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Hospitals Feeling The Stress Of COVID-19 Surge

 November 25, 2020 at 4:26 AM PST

Hospitals throughout California are getting a first hand look at the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. Over the last two weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased by 81 percent statewide, with over 5800 Californians currently in hospital care. ICU hospitalizations are also up by 57 percent. Dr. Ghazala Sharieff with Scripps Health says they are starting to feel the pressure . "We had to decompress our hospitals in the South. We had 2 Mercy Chula Vista transfers to la jolla, 2 mercy chula vista transfers to green so thats 4 just out of chula vista just yesterday. So we are starting to feel the volume internally as well. San Diego County public health officials reported a record 1546 COVID-19 infections yesterday along with 16 additional deaths. It puts San Diego deeper into the purple tier with an unadjusted case rate of 21 point 5 new cases per 100,000 people. That far exceeds the state’s baseline of 7 cases per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, four more California counties have moved into the purple “most restrictive”covid-19 tier. More than 3 quarters of all counties in the state are now under restrictions that close non-essential indoor businesses. Here’s State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly speaking at a presser on Tuesday. “I, like many of you are disappointed about how this Thanksgiving will look different from years past. This year it will look different for me and my family, and I am hoping it will look different for you and yours as well. I think it’s necessary to modify or pause our usual traditions to really stop the surge this year. And we’re re-emphasizing that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with members of your household or virtually.” Doctor Ghaly says those who do gather for the holiday should make use of the sunny weather forecast statewide and have their meals outside. It’s Wednesday, November 25th. You’re listening to San Diego News Matters from KPBS News. I’m Anica Colbert. Stay with me for more of the local news you need to start your day. As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on schools, some teachers are finding it harder to take time off. KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong spoke with educators about the challenge of finding substitute teachers. Since the onset of the pandemic, Courtney Green has been reluctant to take time off from her work as a fourth grade teacher. Her students at Kellogg Elementary in the Chula Vista Elementary School District had already suffered enough through the challenges of distance learning. But when Green had to take three weeks off for a medical procedure in October, finding someone to fill in for her was far more difficult than she expected. You have to ensure that you're getting a substitute who's able to log onto which ever program your school or school district is using. And even after she found a couple substitutes, her days off were interrupted by the technical difficulties of virtual learning. On my days that I was out on medical leave, I would still have to log onto the computer, set up the class, make the substitute the host, and then log off. In the end, she went against her doctors wishes and decided to cut her medical leave short. I came back a couple days early just because of how stressful it was. Working with subs and how much work I had to put in, it was basically the same amount as if I had been working. Green says she's heard similar stories from her colleagues. They've put off taking mental health days or going to doctors appointments because they don't want to have to figure this out. District Spokesman Anthony Millican said 96 percent of teacher absences were filled in the month of October. He said the new reality regarding substitutes is two-fold. Because of school closures we have far fewer professional development training so in that regard there's less of a need for subs, but on the flip side there's fewer subs generally available during this period. Substitute teachers say 2020 has been a struggle. Danielle Brees is a substitute teacher working at West Hills High in the Grossmont Union High School District. When COVID-19 first shut down schools, she immediately filed for unemployment. Since then I had moved from where I was living to a cheaper place kind of because of it to be honest. I was pretty much just making ends meet.. Because I'm fully credentialed, I'm still looking for jobs. Brees ultimately found work as a long-term sub for a teacher who's working from home because he's at a greater risk of experiencing complications from COVID-19. She goes to campus every day where students learn in a hybrid model. The teacher designs the curriculum and the assignments, and Brees supervises them in the classroom while they complete their assignments. I've been trying to help them with their study habits and giving them some examples of how to study and some mindfulness apps and things like that. So I'm doing OK, but it is impacting me a little bit to see them not doing as well as they could be. Luckily for Brees, Grossmont Union raised the pay for substitutes after COVID hit from $115 per day to $150. So far, the district has been able to just meet its need for subs. Our sub situation right now is.. I'll say "strained." Terry Stanfill is the assistant superintendent of human resources at Grossmont Union High. He said the district's decision to provide more in-person learning meant it had to make an