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Churches Can Open, With Changes

 May 26, 2020 at 2:00 AM PDT

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued guidance yesterday to churches and other houses of worship in California on how they can safely reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Under the guidelines, places of worship have to limit attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or 100 attendees, whichever is lower. They must also arrange for social distancing of at least 6 feet between people, establish and implement a COVID-19 prevention plan, train staff on the plan, and regularly evaluate for compliance. Newsom said last week that he recognizes the importance of religion during the pandemic. "At a time of so much anxiety and uncertainty, faith and that devotion to something higher and better and bigger than yourself becomes even more pronounced and more profound and more important." The move comes after President Trump deemed houses of worship essential and demanded states to let them reopen this past weekend. It's unclear what authority the President was using in making the demand. *** Gov. Gavin Newsom says the state is building a “field medical station” with up to 125 beds in Imperial County, which has witnessed a surge in coronavirus cases. Newsom says the region “continues to be of concern” and that emergency aid could be sent to other parts of the state that see similar surges. A temporary facility at the Imperial Valley College gymnasium was expected to open Monday to receive transfers from local hospitals. *** Meanwhile, in San Diego County, health officials have been watching closely how newly reopened businesses are following the health guidelines. Memorial Day weekend is, of course, considered the unofficial start of the summer. The holiday weekend served as a trial run for lots of local restaurants and retail shops that swung open their doors for the first time after closing in March. At Mike Hess Brewery in Imperial Beach, there were a few very noticeable differences at the brew pub. Masked customers were escorted to their well-spaced picnic tables, and once customers were at the table, they were asked to stay there unless they needed to go to the bathroom. Mike Hess, the owner of his namesake brewery, says he was happy that the city had closed down the street in front of the brewery so customers could be outside where there’s more space. As San Diego continues its downward trend in positive coronavirus cases, everyone is hoping for good results after more people ventured out to beaches, restaurants and shops over the weekend. *** San Diego Public Library will offer contact-free pickup service at 11 library locations beginning today. The pickup service will be available on weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Patrons with existing holds will be notified by email when their materials are available. The library system will begin accepting new holds for pickup on June 1. Libraries are still not accepting returns at this time. But don’t worry: Due dates on items currently checked out have been extended to June 12. *** And for the latest local COVID count: On Monday, county health officials reported 96 new positive cases and no additional deaths from COVID-19. That brings the totals to 6,767 cases and deaths remain at 249. In the last month, the percent of tests coming back positive has dropped from about six to 3 percent. That’s good news: the lower the percentage the more comprehensive testing is being done. The percentage of positive tests is one of the key metrics monitored by the county. *** From KPBS, I’m Kinsee Morlan, and you’re listening to San Diego News Matters. It’s Tuesday, May 26. This podcast, by the way, is powered by KPBS’ news reporters, editors and producers. To support the work they do, go to kpbs dot org slash donate. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. While major parts of the economy are reopening amid relaxing health measures, policies along the border-- first put in place during the pandemic-- remain extended indefinitely. KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler tells us just how drastically the situation along the border has changed and how long we can expect it to remain that way. For three years, the Trump administration has altered long-standing policy towards asylum-seekers and migrants along the southern border. Each new policy cut down the legal pathways people have for reaching the US to declare asylum, but none quite put an end to the system that's been in place since the end of World War II. But on March 17th, the United States announced it would be turning back all asylum seekers along the southern border, regardless of their country of origin. Within a few hours, they would be returned to Mexico, in an effort that the Department of Homeland Security said was to stop the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. Motomura: This is unprecedented in its blanket nature and in its scope. Hiroshi Motomura is a law professor at UCLA who specializes in immigration law. MOTOMURA: I think the administration has tried mightily through much of its tenure to reduce the number of asylum applications. But the bottom line is this coronavirus situation has given this administration an opening to essentially close the border to asylum cases in a way that it was trying to do, but doing it very imperfectly before. DHS said it had authority to close the border to asylum-seekers because of an order from the Centers for Disease Control allowing DHS to ban entry to the US to anyone they believe will spread disease. This isn't the first time the US has used disease as a justification for changing immigration policy. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was part of a racist backlash to a smallpox outbreak in San Francisco. MOTOMURA: The use of public health reasons as pretexts for more broad-based restrictions. Those developments run pretty far back in American history, and are foundational to American immigration law. But this recent closure of the border has yet to be challenged in court, and Motomura believes that the Trump Administration can't unilaterally close the border to asylum-seekers based on CDC statute. MOTOMURA: It's a quarantine statue, it's not an deportation statute. It's not an immigration control statute. Public health experts have expressed skepticism that the turnback policy stops the spread of coronavirus, especially as the pandemic hit the United States well before it spread to Mexico and Central America. Earlier this month, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf visited San Diego to commend agents that were carrying out the turnback policy. WOLF: The CDC was very clear to us, along with DHS and CBP, that we do not house these individuals in our facilities, both for our workplace protections, the protection of the American people, and the protection of other migrants. We've been very successful at doing this over the past two months. Wolf said that 80% of migrants were returned to Mexico within two hours. The same day Wolf spoke in San Diego, the Trump administration announced that the turnback policy was now extended indefinitely, subject to thirty day reviews. At the same time, asylum seekers sent back to Mexico under the Remain In Mexico program have seen their court dates in the US moved back well into 2021. RAMOS: People are absolutely desperate. They're desperate for information. Nicole