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La Nina Is Back

 September 28, 2020 at 3:56 AM PDT

Late last week a fifth COVID-19 vaccine candidate moved into the final testing phase. There are dozens of COVID vaccines under development, and it’s still not clear which one will get approved and when. Still, the CDC is asking health officials to make distribution plans now. Dr. William Schaffner is the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. He says health officials will have to plan for all sorts of scenarios. "If some of these vaccines -- and one of them does -- requires a deep freeze, where would we locate that deep freeze who are the people who will then be trained in how to actually handle these vaccines" San Diego County public health officials say they're working on a local plan, but they won't share details until a vaccine is further along. A La Nina has formed along the equator. La Nina is a national ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that occurs every 3 to 5 years and refers to the cooling of ocean surface temperatures. The National Weather Service says a La Nina tends to indicate Southern California is in for a drier-than-normal winter. But Meteorologist Alex Tardy says ongoing research shows that La Ninas, or its counterpart, El Ninos are just one indicator. Tardy says research is trying to answer the question of what forces combine to indicate whether we're in for a winter with a lot of rain, or not. "Is it natural variability? What is it? Is it the ocean? Is it the atmosphere, is it the land, is it ice? And we don't know right now." Tardy says when science is finally able to answer that question, it will help people in charge of providing water to do their jobs in a much more efficient way. The California insurance commissioner will host a statewide hearing next month…to hear from homeowners and the insurance industry about how to best protect people and their property. This follows an explosion of wildfires in 2020... but it also follows two sstate assembly bills that failed to pass, both of which would have helped people with “home hardening.” Non-renewals of home insurance policies are happening more often in the state’s fire-prone regions. Commissioner Ricardo Lara spoke with KPBS Midday Edition. He says the insurance industry should not only provide insurance for people in fire-prone areas, but they should also take home hardening into account. "As we know, rates are inevitably going to continue to go up in certain parts of the state where wildfires will continue to be prone. And what we're saying is they should get mitigation discounts, they should get a guarantee of coverage." He says San Diego county is one of 8 counties in California that saw an above-average increase in non-renewals of fire insurance in 2017. On a Monday, September 28th, 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. Fitness trackers are one way to gather medical data. But one VA researcher says their accuracy may depend on the color of your skin. KPBS’ Steve Walsh reports. Watches put out by Apple and Fit Bit are starting to measure more data useful to researchers and doctors. Dr. Peter Colvonen is with the VA San Diego and a researcher at UCSD. He's the lead author of an editorial in the journal Sleep which cautions that these consumer devices may not be as accurate for people of color. The issue is the green light used by most consumer devices. "The problem is your skin and various skin tones absorb light differently. And what we are seeing is that the green light technology, giving incorrect readings or not reading at all with the darker skin tones." As makers of the trackers press the FDA to approve data from their products to be used in research, Colvenen says regulators and researchers should be mindful that some readings could be biased against people of color. That was KPBS Military Reporter, Steve Walsh. Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order last week to phase out sales of new gas-powered vehicles in California by 2035. However, the election in November could determine whether that happens on time — or at all. CapRadio's Nicole Nixon reports. To ban sales of new, gas-powered vehicles like Newsom wants, experts say California would need approval from the federal government. A Biden administration would be more likely to give California that approval. But if Trump wins another term? It will be a longer road and that would of course make it even more difficult for them to meet that 2035 deadline. That's Frank Maisano, an energy sector consultant. He also says the new Supreme Court vacancy adds another layer. California is already litigating clean car standards with the federal government, and the case could eventually get to the Supreme Court. Stanford Environmental Law Professor Deborah Sivas says waivers aren't the only way for California to promote cleaner cars. SIVAS: Even if all goes south with the new justice and the election, I think there's still some things to be done. But of course, it would be better if California could just do it through its authority. <<:12>> She points out that Newsom last year was able to secure commitments from a handful of automakers to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Oddly enough, the pandemic has been a renaissance for bike riding in San Diego. And there’s been less bike crashes and injuries too, perhaps because there’s less traffic. Biking advocates see this moment as critical for whether the biking trend continues. KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen took his bike out for a ride, and he has this report. AB: I'm biking with Oscar Tavera through Teralta Park, one of the stopping points on the self-guided Black, Indigenous and People of Color History Ride. Tavera is a board member of BikeSD and helped organize a small group bike ride along the tour. Teralta Park was included because of its significance to the history of City Heights. OT: The site itself is a great visual representation of what can be achieved. The community organizers were able to advocate for this park after the State Route 15 was constructed. It bisected the two communities, but this park was able to kind of join them together. AB: It is making street-level connections like these that Tavera sees as central to BikeSD's mission. And one of the few positives of the pandemic is that people have become more apt to get on a bike and explore their city. He and others are hopeful that the new habits stick after the pandemic is over. OT: Getting the people more comfortable with understanding the logistics of the road and feeling — just even being comfortable riding next to cars. I think getting those families and getting those daily commuters out of cars and understanding that biking is a possible alternative — not every day, but most of the time — could be a good solution long term. AB: The regional transportation planning agency SANDAG measured a 42% increase in bike trips