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Marine Commander Fired After Deadly Accident

 October 15, 2020 at 4:43 AM PDT

The Marines have fired the commander of the expeditionary unit involved in an assault vehicle accident that killed 8 Marines and a sailor over the summer. The accident happened July 30, during an exercise off the coast of San Clemente Island. The investigation into why the armored landing craft sank has not finished but the Marines fired the officer in charge -- Lt. Col. Michael J. Regner, with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, relieved Regner, citing a loss of trust and confidence in his ability. It's the first sign that investigators are getting close to determining why the AAV abruptly sank in the ocean, surrounded by other craft. San Diego County's reopening will stay where’s it’s at for now.. For yet another week, the region's coronavirus case rate keeps it in the state's red tier, which is the second most-restrictive phase of reopening. County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher says graduating out of that tier will come from following public health rules. "While we know the overwhelming majority of San Diegans are doing everything right...the reality is we'd like to see our case county descending." Officials are also worried the combination of the flu and COVID could put added strain on local hospitals. They're encouraging San Diegans to get flu shots. Free ones are available by contacting 211 San Diego. Fire season is here to stay… At least until we get some rain. But that's not expected any time soon, says Emily Heller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. Heller says rain isn't in the forecast this month. "At least for the next week or two, we don't see any rain on the horizon, going into the very end of what our models are forecasting. So it does look like maybe October could be another fully dry month." Heller says the dry, warm and windy patterns are similar to the weather that took place before the Camp Fire in November 2018. That Butte County blaze killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 homes and businesses. A recent study has shown the number of perfect days for a fire to start in the fall has doubled since 1979. It’s Thursday, October 15th. This is 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. San Diego State University has been in the news lately due to an outbreak of covid-19 among students. Now, Point Loma Nazarene University is dealing with the same thing. KPBS’ John Carroll reports. "It's definitely a scary feeling…" That was the reaction of PLNU senior Shriya Asher when she saw a notice sent out to the university yesterday about an increase of COVID cases on the scenic campus. The university is now reporting 19 students have tested positive… a total of 66 are in quarantine. The school says it's awaiting results from 98 tests. There have been 29 positive test results since August first. But senior Makayla Renner says the school is doing a good job handling the outbreak. "I think that the school has done a good job of emphasizing the severity of the virus and how important it is for us to… if we want to maintain our community that we love so much and being a part of Point Loma, we have to abide by these safety rules." Students are now required to wear masks unless they're in their dorm rooms, or are eating or exercising. JC, KPBS New Local Census organizers had been hoping for more time to count people. On tuesday, they got bad news -- the Supreme Court issued an order that immediately ended the 2020 census counting efforts. Advocates now fear a massive undercount and the loss of billions of dollars in federal support. KPBS’ Max Rivlin-Nadler reports. For months, local census organizers have been racing against the clock to make sure everyone gets counted in this year's census. Especially hard to count populations like undocumented immigrants and the homeless. They thought they had until October 31st, but now they're out of time. Alor Calderon is the director of the Employee Rights Center in City Heights. What you're actually talking about in terms of human beings? We're way, way undercounted, in the order that we were ten years ago for the last census. For the hard-to-count. Calderon says every person not counted means the loss of up to two thousand dollars of federal support. And even though government census workers say that they've counted nearly every home, Calderon says there are hundreds of people in his community who still haven't been counted, and maybe never will. You can still fill out the census at until midnight on Thursday. Max Rivlin-Nadler, KPBS News. Candidates from opposing parties are running for San Diego’s District 5 City Council seat. But they hold similar positions on several issues, including police reform and future budget cuts. KPBS reporter Claire Trageser introduces us to the race to represent northern San Diego neighborhoods. The Democrat in the race is Marni Von Wilpert, a San Diego deputy city attorney. While some candidates this year support overhauling the police department, she has a different view. "I work in law enforcement, and with our police officers every day and I see the very challenging jobs they do." She doesn't support defunding the police, but does want reforms. I also want to make sure we're not burdening our officers with problems that are not criminal. The only response to a homeless individual should not be a 911 call with police officers. Her Republican opponent is Joe Leventhal, an attorney in private practice. He also was tempered in his criticism of police. "Every institution needs to be looking at how to improve….14;19;06;11 and figure out ways that we get rid of implicit bias in our department." He also wants to take police off of mental health calls. In dealing with coming budget cuts, Leventhal would try to make city services more efficient. “I would really want to maintain our current service levels in our police and fire. It may mean that we are saving money by trying to reduce overtime, which frankly might mean hiring additional police and firefighters." Von Wilpert also would not cut from police or fire departments, but would look to cut outside vendors. "We spend $200 million a year on outside services that we really could bring in house such as new legal services or architects surveying planning issues." The outcome of the race could impact the balance of power on the City Council. The seat is currently held by the termed-out Mark Kersey, who was elected as a Republican but has since become a no party preference voter. So the race will help determine whether the council’s Democratic majority grows or shrinks. That was KPBS reporter Claire trageser Now, on