investment in substitutes. It's a real big part of our schools, and it's what we need to remain open and so we felt we need to be competitive in the county. Cajon Valley Union School District, which has more in-person instruction than most districts, also raised its rates for substitutes. But officials there are worried increasing pay might not be sustainable in the long run. Stanfill worries that the shortage of subs will get worse. Right now it seems to be OK but there's always a need for subs, and as other districts begin to open, we might begin to feel more strain. Back at Chula Vista Elementary, Green expects that things will improve. But she's not planning on taking any more time off. There's also some guilt that comes with getting a substitute when teachers know that our students have already gone through so much trauma over these last seven months and just going out for a day to take care of an appointment is going to be even more challenging for our students. Joe Hong KPBS News. Since the start of the pandemic, San Diego Unified School District has distributed more than 8 million meals to students. This week, cars lined up at the usual pick-up locations to take enough meals for the entire holiday weekend. Sherwin Laroya is a food service supervisor with the district. There's more people coming down for the holidays because we're closing for the three day period. We're giving as much as we can for this week. Without having us for those three days. Since the district isn't distributing food for the rest of the week, Laroya and his team gave out less perishable meals like frozen food and dried fruit. The district will resume its regular meal service on Monday, November 30th. The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting every area of life, including... our Driving patterns. KPBS reporter Jacob Aere says SANDAG has released an interactive data map that quantifies the changes to travel on local highways. TRAFFIC 1 (1:46) SANDAG's new Highway Hot Spots & Volumes Tracker records monthly averages for weekday traffic volumes and speeds at highway hot spots throughout the county. Cynthia Burke of SANDAG says traffic in the region has rebounded since its lowest point in April of this year, but car volume is still down compared to the same time in 2019. "This most recent data that we have for the month of October, it was down 19 percent. So before we were down about half the number of people driving on the freeways and the number of vehicle miles traveled, now we're down about one fifth." While traffic has decreased on San Diego highways, average driving speeds have remained six miles per hour faster than before the March lockdowns. The interactive data map will continue to be updated every month. Jacob Aere, KPBS News. Many businesses are struggling with the latest COVID restrictions… some forced to close. But KPBS reporter John Carroll says the San Diego Humane Society is actually thriving during this challenging time. "We're still doing all the work we would normally do, just in a different way." Nine months into the COVID pandemic and Humane Society President Dr. Gary Weitzman is in a thankful mood. He says San Diegans have shown they're big animal lovers at heart through their financial support. The Society hasn't had to let any staff go… and they're still handing out free pet food at all 5 of their campuses. Now Weitzman is looking past the pandemic… when he says the organization will do things differently. "We're converting our basic business philosophy to actually help people in their communities rather than having them always have to come to our shelters.. Weitzman says the goal is that everyone who wants to keep their animal companion will be able to… and the Humane Society will be there to make sure of it. JC, KPBS News. Coming up on the podcast…..The Old Globe Theatre has made its production of Dr Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas into an annual event here in San Diego county. And this year, the show will still go on in spite of COVID-19. "The thought that we would not be able to come together as a community and tell this story, and carry on this tradition was heartbreaking." KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando has more on how a holiday tradition will get from the stage to you...that’s next just after this break. The Old Globe Theatre has made its production of Dr Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas a holiday tradition. Now it is transforming the stage production into a made-for-radio musical. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with James Vasquez who has been directing the musical for the past 18 years. The Globe's Dr. Seuss's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" will air on KPBS radio tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, at noon. There will be four performances in all... That’s it for the podcast today. The team here will be off tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Thanks so much for listening and have a safe and happy holiday.

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The rise of COVID-19 cases in San Diego is part of a pattern being seen statewide and that will put increasing strain on the health care system in coming weeks. Meanwhile, San Diego County public health officials reported a record 1,546 COVID-19 infections Tuesday, along with 16 additional deaths. Also, as the pandemic rages, teachers are struggling to get time off due to a shortage of substitute teachers. When more schools open for in-person instruction, school officials say the substitute situation could worsen.