recent data show the region also has the fewest hospital beds. Also on KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: how contract tracing works and why it's crucial in the fight against the coronavirus, a sign the real estate market could be recovering in San Diego and more.