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A COVID-19 Outbreak At Church

 December 1, 2020 at 4:00 AM PST

If you traveled or had a big Thanksgiving meal with lots of friends and family, get tested for COVID. That’s the message Health officials are sending post Thanksgiving holiday. They say folks who ignored travel warnings about spreading COVID should both get tested and quarantine for 14 days to avoid an even more significant surge in COVID-19 cases than the one we’re already seeing. Leslee Buluran (BULL-r-in) was in line Monday at a local testing site because one of her coworkers recently tested positive for the virus. She told KPBS reporter Jacob Aere she’s getting tested to help keep her family safe. "I have people under my household that have a lot of underlying health issues and I want to make sure that I am always cautious. This is one of the steps that I do to protect myself and my household." *** And yes...COVID cases in San Diego County and across California are indeed still surging. In San Diego County on Monday, health officials reported 959 new COVID-19 infections and the death toll remained unchanged at 997. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that a more sweeping stay-at-home order could soon be imposed in an effort to keep hospitals from overcrowding...especially for counties like San Diego that are in the most restrictive purple tier because of our rising COVID numbers. If these trends continue...we’re going to have to take much more dramatic, arguably drastic actions. Newsom said everything is on the table when it comes to what that stricter stay at home order may look like, including expanded curfews and more business closures. **** So... remember that Navy ship that caught on fire while docked in San Diego over the summer? Remember that thick, stinky smoke that covered parts of San Diego for those few days back in July? Well...the Navy said Monday that the USS Bonhomme Richard (Bon-ome Ri-Shard) cannot be repaired. Instead the ship will be decommissioned because the damage was just too extensive...and too expensive to repair. The Navy has already said they are looking at whether the fire was caused by arson. The criminal investigation is still underway. *** It’s Tuesday, Dec. 1. From KPBS, I’m Kinsee Morlan…. sitting in for Anica Colbert this week….and you’re listening to San Diego News Matters, our daily podcast powered by everyone in the newsroom. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. Nearly 9 months into the pandemic, many healthcare workers are not being regularly tested for exposure to COVID-19. But a first-in-the-nation directive from California's public health department will change that. California's hospitals will soon be required to test all employees regularly. Sal Rosselli is the President of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. He applauds the Newsom Administration for making this happen and says left to their own devices, hospitals never would have made this move on their own. "The employers resisted it. They refused to do it. Because it costs money. It takes time. And it's because our industry today, and over the last 20 years or so, has evolved into focusing on the bottom line." CapRadio's Mike Hagerty has the details. The required testing is being phased in, but phased in quickly. Healthcare workers deemed at the highest risk, such as emergency room caregivers, must begin getting weekly tests no later than December 7th. And the next week, ALL workers, including housekeeping, food service and clerical, must be given weekly tests for the virus. National Union of Healthcare Workers President Sal Rosselli says a state government mandate was the only way this was ever going to happen. ROSSELLI: "We have example after example of employers throughout the state, and it's pretty much across the board---refusing to test their workers, at times even with symptoms, or forcing symptomatic folks to come in and work." (:14) The CDPH directive also requires all workers who show COVID-19 symptoms to be tested immediately and requires hospitals to test all newly admitted patients for COVID-19. *** Now...from Covid to the climate. COVID 19 isn't the only problem we have to deal with..urgently. climate change is still a thing. And now San Diego researchers and environmentalists are taking a close look at a local “pocket” habitat that may become an important tool as the climate changes...the region’s salt marshes. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson says the often overlooked marshes could be more than just squishy terrain in out of the way places. Mathew Costa steps gingerly into a little pocket wetland near the Del Mar Fairgrounds. 16:20:38 – 16:20:47 “Just watch out for, I don’t think it’s very likely but watch out for birds.”you did the heavy lifting Endangered ridgeway rails like hiding in the Pickleweed that covers the soft moist ground between train tracks and Camino Del Mar. Costa is a postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 16:23:09 -- 16:23:12 “I think this is a good spot. Its 15 meters.” He’s here to help unlock information about this salty marsh. Information that can’t be seen by the thousands of people who pass by each day. 16:26:51 – “We’ve got all these plants here, underneath there’s sort of a real muddy layer of sediment. There are lot of snails and creatures living on the mud.” Costa uncrates his tools and pulls out a long silver tube with a wide fin on one side. It looks a bit like a stubby sword. He places it upright and leans in, pushing it into the ground. 16:28:29 (slide hammer sound) A slide hammer helps him sink the tube even deeper. Once it is completely seated in the soft wet dirt, Costa gently pulls the tube back out of the ground. A quick twist reveals the core sample, roughly seven centimeters across and 48 centimeters long. 16:34:18 – 16:34:46 “So there is our sediment sample. As I said we’re looking at this as a kind of time machine. We’re looking down in the sediment. We’re kind of looking back in time. So this sediment accumulated maybe hundreds of years ago and built up over time to where we have the plants living today. Costa pulls samples, labels them and in a lab he hopes to find out how much carbon is stored there. 