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Unhealthy Air Quality From Wildfires

 September 16, 2020 at 4:52 AM PDT

San Diego County has advised vulnerable people to stay indoors due to poor air quality caused by wildfire smoke. Rob Reider with the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District says the haziness has stuck around due to the stagnant weather we’ve had. But, he says that’ll change soon. "We expect the current particles in the air to clear out by this weekend, we expect a different weather regime that will have more onshore windflows" In the meantime, people who are vulnerable to air quality problems are advised to stay indoors. All San Diego State University students living on campus will now have to get tested for covid-19. The university will start a random testing initiative today...in what they’re calling “surveillance testing”. Under the new partnership with the county, they expect to test 500 students each day. Dr. Eyal Oren is with the SDSU School of Public health. "this week of enhanced testing is going to provide us a broader baseline and will generate a lot of information.. really going to guide our future efforts" If there is widespread participation in the plan, the school says it will not re-implement the stay at home order, which expired Monday morning. Students who live off campus are also encouraged to get tested. County supervisor Jim Desmond proposed a motion to stop enforcing state imposed COVID-19 closures. But his motion failed to make it to a vote. KPBS’ Matt Hoffman reports. Desmond says the state's reopening guidelines are unreasonable and untenable If a business does decide to open it will be at their own risk with the state mandates the state may enforce While some of his colleagues agreed there were some inconsistencies with reopening guidelines, his motion failed to get a second. Supervisor Dianne Jacob didn't agree with the approach- Whether we like the rules or not we need to play by them and work in the system to change the rules Under the state's new color-coded tier system, San Diego is dangerously close to slipping out of the red tier.. That would mean restaurants, gyms and personal care businesses would have to once again stop indoor operations.. County health officials say if it weren't for outbreaks among San Diego state students, we wouldn't be facing more restrictions. They are asking the state to remove those cases from our county totals. Matt Hoffman, KPBS News. It’s Wednesday, September 16th. You’re listening to San Diego News Matters from KPBS News...a daily morning news podcast powered by everyone in the KPBS Newsroom. I’m Anica Colbert. Stay with me for more of the local news you need to start your day. A new organization in North County has opened to support the Black Community there. KPBS reporter Jacob Aere says Encinitas4equality has space for black business, and programs for young people. The concept of the organization began in June, after the killing of George Floyd. Mali Woods-Drake, Felicia Rawlins and Jody White helped lead protests in Encinitas but decided they needed to form Encinitas4equality to bring lasting change in their community. Co-founder Mali Woods-Drake says the space helps to create understanding between people of different races. "We urge everyone in the community, come by here, purchase Black. But more importantly come and have a conversation and dialogue about what we can all do together to end systemic oppression." Encinitas4equality seeks to improve different areas of life for black and minority communities in north county. Those include community building, policing, housing, youth and business. Their building is located on North Coast Highway. Organizers say their building has created a place for the first Black-owned businesses in Encinitas. Jacob Aere, KPBS news. Climate change and fire suppression are among the top reasons why experts say California wildfires have grown so big. But others say removing Indigenous people from the land is an overlooked reason behind today’s explosion of fires. CapRadio’s Ezra David Romero reports. As a four-year-old, Bill Tripp’s great-grandmother taught him how to burn land on purpose. Those cultural burns are a way of keeping wildfire in check. “Walked up the hill with her walker and handed me a box of stick matches and told me to burn a line from this point to that point.” Now as deputy director of the Karuk Tribe’s Natural Resources Department at the Northern tip of California he’s working to give Indigenous people more power to practice cultural burns. Tripp is doing this work because Native American people were largely removed from the landscape in the mid-19th century. That altered California, said Char Miller, an environmental analysis professor at Pomona College. “Once the state of California enacted what we can call a genocidal attack upon native peoples in the state, what started to happen was the lands that they tended, managed started to do what nature does, which is to grow.” Miller says this systemic anti-Indigenous racism resulted in the exclusion of fire. Ron Goode is a tribal chairman of the North Fork Mono. “Removal of Native Americans from the land is the result of what we have today.” Goode says there’s some hope. He’s working with agencies in the Central Sierra to increase cultural burns and to restore mountain meadows. But how scalable are Indigenous practices? Don Hankins, a Plains Miwok fire expert at Chico State, says very. “It’s definitely scalable on the larger public lands that are out there. I develop maps to think about how I would go about burning in those particular places.’ But Hankins admits for change to come Californians need to adapt to the idea that fires aren't always bad. In Sacramento, I’m Ezra David Romero That story from CapRadio’s Ezra David romero. District Attorneys in San Joaquin, Contra Costa, and San Francisco Counties announced the formation of the Prosecutors Alliance of California on tuesday. The Alliance is fighting what it calls the Politics of Mass Incarceration and Failed Strategies of the Past. They say they’re breaking away from the more traditional California District Attorneys Association. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin says fighting crime has to go beyond warehousing criminals. “At the local level and the state level, there is absolutely no reentry planning to ensure that people being released from jail or prison have a safe place to go. It is unacceptable that we use whether it be jail or state prison as homeless shelters.” The Alliance plans to act as an advocacy arm to weigh in on state legislation, ballot initiatives, and candidate races. The Aztecs football team is leaving San Diego…temporarily. San Diego State said Tuesday morning the team will play its next two seasons in Dign ity Health Sports Park in Carson, California… the same place the Chargers played when they first moved to LA. KPBS’ John Carroll reports. Many fans posting on an Aztecs fan page independent from the University were… not happy with the news… some saying they were going to cancel their season tickets. But in a Tuesday afternoon zoom news conference, SDSU Director of Athletics, JD Wicker, said it makes more sense to play the next two shortened seasons - this fall and next spring - 112 miles north. "Our fans are gonna see a much improved experience as well… better video boards, better concessions." Wicker also says once they got inside SDCCU stadium and saw its current condition, they were surprised, and realized it would take a lot of money to bring it up to snuff - only to have it torn down once the new stadium is complete. JC, KPBS News. A Pentagon task force is looking at why the Navy doesn't have more African Americans in top jobs. Only a handful of Navy admirals are Black, and none of them are at the two highest ranks. KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh reports for the American Homefront Project. The problem starts at the top. Out of 268 Admirals in the US Navy, only 10 are African American. Most of them are rear admirals like Alvin Holsey who is running the task force. "That's pretty small, Yes it is, yes" Right now there are no African American admirals at the two highest ranks. Building an admiral is a 20 to 30 year commitment, Holsey says. It's not just about test scores and performance reviews. Someone has to be willing to guide that young officer. "As a black officer in the Navy I will tell you I've mentored more people who don't look like me than do look like me by sheer mathematics, right. I will tell you also because there are so few guys who come before me in very small numbers, someone who don't look like me had to reach out and engage in my career." African Americans are 13 percent of the population–– on but only 9 percent of Naval officers, so the pipeline starts off small. Then, somewhere along the way, many people just become exhausted, says Keith Green, a lieutenant commander who retired in the 1990s. He recently wrote the book Black Officer/White Navy. "It is not simply just unconscious bias. There are active behaviors that are happening to people, because they don't like working for a black person or a minority and they don't like having one be their supervisor." Not everyone an African American officer encounters is a problem, Green says. But the extra effort to work around them takes its toll on their career. "Not only do you have to do all the other stressful things that any military person has do to. You have to play that double game of trying to figure out why you're being treated differently or what's happening to you. Why is something happening to you that isn't happening to other people?" Retired Rear Admiral Sinclair Harris heads the National Naval Officers Association, which has worked for 50 years to promote diversity in the sea services. He says it takes hundreds of ensigns to eventually make one admiral or what the Navy calls flag officers. "You got to bring more people in in the beginning so that the quality cut that you're going to have when you get to senior officer and get to flag officer you have enough people in the pot." He calls it death valley -- that point where junior officers opt out to end their careers. Graduating from the Naval Academy is the most well worn path to admiral but less than 6 percent of the current class at the Naval Academy is African American. The academy is not the only path. Admiral Harris was rejected when he applied at the beginning of his career. Harris says one solution is mentoring officers who come through less traditional paths. "When you only have one out of 20 diverse candidates going up for flag officer in a community and they decide, you know what, I just got this high paying job at IBM. ...And guess what, now you're down to zero and you've got to look at that pipeline and that pipeline is anemic." The Navy is more diverse at the lower ranks. 