to the San Diego Unified School Board election -- Five candidates are on the ballot. KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong spoke to each of them about how they hope to help navigate the state's second largest school district through unprecedented times. Being a school board member is a difficult job even in the best of times. The responsibilities include managing a byzantine budget, listening to disgruntled parents and making decisions that have far-reaching consequences for the lives of students. Now we have a global pandemic that has upended nearly every aspect of public education and a reckoning over racial justice that has forced educators to address the uncomfortable question of who gets left behind in our classrooms. It's against this backdrop that five candidates are vying for three seats on the San Diego Unified School Board, which serves 100,000 students. In subdistrict A, which covers Clairemont, Mira Mesa and University City, two candidates are competing to replace current board president John Lee Evans, who isn't seeking re-election. Both of the candidates agreed the district needs to rely on public health experts rather than rushing to reopening schools. Sabrina Bazzo is a public health educator and a long-time parent volunteer in the district. During the past decade, she served for six years as the Mira Mesa High School Foundation President She hopes to expand a peer tutoring program that she helped start at Mira Mesa High. Now we're up to about 30 tutors and we've reached about 50 families or so. It's a good example of something we can replicate in the district that's totally free of charge. We're trying to keep it volunteer and we're really trying to identify those students who really need the resources the most. Bazzo's opponent is Crystal Trull, a professor of nonprofit management. She said her experience consulting for nonprofits makes her uniquely qualified to bring accountability and transparency to the district. She said she's been disappointed by the lack of open communication between the district and parents. They've just been making a lot of decisions and having a lot of discussions behind closed doors, they tell us little things here and there but I think the parent engagement piece has really suffered in terms of communicating. In Subdistrict E, which covers neighborhoods in Southeast San Diego, LaWana Richmond is challenging incumbent Sharon Whitehurst-Payne. This subdistrict serves a disproportionate number of low-income students and students of color. Richmond has a doctorate in educational leadership and currently works as an organizational development manager at UC San Diego. She said her experience in the foster care system and as a teen mom has given her a first-hand understanding of the challenges facing the district's most vulnerable students. In times like this, when you have enormous disruption in any type of system, it's an opportunity for exponential growth and progress because you learn things you never would have found out in a condensed and short period of time because you have no choice but to learn, unless you choose not to. Whitehurst-Payne, who's trying for a second term, says as a board member she made sure the district acted swiftly to distribute food and devices when schools first shut down. We wanted to get learning devices out to all our children. We know our schools and we knew that some communities there's a digital divide. Apart from COVID relief efforts, Whitehurst-Payne said her primary achievement has been improving training for special education teachers. I have made a difference on this board. I've been able to identify some of the critical issues that would impact District E's African Americans and Latinos just across the board. Richard Barrera is running for re-election to represent Subdistrict D, which serves Downtown San Diego as well as the neighborhoods of North Park, Barrio Logan and City Heights. A labor-rights and community advocate, he is currently the board vice president and has served since 2008, running unopposed in both 2012 and 2016. Barrera's is challenged by college professor Camille Harris who ran against him in the primary as a write-in candidate. Joe Hong KPBS News. Coming up…. Sewage has traces of the coronavirus, but is it a risk to public health? “There is potentially public health risk for a lot of pathogens in untreated sewage water, whether it’s from the Tijuana River or the Mississippi river.” We have that story and the latest episode of Can you Handle The Truth from our partners at Cap Radio. They’re fact checking questionable claims about Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris and Planned Parenthood. All that is next, after this quick break. Sewage is being tested in San Diego as a way to understand how widespread COVID-19 infections are in the region. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson says that raises a question about whether the presence of the virus in sewage is a public health risk. UC San Diego has already used the waste stream to identify local COVID-19 outbreaks. “Each dorm has its own sewage system,” Kim Prather is an Atmospheric Chemist at the school who’s working with school officials to develop early Covid warning systems. Sampling air is one way. Sampling sewage for the virus is another. “Since we can’t test everybody all the time. That’s the way that we’ll do that very frequently so if it starts to go up in the sewage of a particular dorm then we can figure outhow to test and isolate the students in that dorm. ” The sewage testing has already led to two people who were coronavirus positive but not showing symptoms. The virus was found in sewage coming from several campus buildings. “The same receptors that take it to the lung take it to the gastrointestinal tract there as well. So the virus grows in the GI tract and is shed in the stool.” Richard Schooley is a distinguished professor of medicine at UCSD. He says researchers look for RNA, parts of the virus that persist in the waste stream. The presence of that genetic material can serve as an early warning beacon of an infectious outbreak. Analysts are not looking for active viruses capable of infecting another host and it's not clear they would find them. “To be infectious the virus has to be present as a full viral particle surrounded by a very delicate, basically bubble of detergent. And so the kids of things that get done in sewage treatment plants are just the kinds of things this virus doesn’t like.” But in untreated sewage the virus could potentially survive. Schooley says high concentrations of airborne particles of the SARS COVID virus got into a Hong Kong apartment complex in 2003. It came from a pool of sewage stored beneath the