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New ‘Slow Streets’ For Social Distancing

 April 30, 2020 at 2:00 AM PDT

Mayor Kevin Faulconer joined mobility advocates yesterday to introduce what they’re calling a “Slow Streets” pilot program. So starting tomorrow, San Diego will be starting a pilot project, opening up parts of streets so people have more room to walk by limit either vehicle or traffic on certain selected roads. Uh, we will also be reopening commuter bike ways to help essential workers get to work faster and more efficiently. We will be upgrading our crosswalk infrastructure with new, larger signal buttons that you can press with your elbow or arm, so you don't have to use. Your hands or fingers during this pandemic. The program launches today. And the initial set of streets in the ``Slow Streets'' pilot program are Diamond Street from Mission Boulevard to Olney Street in Pacific Beach, Adams Avenue over Interstate 805 in the Normal/University Heights neighborhoods and Howard Avenue from Park Boulevard to 33rd Street in North Park along with a street in Encanto and surrounding neighborhoods which has not yet been identified just yet. Temporary barriers and signage will mark the closures. Similar programs have been put in place in other cities, including Oakland, San Francisco and Minneapolis. *** Governor Gavin Newsom announced a major expansion of what's called a farm-to-family program, to bring more California meat and produce to food banks. Financial hardships due to the coronavirus have caused a 70 percent increase in demand for food banks in the state. Meanwhile, farms are getting stuck with food they would normally sell to restaurants and other food services that are closed right now. Karen Ross is secretary of the California Department of Agriculture. "50 percent of our food dollars are spent in the food service arena. No longer in retail as it used to be. And that has backed up product. And because it is so perishable. Some of it has just come out of the ground. We want the citizens of California to have access to that healthy food." The farm to food bank program will be funded and operated in a partnership between the state and federal government, and California philanthropists. *** Del Mar is reopening its beaches today for recreation activities. Beaches will be opened for surfers, swimmers, kayakers and paddleboarders in the ocean, as well as runners and walkers on the sand -- those are the same rules for San Diego city beaches that reopened Monday. Beaches in Carlsbad and Solana Beach remain closed. Solana Beach city officials say they are working to reopen city beaches the week of May 4. And yes, red tide is still in full effect. I’m sure y’all have seen the stunning photos of the glowing waves of bioluminescence. But people are starting to crowd the beaches at night to catch a glimpse of the neon water. So, quick public service announcement here -- remember to wear your masks and stay six feet apart. The county continues to move forward on its plan to require facial coverings in public by Friday. My husband and I just ordered more adult and kids masks on Etsy. We’re starting to think of them as baseball hats -- we’re gonna need a lot of them laying around. *** And for the latest local COVID count: San Diego County public health officials reported 118 new cases and two deaths Wednesday. That brings the county totals to 3,432 cases and 120 deaths. *** I’m Kinsee Morlan and you’re listening to KPBS’ San Diego News Matters.. It's Thursday, April 30. We’ve got a big two-day fundraising campaign coming up next week. So if you want to support this show, please go to kpbs dot org and click the blue give now button. And you can call or text us anytime with story tips or comments or questions about the show at (619) 452-0228‬. Stay with me for more of the news you need. *********************************************************************************************************** The San Diego region reached a grim milestone last weekend: there have now been more than 100 reported deaths due to COVID-19. KPBS reporter Claire Trageser tells us more about the people who’ve died from the virus. More white people than any other racial group have died of COVID-19--just under 50 percent, according to records from the county current through Monday. Just under 33 percent were Hispanic, and just under 10 percent were Asian. The county has received just two reports of African Americans dying from the virus. It is highly likely that significantly more deaths have occured than those reported to the county, says Dr. Doug Richman, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Diego. DEATHS 2A 0:06 "Many people are dying at home or have died without being tested." Eastern and southern parts of the county have seen by far the most deaths--more than half are in those two areas, while the county's northern coast accounts for the fewest--under 5%. Trageser says this is just a snapshot and these numbers could change significantly in the coming weeks. But so far San Diego is going against statewide trends, which show that a disproportionate number of people who died were Hispanic or black. Statewide, 43.5% of the people who died were Hispanic and 6.3% were black. Yet like elsewhere, the virus is proving to be more fatal to men than women in San Diego County. About 54% of those who died in the county were men, while 46% were women. And older people are far more vulnerable — the median age of those who’ve died in the county is 78. This is consistent with what is happening throughout the world. Almost all of the people who died have had underlying medical conditions — only 3.5% haven't. *** Zipcodes along San Diego’s border, in San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, are showing the highest number of coronavirus cases in the county. Now hospitals there are asking federal officials for help. KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento says they sent a letter Tuesday asking for health screenings at the border and more personal protective equipment. BORDERCOVID 1 The requests come from Scripps Health and Sharp HealthCare which have facilities in Chula Vista. Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder says an estimated 250,000 Americans live in Baja California and many regularly cross the border. BORDERCOVID-02 00:04:27:29 (:16) we do think a significant number of those patients down there are crossing the border mexico we know is very challenged right now with covid 19, their hospitals are being filled up, they're running short on supplies and i think it's a possibility that it could bubble over into san diego Baja California's health secretary also on Tuesday requested humanitarian support from Sharp in the form of doctors and nurses. Van Gorder says the federal agencies have not yet responded to his and Sharp's request for border screenings and additional medical supplies. Yesterday’s announcement from Governor Gavin Newsom about school districts possibly making up for lost learning by starting the upcoming school year this summer is, understandably, causing some ripples. Parents and teachers have strong feelings about the possibility, and folks are both for and against it. One thing is for certain -- the early start would require a big boost in funding to districts that are already struggling KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong has the latest budget news from the San Diego Unified School District. SDUNIFIED 1 We are considering the prospect of an even earlier school year into the fall. As early as late July, early August. That's Governor Newsom on Tuesday during his daily news conference. Yet if schools throughout California were to reopen that early, it would require billions in additional funding. Here in San Diego, school districts were struggling to balance their budgets even before the pandemic struck. On Tuesday the San Diego Unified School District board voted to eliminate more than 450 classified, or non-teaching, positions in order to close a 84 million dollar Budget gap. But Superintendent Cindy Marten said all laid-off employees will be hired back into different positions before the next school year starts. CINDY MARTEN /// SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SUPERINTENDENT "As always it's important to distinguish between people and positions. Of the 458 positions being eliminated some 130 or 30 percent are vacant. We don't anticipate that any employees will find themselves unemployed as a result of this action." A new analysis by the San Diego Association of Governments gives a better idea of just how many people have lost work in San Diego County since the coronavirus pandemic began. SANDAG chief economist Ray Major said an estimated 1 in 4 residents, or 24.7 percent of the population, is unemployed. That’s about 430,000 people. Most of the people who have lost their jobs worked in retail, personal care services, the airline industry, restaurants and hotels and motels. SANDAG found the areas of the county with the highest concentrations of unemployed people are in Logan Heights, National City, College Area, San Ysidro and Golden Hill. Major joined Midday Edition’s Maureen Cavanaugh on Wednesday to discuss the unemployment rate and its huge impact on the region. Speaker 1: 00:50 How did SANDAG put these unemployment numbers together? Because I understand official UpToDate government numbers aren't out yet. Speaker 2: 00:58 That's true. But we do have numbers from the national and state government. And what we do working with one of our vendors is to take that information and to apportionate down to zip code level. So we have an understanding of the type of occupations that people have and where they live in the region. And based upon how hard the different industries are hit, we can make an estimate as to how many people are unemployed in each zip code. Speaker 1: 02:20 and what were San Diego's last official unemployment numbers back in March. Speaker 2: 02:26 On March 7th, we had an unemployment rate that was 3.4%. Regionally. There were a few areas that had higher unemployment, maybe in the 5% range and some areas that had unemployment as low as one or 2%. Speaker 1: 02:42 And now the estimate is 24.7%. Speaker 2: 02:46 Yes. Now they estimate it's 24.7% regionally. And we see some areas within the region having unemployment rates as high as 34.8%. Even the areas that have fared the best have unemployment rates that are in the 20% range. Speaker 1: 03:03 Have we ever seen a jump like that before? Speaker 2: 03:07 Absolutely not. This is completely unprecedented. Uh, these type of numbers have never been seen in San Diego. Uh, the unemployment rate that we see here is pretty similar to what we had