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COVID-19 Outbreak Info Finally Revealed

 December 21, 2020 at 4:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Kinsee Morlan, in for Annica Colbert….it’s Monday, Dec. 21. >>>> KPBS has obtained records that show the location of all COVID-19 outbreaks in San Diego County since March. WE'LL HEAR WHAT those RECORDS SHOW… But first... let’s do the headlines…. ###### The last three days of COVID-19 numbers have been grim. On Friday, San Diego County reported another record number of cases...3,611. Saturday, the county reported 2,509 new coronavirus cases...and Sunday, our county added 3,493 more new infections. The county’s totals are now nearly 123 thousand cases and 1,280 deaths. ######## Meanwhile... a San Diego judge cleared the way last Wednesday for restaurants to reopen for more than just takeout...and some local eateries immediately did just that….reopened right away… But then two days later on Friday, an appeals court stayed that decision after lawyers for the state filed an emergency challenge…..So restaurants must again abide by the state's health orders and cease indoor and outdoor dining immediately…. But...some restaurants have decided to stay open despite the latest judgement….some owners making public statements about their refusals to follow the orders. The original lawsuit behind all the opening-and-closing confusion, by the way, was filed by two San Diego strip clubs..which won the right to remain open. Lawyers in that case have until Wednesday to file any opposition to the state’s latest filing. ######## From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. In an exclusive investigation, KPBS has obtained records that show the specific locations of all COVID-19 outbreaks in San Diego County since March. Until now, public health officials have obscured the exact names of where the outbreaks were happening...instead just saying they occurred in places like “restaurants” “ businesses” or childcare settings. KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser says the records show how outbreaks have hit everywhere from churches and restaurants to big box stores….In short...If you’ve gone out at all since the pandemic first struck, you quite likely walked into a place where an outbreak occurred. NAT POP 20201211_091650.mp4 00:00:28:22, audio on 1008.wav at 12;30;42;03 "I come early in the morning to avoid the crowds of people." Il Ho Hong was dressed in a mask and plastic gloves while shopping last week at the Walmart on College Avenue. He's worried about catching COVID-19 while in the store. SOT 20201211_091650.mp4 00:00:45:14, audio on 1008.wav at 12;30;56;27 "If I were aware that previously they'd had someone in there, I'm not going to use the store, I'm going to use the other store." Hong didn't know it, but that Walmart did have an outbreak at the end of October with at least 24 cases. It was one of 16 different outbreaks at local Walmarts since the start of the pandemic. Like Hong, if you’ve gone out at all since the pandemic first struck, you quite likely walked into a place that’s had an outbreak. That's according to a KPBS analysis of more than 1,000 outbreak records dating from March through the end of November. At least 208 outbreaks have hit restaurants. Popular chain restaurants like Olive Garden, Cheesecake Factory, Denny’s and the Broken Yolk Cafe have each had multiple outbreaks. At least 127 outbreaks have occured in large retailers and grocery stores like Costco, Target, Home Depot, Trader Joe’s and Walmart, according to the records KPBS obtained. Walmart spokeswoman responded that the retailer has taken steps to make the shopping experience as safe as possible. “During this challenging time we’re working to balance health and safety concerns while still meeting the needs and expectations of our customers and associates.” — Rebecca Thomason, Walmart Experts say it’s important to know that just because someone visited a place that had an outbreak doesn’t necessarily mean they were exposed to the virus. An outbreak means three or more people with COVID-19 who aren't close contacts were in that place over the same 14-day period. So, those people maybe never crossed paths—they could have even been there on different days. Also, the records reviewed by KPBS don’t reveal whether employees or patrons were infected. That means it's hard to say how the virus might have spread, says UC San Diego epidemiologist Rebecca Fielding-Millerat. SOT 00:03:26:13 "If it’s nine staff members all working in the kitchen together and you have nine people test positive within a 14 day window...00:03:43:16 my initial assumption would be that those are connected. But if nine people report they happened to be in a Walmart in Chula Vista within a 14-day window because they were grocery shopping, you’d have to narrow it down to a specific window, say they were all there between 2 and 5 pm on a Wednesday." She also says context is important. A higher number of outbreaks at retail chains is likely partly because they have multiple locations, more customers and more employees. SOT 00:12:41:03 “You wouldn't say Otay Mesa Detention Center has only had one outbreak and Denny’s has had five, therefore Otay Mesa is safer.” And at least 86 outbreaks happened in the Pacific Beach and Gaslamp ZIP codes, two of the county’s biggest party spots. This is the first time the public has seen the list of specific outbreak locations for San Diego County. County officials have kept them