Ramos is an attorney with Al Otro Lado, a legal organization based in Tijuana that advocates for asylum-seekers. Since the turnback policy, the organization has begun to focus more on humanitarian relief for asylum-seekers stuck in Tijuana during the pandemic. They're raising money for prepaid debit cards to give to asylum-seekers who need help. RAMOS: People are getting sick. They cannot get help at the general hospital at the general hospital in Tijuana or Rosarito, because they're full. And trying to survive COVID at home, and they don't have access to healthcare. As the coronavirus continues to ravage both countries' healthcare systems and economies, border barriers between the two continue to go up. San Diego's first new border wall in decades is rising in the Otay Mountain wilderness. It will likely stay there for years, like possibly many of the policies towards asylum-seekers adopted during this turbulent time. And that story from KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler. *** Like everywhere across the country, Memorial Day remembrances were different this year for San Diegans. KPBS Reporter Joe Hong attended a virtual ceremony that took viewers to four iconic locations in the county. ***NATPOP: 39:22 The virtual ceremony started with the national anthem at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma.. The hour-long commemoration hosted by the USS Midway Museum took viewers to Mt. Soledad National Memorial, Miramar National Cemetery and the USS Midway Museum. In between, viewers heard from veterans, like Jack Ensch, who fought in Vietnam. 1:06:05 JACK ENSCH /// VIETNAM WAR VETERAN More than 1.1 million men and women have died in wartime during our nation's history. Add the wounded and missing and that number is closer to 2.8 million. These numbers should humble us. If you missed the live presentation, you can still see the commemoration on the USS Midway Museum's YouTube page. The coronavirus pandemic has stopped so much of normal everyday life. But one thing it hasn't stopped: San Diego police are still ticketing the city's homeless residents. Here's inewsource investigative reporter Cody Dulaney with more. DULANEY: An inewsource analysis of police citation data beginning in mid-March shows officers more than doubled the number of tickets issued for illegal lodging compared to a year ago. The ticket is largely aimed at homeless people. After the city turned the San Diego Convention Center into a shelter, the ticketing started to decline. But it still continues. Police Capt. Scott Wahl says some ticketing is necessary, and points to the homeless deaths during the 20-17 hepatitis A outbreak. SCOTT WAHL: "Twenty people died on the streets of San Diego because of this unsanitary, very preventable environment. The way you prevent it is you don't allow it to exist, and so we don't have that happen here." (10 secs) DULANEY: On a recent evening, I spoke to Vernon Wellington, who police ticketed in March. He lives downtown next to the freeway. He doesn't see the need for the tickets. VERNON WELLINGTON: "Why? Why are you going to punish somebody because they're sleeping on the streets?" (4 secs) DULANEY: City officials want people like Wellington to accept shelter in the convention center. And so far, about 1,200 have. For inewsource, that was investigative reporter Cody Dulaney. inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS. *** San Diego’s airport has suffered as the COVID 19 pandemic depresses air travel. KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson says industry watchers think a full recovery will take a long time. There is a pent up demand for airline travel but concerns about the pandemic will keep Americans from travelling. A survey by business consultant Oliver Wyman finds 60 percent of the people they surveyed are looking forward to travelling again. Oliver Wyman partner Bruce Spear says once travel resumes San Diego should benefit. TRAVEL 1A :08 00:02:13 – 00:02:25 “Given the size of the economy and the appealing destinations in California. I would say it’s probably better situated than some other states.” The survey also found people won’t travel until the government or World Health Organization says it is safe. Spear says it could take a couple of years for air traffic to completely rebound. *** Restaurants were allowed to reopen over the weekend but with certain guidelines in effect. KPBS arts and culture reporter Beth Accomando finds out how Bread and Cie (SEE) in Hillcrest is using humor to help customers abide by social distancing rules. Since 1994 Bread and Cie has boasted that it is open and baking every day of the year except Christmas. It even continued to bake and do delivery and take out when the coronavirus pandemic forced a state-wide shutdown. But on Thursday owner Charles Kaufman was told he could reopen the café. So to enforce social distancing he has giant sock puppets occupying every other table and had hats made with a three-foot baguette attached to both sides to keep people 6 feet apart. CHARLES KAUFMAN: [Notes:00:02:44.940] The way I see it, if you can't be profitable, at least be funny. And during these times, it's when we really cannot be profitable. Kaufman did see a spike up in business over the weekend as patrons sat among furry muppet-like creatures to enjoy some pastries and sandwiches outside of their homes. So, while restaurants and retail shops are reopening, schools remain closed. Many colleges and universities are planning to continue with on-line learning even into the fall. Cal State San Marcos is one of them. The president of Cal State San Marcos is Dr. Ellen Neufeldt. She told KPBS Midday Edition that they've distributed laptops and Internet hotspots for students, faculty and staff to help with online learning. "But we are still finding that we do have people where broadband is still really the issue, and so we are looking to see if we can create some of the spaces on our campus if needed, as well as distributing the hotspots." She says one of the areas where they may provide students wifi is their parking lots, so students can drive to campus and work in their cars. It's not yet known when California's K-12 schools will reopen. Governor Gavin Newsom has said schools could reopen as early as July or August, depending on conditions in each community. The final decision is up to individual school districts. *** Laura McFarland is the owner of McFarland promotions, a local event production company that puts on the Shamrock Festival, Harbor fest and dozens of other big events in town. So, obviously, her business came to a screeching halt when the coronavirus hit. But, she quickly pivoted. Her company now sells face masks specifically for students who’ve graduated in 2020. Laura says she wanted to give students who weren’t able to have a graduation this year a way to be recognized for all their work. So again, she sells the masks at grad masks dot com, and donates some of the proceeds to local schools and the San Diego Food Bank. That’s all we’ve got for today. Thanks as always for listening.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued guidance yesterday to churches and other houses of worship in California on how they can safely reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Also on KPBS’ San Diego News Matters podcast: How drastically the situation along the border has changed, San Diego police are still ticketing the city's homeless residents and more local news you need.