nationally during the great depression. So maybe going back as far as 1934, Speaker 1: 03:25 you say that you use zip codes to track areas within the County that had high numbers of people filing for unemployment and you were able to tell what industries were big employers in those regions. What did that zip code tracking tell you? Speaker 2: 03:43 Well, what it told us is that most of the people who lost their jobs are, and it's really no surprise, um, they're in industries that have close contact and they were really the ones that were impacted by the social distancing guidelines that have been put out. So there are people who are employed in thing in areas like the retail industry, personal care services, uh, transportation, the airline industry, restaurants, the entertainment industry, and the hotel and motel industry. Speaker 1: 04:14 And how does that translate to actual areas of the County? Which areas are hardest hit? Speaker 2: 04:20 So many of the people who work in those industries, uh, those jobs in, in many cases are considered to be more blue collar workers. The areas in the region where they live and are hardest hit include, uh, the zip codes that include Logan Heights, the college area, San Ysidro, city Heights, golden Hill and national city. So it's really that the core of San Diego, if you, if you take a look at a map is kind of from the downtown area going down to the, to the border. Speaker 1: 04:52 And do you anticipate the unemployment rate will keep going up through the next few weeks? Speaker 2: 04:58 You know, it's my belief that for the next couple of weeks until the state home orders are uh, lifted or at least, um, uh, loosened a little bit that we'll continue to see unemployment claims go up. And this is primarily because there, there are people who are probably unemployed right now who haven't filed and haven't shown up in the figures. Speaker 1: 05:18 You said that even in areas that are the least hardest hit, uh, the unemployment rates are hovering around 20%. What are some of those areas? Speaker 2: 05:28 So the areas that have done the best are really those areas where the people have jobs that can be done remotely, where people can work from home. So a lot of office workers and we see those people living in areas like Sorento Valley, Scripps ranch, Del Mar for instance, Carmel Valley, uh, the East Lake area of Chula Vista and Rancho Bernardo. Speaker 1: 05:51 Why did SANDAG decide to jump in and gather this information before the official numbers on unemployment came out? Speaker 2: 05:59 The reason that we did this analysis is that we wanted to understand where in the region people were getting hit the hardest. It's important for us as SANDAG because we are an association of the 18 individual cities that are here in the San Diego region along with the County. And we want to be able to give the elected officials the best information that we can so that they can make objective decisions in terms of how we come up with a recovery plan. Speaker 1: 06:26 Now we're hearing that the state is planning a phased in reopening of business. Does that mean we should see these unemployment numbers go down quickly? Speaker 2: 06:38 Yes, there was nothing wrong with the economy before we started to do the, the a stay at home orders. And so as we start to open up the economy, people will be hired back into the jobs that they had previously. And you'll see the unemployment rate starts to come down. I'm really hoping that we see the, the bottom here in the next week or two and then we see improvement happening into the summer. Speaker 1: 07:03 Does SANDAG have an estimate on how long it may take to get the economy and jobs back on track? Speaker 2: 07:10 We don't have a firm estimate yet because we don't have a good understanding of the timing of the phased in approach that uh, Sacramento is, is talking about when they give us exact dates. When we can start to open up, we'll be able to do some more in depth analysis. But I can tell you is that there are certain industries like the tourism industry, which includes the hotel motel workers. It includes the restaurants, primarily the high higher end ones as low as well as things like SeaWorld and the zoo and entertainment, uh, places in San Diego. They will not recover as quickly as, as the rest of the economy. Um, we see that, uh, probably a lot of summer vacations have been canceled. Uh, people won't be coming to San Diego for, for tourist reasons in the next couple of months. And then business travel is probably going to be canceled, uh, in the fall. And so tourism may take a year to 18 months, maybe two years to recover. Speaker 1: 08:11 Okay. I've been speaking with SANDAG, chief economist Ray major Ray. Thank you very much. Speaker 2: 08:18 Thank you very much. Johnnie Morris of Aspire Martial Arts is keeping kids moving. Johnnie called in to tell us how he’s keeping his business going through the coronavirus. And if you have a story like Johnnie’s, call us and tell us about it. We’re at (619) 452-0228‬. Thanks for listening.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer joined mobility advocates yesterday to introduce what they’re calling a “Slow Streets” pilot program. Also on KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: demographic details about those who've succumbed to the coronavirus here and more local news you need.