secret, instead only listing outbreaks by category such as "bar/restaurant" or "business." KPBS obtained these records independently, and county officials have thus far refused to comment on our findings. When KPBS and other news outlets sued to get the records, the county argued that businesses and other organizations would not report outbreaks if detailed records were made public. We lost that lawsuit but are appealing. Front-line employees and union representatives interviewed by KPBS agree that detailed outbreak records should be made public. SOT 00:04:43:20 "Who feels safe at work when dealing with the public? No they're very afraid." Jaime Vasquez is with the union which represents Costco employees. SOT 00:04:50:24 "Especially with Christmas shopping, they're seeing packed warehouses on a daily basis." Costco did not respond to a request for comment. Other big retailers sent statements saying they do employee temperature checks and health screenings, have plexiglass barriers at checkout and have limited store capacities to 20%. Devon Hannagan works as a supervisor at Vons on Balboa Avenue. He says it's important for the public to know where outbreaks are happening SOT 00:09:08:08 "Every man and woman who works for a company should be able to evaluate their own risk and come up with an idea of what's too much.” That story from KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser. To search our database of outbreak records, go to kpbs dot org slash outbreaks. KPBS investigative assistant Katy Stegall (STEE-gahl) contributed to this report. *** San Diego County health care workers received the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer last week. And a second emergency approved COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna should be heading our way soon. County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten and Health and Human Services Director Nick Macchione (mash--ee-OWN) spoke with KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento to provide an update on the roll out and discuss what challenges are ahead. _____________________________________________________________ IN: How has the rollout gone so far? OUT: ...many of which who do not have a nurse. That was KPBS health reporter Tarryn Mento speaking with the County Health’s Nick Macchione (mash--ee-OWN) and Dr. Wilma Wooten. (Tune into KPBS Midday Edition at noon today for an extended version of the interview ...OR go to to see the full transcript. *** Coming up… The election shake-up in San Diego bodes well for the future of mass transit in the region… That story, after a super quick break. MIDROLL 2 Environmentalists believe that the key goal of ending urban sprawl and getting people out of cars and onto electric buses and trains as an actual “political possibility” now…. That's because progressive Democrats succeeded at the polls last month. Will mass transit win out over expanded freeways? Union Tribune, reporter Joshua Emerson Smith sought answers to that question recently...and he joined KPBS Roundtable host Mark Sauer to talk about his findings. Well, the central issue is density versus urban sprawl, private vehicles versus public transit. Start with an overview of the public transit projects being considered basically by Democrats. Speaker 3: 10:14 Okay. Uh, long-term folks are looking at a massive new high speed rail system, which would include things like the much debated purple line running from the border through Southeast San Diego, all the way up to Sorento Valley. Uh, in the short term, they want to see much of what was contemplated under a plan laid out last year by the metropolitan transit system, MTS, namely expanded bus service frequency increases along the trolley, and maybe even a trolley extension to the airport Speaker 1: 10:43 And the competing roadway improvement projects that are favored generally by Republicans. Speaker 3: 10:48 They're open to see highway expansion projects largely in the form of new cars and bus lanes along state, route 78, 52 67, to name a few of them. Uh, it should, it should be said though, that Republicans like supervisor Jim Desmond have signaled support for the transit upgrades, as long as they get their freeway projects. And the projects were promised under the previous tax increase Transnet which they point out. So they say, well, we'll support the transit stuff. As long as we get our highways. Yeah, Speaker 1: 11:17 Yeah. Now it gets complicated and it brings up my next question. What's the cost going to be for either wave of transportation upgrades and how will the money be raised? Speaker 3: 11:25 Right. So we're talking about a lot of money. SANDAG has quoted the $177 billion price tag over 30 years. And that's a pretty significant jump from the agency's last attempt at raising taxes. Uh, the failed measure a from 2016 was a 40 or $18 billion proposal. So you can see that $177 billion price tag is pretty hefty. And by comparison, the MTS ballot measure that they contemplating before the pandemic hit was a $24 billion plan. So this is, this is pretty ambitious. Speaker 1: 12:00 And we should note that SANDAG has, of course, the San Diego association of governments and controls a lot of this regional planning and regional raising of money. And now we're talking about some serious money, as you say now, why are environmentalist hopeful that the expanded transit vision now, as a chance as the political dynamic, uh, how has that changed? Speaker 3: 12:20 Well, just in a nutshell, right? The city of San Diego and the County board of supervisors are now controlled by Democrats for the first time in modern history with two very prominent Democrats at the Helms, uh, San Diego mayor, Todd, Gloria, and supervisor Nathan Fletcher. And this is really kind of a U-turn politically for the region. So they feel like if these guys get behind and push this thing, and maybe it'll get over the finish line, Speaker 1: 12:43 You interviewed several political observers. What did they have to say? It's not male. It may be as cut and dried, as you might think, going from Republican to Democrat, Speaker 3: 12:51 Right? Because in order for SANDAG to get this thing passed, they got to get a two thirds, majority vote at the ballot box, right? 