20 percent of enlisted sailors are African American. Force Master Chief Huben Phillips is part of the One Navy Task Force which is looking at how to end discrimination in the ranks. "Throughout my 31 years where I've seen racism or discrimination personally against me. I knew what the policy was. I knew it was wrong, ...but when you're in the minority you just kind of put your head down. You think about self preservation. You think about your family. You think about the bigger picture." At the moment, the Navy is encouraging enlisted and officers alike to speak up. One Navy Task Force is scheduled to issue its report in December. I'm Steve Walsh in San Diego. 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 Coming up on the podcast...San Diego State University is dealing with an outbreak among hundreds of students on and off campus. UC San Diego meanwhile is testing out a new app to prevent outbreaks when ITS campus opens later this month. "It's the people at the college party, or at the restaurant, or at the bar, the grocery store, on the plane, in the bus...who you would not otherwise know their name and phone number when the contact tracers call you...those are the people who will be notified and would not have been otherwise notified." That’s up next, after this. There are lessons to be learned from the health crisis that developed when students returned to campus at universities and colleges this month. At San Diego state university, more than 600 students contracted Covid-19 in the first weeks of school. Soon after, UC San Diego postponed the re-opening of it’s La Jolla campus to the end of september. They’re now looking at using a smart phone app to help with contract tracing…as a way to control the spread of the virus once classes begin. To discuss the new app...KPBS MIdday Edition Host Mark Sauer spoke with Dr. Christopher Longhurst, the chief information officer and associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego Health. Here’s that interview…. Phone tool. What is it and who will have it on their phones? Speaker 2: 00:38 So the smartphone tool that we're talking about, uh, is not actually a contact tracing application. It's called an exposure notification application. What that means is that if you come into contact with somebody whose phone is close to yours, and they're diagnosed with COVID, that you could get an anonymous notification of exposure, and that allows you to go get tested and shorten that cycle time, and hopefully, uh, hopefully limit the spread of the outbreak. Speaker 1: 01:06 So if I'm on campus as a student or a staff faculty member, and suddenly I get a beep on my phone, it's going to tell me just what exactly. Speaker 2: 01:14 So you might get that beep on your phone and you'd get a message that says, uh, you've come into close contact with somebody who is recently diagnosed with COVID. Please call this number for more information. And when you call the number, you'll get the UC San Diego health testing line. And based off the message that you're getting, we can give you a risk prioritized recommendation around either isolating or actually getting tested. For example, if you were exposed, um, just, uh, within the last couple of days, we might ask you to get tested today and again, five days from now. And of course that's at no cost to our students and employees, Speaker 1: 01:47 Is this really going to help? Who is this most important for this new year? Speaker 2: 01:51 We think that this exposure notification tool is not going to help your household contacts, friends, and family members that you would call and tell. Anyway, if you were diagnosed with COVID, we think that the people that it's going to help most are the strangers, it's the people at the college party or at the restaurant or at the bar or in the grocery store on the plane and the bus who you would not otherwise know their name and phone number. When the contact tracers call you, those are the people who will be notified and would not have been otherwise notified. And that's where we're really going to get a movement on these outbreaks. Speaker 1: 02:23 Now, the university got state permission to launch a pilot program for this it's not been done elsewhere in California, right? Speaker 2: 02:29 Yeah, that's right. In fact, it's almost the reserve, the reverse, which is the state has decided to roll this out in a pilot and UC San Diego stepped forward and volunteered. Speaker 