building. The particles spread through plumbing and then to residents. “This was not treated sewage water. The apartment complex was called the Amoy garden complex. And the best evidence we have is that the virus aerosolized from this untreated sewage pool and with air currents it was able to spread through the air.” But the virus is unlikely to survive in the local waste stream. “They haven’t adapted very well to survive outside of the host. However some may possibly get through meaning they’re still viable or contagious.” Shauna Lorance is the City of San Diego’s director of public utilities. She says wastewater moves through the city system to a treatment plant where a lot of things happen that the virus doesn’t like. “All of our processes, what we’re very sure of is that it's not just one layer. That it is multiple layers of treatment. So if for some bizarre reason something got through one, there’s still additional treatment plant processes that will take care of it.” Lorance says recycling wastewater involves even more treatment and when the city’s Pure Water project is up and running, wastewater will be turned into distilled pathogen free water. But not all wastewater gets treated before it enters the environment. San Diego has endured billions of gallons of sewage tainted cross border flows since COVID 19 hit the region in spring. And UC San Diego’s Richard Schooley says there is reason for concern. “There is potentially public health risk for a lot of pathogens in untreated sewage water, whether it’s from the Tijuana River or the Mississippi river.” Schooley says sunlight and dilution can go a long way toward reducing the risk of a virus like COVID 19, but he says treating the wastewater is the best step to protecting public safety. That was KPBS reporter Erik Anderson. Popular social media posts this week made questionable claims about Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris and Planned Parenthood. To sort through the facts, Cap Radio’s Steve Milne [MILL-nee] spoke with Politi-Fact California reporter Chris Nichols for our weekly “Can You Handle The Truth” segment. [[STEVE:] Chris, these posts made some serious allegations. [CHRIS:] That’s right. They claimed that Harris, when she was California’s attorney general, failed to prosecute Planned Parenthood for “selling baby parts” and that she went after two "pro-life journalists" instead. We found these allegations on Facebook and on a website that describes itself as a pro-life news outlet. They refer back to 2014 and 2015. That’s when two anti-abortion activists released edited videos of Planned Parenthood staff talking about the donation of fetal tissue -- which is used for medical research, and is legal as long as the provider does not profit from it. [STEVE:] Several states looked into the allegations against Planned Parenthood. What did they find? [CHRIS:] A total of 12 states, many led by Republican governors, investigated Planned Parenthood, which denied the allegations. None of the investigations ever led to any criminal findings against Planned Parenthood for this activity. So, it’s correct that Harris never brought charges. But it’s also correct to say the accusations against the group were unfounded. And the portrayal in these Facebook posts of selling “baby parts” is also really distorted … these are donations of fetal tissue as a source of cells used by researchers, and only after the woman involved has provided written consent. [STEVE:] What about this last part -- Harris going after two pro-life journalists? [CHRIS:] Harris was attorney general when her office started investigating the anti-abortion activists. But she had moved on to the U.S. Senate by the time charges were brought against them for violating state privacy laws. So, in the end, we found these posts were misleading and not accurate. We rated them False. [STEVE:] Harris’ running mate - presidential candidate Joe Biden - made a statement that caught Politi-Fact’s attention. What did he say? [CHRIS:] Biden was asked by reporters recently whether he would expand the number of Supreme Court justices if he wins the presidency? This is what’s known as court packing. Democrats would also need to control the House and Senate to accomplish this. Biden did not answer that. Instead, he made a questionable claim about the effort by Republicans to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in an election year ... Biden was at an airport when he spoke: “The only court packings going on right now ... it’s going on with Republicans packing the court now. It’s not constitutional what they’re doing.” [STEVE:] So, Biden is saying this effort is ‘Not constitutional.’ What did Polit-Fact find on that? [CHRIS:] Legal experts said the move to fast-track Barrett right before the election does seem to conflict with some Constitutional principles. But those experts also said there is no specific clause in the Constitution that would prevent Republicans from moving forward. In the end, PolitiFact rated Biden’s statement as False. [STEVE:] And Chris, earlier this week we learned that the California Republican Party set up unauthorized ballot drop-boxes in several counties. So people may be wondering now ... "how or where can I find the OFFICIAL drop-off locations for my ballot." [CHRIS:] The California Secretary of State has a website that allows anyone to enter their address or zip code and quickly find a list of the authorized ballot drop box locations near them … along with all the early in-person voting locations. All you need to do is to go to the Secretary of State’s website -- Click on Elections and find the information there … Or contact your county elections office. That’s Cap Radio’s Politi-Fact California reporter Chris Nichols speaking with Steve Milne [MILL-nee]. You can find all of Chris’ fact checks at: Politi-Fact-dot-com-slash-California. And remember you can find the KPBS voter guide online now. It has everything you’ll need for getting that ballot completed this election season. You can find it at KPBS dot org slash election. Also, KPBS’ podcast Only Here officially relaunched yesterday as Port of Entry, produced by Kinsee Morlan and Emily Jankowski, hosted by Allan Lilianthol. You can find Port of Entry at kpbs dot org slash podcasts or wherever it is you get your podcasts.

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The commander of a Marine battalion landing team was relieved from duty on Tuesday. He was the commander of a team involved in a training accident last July that killed nine young servicemen. Also, we’ll review the political races for the San Diego Unified School Board, and San Diego City Council District Five. Plus, are traces of COVID-19 found in sewage a public health risk?