countywide from mid-March to mid-August this year compared to last year. Meanwhile, cyclist injuries from collisions were down 19% in the city of San Diego during that period. So more people are biking, and fewer are getting injured. NF: As you get more people there, there is a critical mass and drivers become more aware, and I think we have to do all of it. AB: County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher also sees a window of opportunity to make lasting change to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. His office recently launched a program to give away up to 400 electric bikes to county residents. He says e-bikes are especially promising in San Diego, which is spread out and has lots of hills. NF: And I think this program is a perfect complement to come at the right time to inject electric bikes in there, which are much easier to use as a commuting than a traditional bicycle. And so I think we really need to think about, as we come out of this, how do we maintain and expand the progress that we've seen in this area. HI: One life lost is too many, one person injured is too many. AB: Hasan Ikhrata is executive director of SANDAG, which gathered the cycling data. SANDAG recently completed eight new traffic circles in the city of San Diego, meant to slow down cars and improve visibility of cyclists. Ikhrata says they're an improvement — but they're still not enough. HI: Eventually we have to get to a place where we figure out how to separate bikes from traffic. And I think our long term vision for San Diego region will envision a bike network that will provide San Diegans the ability to ride without having a fear of hit by a car. AB: Like Tavera and Fletcher, Ikhrata hopes that the increased interest brought on by the pandemic will change mindsets around building new protected bike lanes. Some projects have been delayed by several years, often under pressure from residents who don't want to sacrifice any road space currently dedicated to cars. HI: We need our communities to be willing to give up something they got used to. Just simply because we believe a multi-modal approach to any community is a great way to sustain that community. AB: Advocates say the great promise of the bike boom during the pandemic is expanding their constituency. Things like e-bikes and safe protected bike lanes can make biking accessible to more people. OT: This could be a simple thing that you could start doing on the weekend, and it's not a 20-mile commute but maybe just starting around your block in the neighborhood. I think that will kind of make the system last longer. AB: Andrew Bowen, KPBS News. Coming up on the podcast… Most Army cadets in ROTC had training moved online because of the pandemic. Now, there's some in-person training...but it's still limited. That up next, after this break. The Army's Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or ROTC, has largely moved training online because of the pandemic. The program trains most newly commissioned Army officers. Still, some cadets are getting limited in-person training. Now, a quick warning, this piece contains the sounds of gunfire, which may be disturbing for some listeners. From Boston, Fred Thys reports for the American Homefront Project. [Gunfire] In a clearing at Camp Edwards, on Cape Cod, a group of Army cadets comes over a hill to take a position being held by another group. They're shooting blanks, but otherwise, this is as real on-the-ground training as the cadets have had since the pandemic began. The cadets, all college seniors, come from ROTC programs in Massachusetts and Maine. They are from public universities and private ones such as Harvard University. Cadet Isabella Van Atten attends Wellesley College, where seniors are learning remotely this semester. It is such a relief to be in person, to be out here. Even though we're carrying heavy rucks and everything, just being in person with everyone just makes a huge difference. The learning really skyrockets when we have these difficult experiences, the new challenges that can be thrown at us in the in-person setting, so having the semester remote, I really appreciate getting this learning opportunity out here. Three ROTC platoons performed these exercises in late August. Each platoon had fewer than 30 cadets and they were not allowed to work or socialize outside that group, a far cry from normal training, when hundreds of cadets would eat, train, and shower together. In a typical summer,10,000 ROTC cadets would have been at Fort Knox, Kentucky. This year, the Army planned 68 smaller trainings across the country until the end of October. The cadets at Camp Edwards do not wear masks. They train twelve hours a day, after which they are screened for symptoms of COVID-19. Major General John Evans, commander of Cadet Command, explains that the Army is not able to test cadets on a daily basis everywhere. So we are relying on the CDC guidance for how the screening should occur. Someone that doesn't feel well. Someone who's been in positive contact with someone who has COVID. Those types of things will exclude those individuals. And then in other places, we have the ability to test some, and we will use those tests sparingly, so that if we have someone who screens positive, we can give them a test and then find out whether or not they were truly positive or whether they can continue with training. So we're really trying to use everything at our disposal to be able to do that. Loud fans Back at the command center on Cape Cod, fans are roaring. Lieutenant Colonel David Stalker, professor of military science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the lack of hands-on training since March has had an impact. What I do see out there is they're just slower because maybe they have not moved as a team or squad and definitely not like a platoon just because we lost some of those spring exercises that we would have done in March, April, and May. But Stalker is encouraged by the fact that the lack of in-person training has not hurt cadets' ability to develop other skills. We did not see that with marksmanship. But we conducted some preliminary marksmanship instruction to prep them to go out to the rifle range, and we did that virtually. Despite the slow ramp-up in moving together as a platoon, Stalker is confident that the cadets will be ready for the Army by the time they graduate this spring. That was Fred Thys, of NPR member station WBUR, reporting from Boston. 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. That’s it for the podcast today, thanks for listening.

The weather phenomenon known as La Nina has formed for the first time in two years. But scientists aren’t certain if that will guarantee a shorter, drier winter than usual for Southern California. Also, there are a lot more bikers on the roads in San Diego, but bike crashes are down. Plus, your fitness tracker may not be all that accurate depending on the color of your skin.