67% roughly. And that's no easy task. If Republicans come out in opposition, maybe that there's a little bit of spending opposition spending, or really maybe all they need is a social media or talk radio campaign. Some people are concerned that they could really sink this thing. Speaker 1: 13:15 Know how much of an either or discussion this is, uh, don't electric cars and soon trucks, pickup trucks, and in van son such richer getting cheaper, more popular, the backed by state mandates. And they're going to figure into the equation since there's far more environmental friendly than internal combustion engines, if we go to electric, right. Speaker 3: 13:35 Okay. Uh, follow me on this one, if you can. I mean, this is something that Ron Roberts, the former supervisor and SANDAG chair used to bring up all the time. He'd say something to the effect of cars and trucks will eventually be cleaned. So we need to focus largely on maintaining highway infrastructure. However, SANDAG is under pressure from state officials, namely the California air resources board to meet specific targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from personal automobiles. And they're pretty far from hitting that target. And the air board makes a big point of saying that that target takes into account, uh, reductions from clean vehicles that will come online in the future. And so people like the head of SANDAG, uh Hassana CRADA say, you know, we really got to meet these state mandates. And the only way we can do it is if we dramatically expand transit. Speaker 1: 14:29 Yeah. It's it really does get complicated. And, uh, you know, I know there's a tremendous debate coming, but I wanted to bring in two other factors, the advent of autonomous cars, meaning fewer cars overall. Plus the fact that mass telecommuting may have maybe hit or stay, uh, even after the COVID crisis, because so many of us are doing it like you and I right now, now doesn't that mean much less need for both highways and in more mass transit going forward people, um, just using fewer cars and staying home more. Speaker 3: 14:58 Well, I will not comment on what autonomous vehicles are going to do. I mean, I don't think anyone really knows how that's going to play out, but I will say that even now at the height of the pandemic where so many people are working remotely, we have seen highway traffic creep back up to 80, 90% of what it was before the lockdown started. People are still driving. They just have kind of changed their driving patterns. They go out in the middle of the day more rather than rush hour traffic. And so we're seeing that there is still strong demand for the highway system, even given the current conditions. Speaker 1: 15:33 President elect, Joe Biden announced his cabinet nominees for secretaries of transportation and energy to key positions when it comes to this topic, how's this debate likely to play out starting in 2021, or we got about to ready to tee this debate up. Speaker 3: 15:47 Yeah. I mean, I think so. I mean, everyone's talking about how the Biden administration really is going to have to square their transportation policy with their climate change and energy policy. And the folks at SANDAG are really hoping beyond hope that that means that there's going to be big federal dollars coming down for infrastructure projects, like rail and bus and other things like that. Speaker 1: 16:13 And with mayor Pete, uh, named in the new secretary of transportation, maybe we didn't waste their time learning how to pronounce a Buddha judge after. All Speaker 3: 16:20 Right. Yeah. I mean, he's putting in very progressive people, right? That are, have pledged to take climate change. Very seriously. Sandbox pitch is once this money is ready, we're going to have to have our own sales tax in place so that we have new revenues locally to then get those federal and state matching dollars and pull them down. If we don't get this sales tax passed by, they're thinking 20, 22, maybe 20, 24, then we could miss out on a windfall. If the Biden administration really is able to get all this money on the table. And that was U-T environmental reporter Joshua Emerson Smith talking with KPBS Round Table host Mark Sauer. Search for and subscribe to our “Round Table” podcast on Apple, Google...or wherever you listen. That’s all for today. Thanks for listening...I’ll be back tomorrow.

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KPBS obtained County Health Department records on the virus that have been withheld from the public, finally revealing where COVID-19 outbreaks have happened in San Diego County. Plus: Top county health officials detail vaccine rollout progress and future plans plus the ongoing legal battle impacting local restaurants and more local news you need.