1: 02:39 What about privacy concerns? Does this mean participants in this program can have their movements track? Speaker 2: 02:44 Absolutely not. I'm glad that you asked, um, these exposure notification applications from Apple and Google do not allow for any location tracking. And that's really important. There were some rumors early in the pandemic that, uh, some countries in Asia and we're using location tracking for contact tracing. And it turns out not only does that not help, it doesn't work. Um, this is really distance based. It's using the Bluetooth to measure distance to other people's phones. Um, it doesn't track any location at all. That makes sense. This is a voluntary and opt-in program, and we hope that our employees and students will choose to opt in, but we know the number one concern that comes forward is privacy. We've done extensive reviews from a privacy standpoint, and we feel really confident that this is an anonymous system that will not store any individual user data. Speaker 1: 03:35 How many students do you expect back on campus at the end of the month and any guests on how many students and staff will opt to participate in this particular? Speaker 2: 03:43 So we're expecting close to 8,000 students back on campus, uh, and thousands more who will be moving off campus into the region. The prediction for how many people adopted a, your desk may be as good as mine. But our goal is over 75%. Uh, we know that with over 50% adoption that we can actually have an impact on the spread of this disease. Even lower rates can help prevent infections. Speaker 1: 04:05 I'd read that this had been tried elsewhere in the world during the pandemic. What have you learned from experiments in other places? Speaker 2: 04:12 That's a great question. So Apple and Google announced this technology that they were working on in March. They rolled it out in may. And over the summer we saw a number of privacy board. European countries actually adopt this technology. So the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and others have started rolling this out over the last couple of months. So we're definitely building on their best practices. One of the things that we've learned from the other six us States that have already rolled this out like Virginia, Alabama, and even Arizona, is that putting the notification process at the contact tracing stage is a little bit too far downstream. So the way that the notification works, if I'm diagnosed with COVID, is that I'm given a key code to enter because we don't want just anybody to be able to retest that they've been diagnosed. Right? So that key code is what starts the anonymous exposure notification process. Speaker 2: 05:03 So rather than having our contact tracers give out those key codes, we're actually asking our testing line to do it. So after we test you here at UC San Diego health, and we do a thousand tests every day, um, on a daily basis, we're going to find some students and some employees who were positive when we call them up, we'll say, Hey, you've been diagnosed with COVID. We're going to call you on a daily basis to check in on you and your symptoms. And we can give you a six digit key code to anonymously alert people. You may have exposed if you like to put that in. So it's a voluntary stuff. Speaker 1: 05:38 This pilot program at UCLA, I'm sure it's going to be watched closely across the state and the nation. What other protections will be in place when students return to campus? Speaker 2: 05:46 Our most important protection is obviously masking. And so, uh, we're asking all of our students, faculty and staff to wear masks and any space where they could encounter other. And that's really the root of prevention of COVID-19. This is something that can augment contact tracing if there is an outbreak, but the modeling certainly shows that it's likely to help. Um, you know, what could be an outbreak affecting 20, 30 or 40 students might be reduced to three or four students because we're testing the isolating more quickly than we would be without this tool. That was Dr. Christopher Longhurst of UC San Diego speaking with KPBS Midday Edition Host Mark Sauer. Also, we have a correction for a story we aired in yesterday’s podcast. The original version of our story on outbreaks by zip codes incorrectly stated the percentage of outbreaks in manufacturing and food processing in the two South Bay ZIP codes. The correct percentage is more than 40%. That’s it for the podcast today, thanks for listening.

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As fires continue burning in California, San Diego County has advised vulnerable populations to stay indoors due to poor air quality. And… the clock is ticking in San Diego -- New COVID-19 data released Tuesday show a case rate that the state considers a “widespread” outbreak. If the case rate stays high for another week, it could lead to business restrictions and closures. Plus, the One Navy Task Force is looking at why only a handful of African Americans reach top jobs. It's also examining discrimination in all aspects of Navy life.