15:49:38 – 15:49:47 “It’s an effort to try and catalogue the amount of blue carbon that’s currently stored in our San Diego coastal wetlands and ecosystems.” Cory Pukini is the California conservation manager at Wildcoast. He says the plants in the salt marsh grow fast sucking a lot of carbon dioxide out of the air. Some of that carbon gets trapped as plants die and new ones grow over them. Unfortunately, Pukini says 90 percent of the region’s coastal wetlands have been swallowed up by urbanization or dredged for recreation. But pockets persist. 15:50:38 – 15:30:57 “So as you see behind me, there are a lot of these opportunity parcels that we like to call them. These orphan wetlands that are in and around a lot of the currently existing wetlands in San Diego County that have the potential to be restored to enhance their capabilities to draw that carbon out of the atmosphere.” Costa’s research will give conservationists a better idea of how efficient the salt marsh terrain is at storing carbon. 15:50:10 – 15:50:21 “Seeing if we can ecologically enhance them to create this ecological uplift so that we can sequester more carbon using these natural solutions to draw carbon out of the atmosphere.” Doing that could help slow the pace of global warming, because carbon in the atmosphere is responsible for a warmer climate. 15:54:40 – 15:55:00 “ We’re looking at areas like Batiquitos Lagoon, up in Carlsbad, the Kendall Frost marsh in Mission Bay, here at San Dieguito lagoon, Famosa Slough. And a number of other coastal wetlands here and throughout the region.” Wildcoast’s Zach Plopper says this research will help them understand more about the ecosystems and habitats that are in the nearshore area and that understanding will help do more.. 15:53:53 -- 15:53:58 “with understanding how much carbon is stored in our local wetlands it really makes San Diego a leader of natural climate solutions.” Blue carbon refers to habitats near the ocean that are particularly good at capturing and storing carbon. 15:56:46 – 15:56:20 “ the salt marsh and sea grass that we have here in San Diego county are these blue carbon ecosystems. They sequester and store more carbon than any other ecosystem on the planet.” Which makes them both a hedge against global warming and buffer against rising sea levels. That’s why Scripps researcher Mathew Costa is interested in measuring the impact the habitat has already had. He hopes mapping out the terrain’s past will help gauge a salt marsh’s ecological value in the future. *** Coming up… A local church continues to defy public health orders…what county officials are saying about the recent actions of a Kearny Mesa church. That story after a quick break. As COVID-19 cases continue to soar in San Diego County, a church in Kearny Mesa held in-person services again this past Sunday. An outbreak of COVID-19 happened at the church earlier this month. San Diego County supervisor Nathan Fletcher joined KPBS Midday Edition host Mark Sauer to talk about the tension between Awaken Church and local public health rules. MARK: The awaken church was in the news again this weekend, according to a union Tribune story, more than a hundred people attended services indoors, most not wearing masks. Start with why the County decided to cite a COVID 19 outbreak there when businesses and other places have not been specifically named Speaker 2: 00:43 Well as it relates to outbreaks. Uh, we've often said, we've said consistently from the beginning that when there is a concern or a danger to the public, uh, where there's an entity that is not cooperating, uh, in the case investigation or contact tracing, uh, then we will release that and make that public, uh, overwhelmingly the number of incidents that are not outbreaks have fully cooperated. They've notified people who might be infected. They have worked with us. Uh, the awakened church refused to do any of those actions and steps. And so our only possible recourse to let people know that they may have been exposed with the publicly released the information. Um, and you know, this church in particular continues to have a very defiant spirit, um, that I believe is, is not only contributing to the spread of COVID-19, but it's certainly inconsistent with the general thought or approach of protecting say the least among us. Speaker 1: 01:31 And, uh, the response from awaken church then has been pretty much the same even after being notified of the outbreak by the County. Speaker 2: 01:38 Well, it is. And, and, and I know Mark, I know that in times of, of difficulty in crisis, uh, the important role that faith plays in our community and in individual lives, uh, is more important than ever for my, my own faith. In my own church. We, we are a group of individuals of shared faith. We have a building, but the building is not the church. Um, and, and so the, the ability, uh, for religion and faith to continue remains, um, my wife and I this weekend went to a safe, physically distanced outdoor mass, and, and were able to, to participate in our faith, uh, without doing it in a dangerous or reckless way. And all anyone has to do is Google COVID church service and read the litany of horrific stories of super spreading events of significant outbreaks and the loss of life. And, and so that is why we're taking the actions we're taking, not out of it does not desire to impede religious expression or belief, but out of a desire to protect life, uh, from one of the highest risk settings. And I think the overwhelming majority of our faith communities and understand that and have been wonderful partners, uh, you know, this particular church has chosen a very defiant posture. And unfortunately now, uh, you know, a large number of the members of their church had been infected with COVID. Speaker 1: 02:49 Do we know how many are connected to the awaken church? Speaker 2: 02:52 Um, I believe the initial, uh, list is well over a dozen. I'm not sure of the latest total. Um, and then, you know, again, we're also having communication challenges where they're refusing to share information with members of their congregation and really be cooperative as we try to do the case investigation and contact tracing aspect of this. So we, we don't know that the total number of, of individuals Speaker 1: 03:13 Is there enforcement that could be done with this, or any church considering the us Supreme court's decision last week siding with so-called religious Liberty regarding restrictions on services at places of origin. Speaker 2: 03:24 Yeah, the U S Supreme court decision really has no bearing on California. The ruling was a very strict guidance from New York that has subsequently been changed. It doesn't really have much impact on what New York is doing today. And so at this point, uh, that ruling, uh, while symbolic, and it could have, uh, impacts down the road, doesn't have any direct application of what we're doing here in the state of California. But again, no one is doing this out of a desire to impede anyone's ability to, to, uh, gather and express their, their religion. You just can't do it endorse. Um, you know, we know that this is one of the highest risk settings, and, you know, I think the overwhelming majority of, of, of the faith community cares deeply about the most vulnerable and they care deeply about protecting seniors and they care deeply about protecting folks with underlying health conditions, which is why the overwhelming majority are doing it responsibly and physically distanced outdoor settings, uh, or virtually. Speaker 2: 04:16 Uh, and, and again, I think faith for, for folks who that's a part of their life, it is even, uh, a greater part of their life in times of difficulty and adversity and struggle, but there's always going to be a few that choose to go a different path. And so it's, it's been very frustrating, uh, to, uh, continue to, uh, to have these struggles, uh, with the awakened church. And we're going to continue to do everything we can to both protect people's rights together, responsibly for their religious beliefs, but also to enforce the public health orders designed to protect life. Speaker 1: 04:45 Do you anticipate the County taking further actions to force awaken church to stop holding indoor surfaces Speaker 2: 04:51 From a public health standpoint? We've, we've done what we can do, which is issuing the cease and desist order. I know there are ongoing, uh, meetings including many today, uh, with law enforcement and the district attorney's office about what next steps they might take. Um, and, you know, again, our message to the public is there are a lot of ways to safely and responsibly engage, uh, in religion and faith services, uh, absent doing it in an indoor setting. And so we strongly encourage the public to not attend indoor religious services. For the same reason, we don't attend, uh, indoor dining or indoor gym operations or other things like that at this time with the number of cases and the increase in hospitalizations and everything we're seeing in our region, Speaker 1: 05:30 Let's turn to the surge of COVID-19 cases in the County. We continue to see record-breaking numbers of cases each day. What are these numbers telling us now? Speaker 2: 05:39 Well, they tell us the dangers of exponential growth. You know, if you run 300 cases a day, uh, in each of those individuals say transmits it to one other person that would be 300 more when you start getting into days, when you have 1500 plus cases, you look at the rate of transmission between that, and you understand how you can get an, a very dire situation. Uh, we're very concerned not only about where we are today, but about what is coming, uh, in the coming weeks. As we come out of the Thanksgiving holiday at a time when, despite all the public health guidance, we suspect a large number of folks traveled, uh, perhaps areas of the country that are in a worse situation than us and the number of people who gathered indoors. And so we're, we're very concerned about where we are, but, you know, Mark, we're very concerned about where we will be in two to three weeks, both with the number of cases, but also with the increase in hospitalizations. Speaker 2: 06:25 We have to remember that cases tend to lag about seven to 10 days after the exposure and hospitalizations tend to lag about 21 to 24 days after the cases. And so we are expecting, continued to increase both in cases and hospitalizations, which is why each and every San Diego, and, uh, has to make the individual decision and choice, uh, that we're going to come together. One more time, uh, to slow the spread, get this under control. Uh, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Here we are in preparation for vaccines, but it is going to take some time. But the first thing we have to do, uh, is really focused between now and the end of the year to get the spread under control. And that was County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher talking with KPBS Midday Edition host Mark Sauer. Hear more timely interviews like this one by subscribing to Midday Edition wherever you listen to podcasts… And thanks for listening to this podcast. If you’re not already subscribed to it, take a minute and look up San Diego News Matters in Apple podcasts or spotify or wherever you listen and take the next step and click that old subscribe button. Thanks in advance.

With coronavirus cases surging statewide and hospital beds expected to fill rapidly, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday a more sweeping stay-at-home order could soon be imposed. Plus: A Kearny Mesa church continues to defy public health orders despite a recent outbreak of COVID-19, taking a closer look at an overlooked habitat when it comes to combating climate change, a new mandate requiring California hospitals to test workers and more local news you need.