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Hundreds Of COVID-19 Cases Tied To Casinos

 December 22, 2020 at 4:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Kinsee Morlan, in for Annica Colbert….it’s Tuesday, December 22. *** Hundreds Of COVID-19 Cases have been tied To San Diego County Tribal Casinos… What we know about the coronavirus and local casinos soon. But first... let’s do the headlines…. *** With regional intensive-care unit capacity still maxed out... Gov. Gavin Newsom said yesterday that the regional stay-at-home order imposed by the state for the entirety of Southern California will almost assuredly be extended beyond next week's expiration date. *** Cruise ships are scheduled to return to the Port of San Diego this week. It’s part of an effort by the cruise lines to get ready to resume cruising in a post-COVID-19 world. Port officials say the ships will spend only a limited time at port. A few ships may be visible off the coast, with some periodically docking off the coast of Coronado. Crew members won’t be allowed off unless as part they follow plans and procedures reviewed and approved by the CDC and others. **** A rally in downtown El Cajon yesterday afternoon... Was called the "All I Want For Christmas is Freedom" rally. it was staged by some elected officials like El Cajon mayor Bill Wells and business owners. Speakers at the rally advocated for fully reopening San Diego businesses and schools despite the spiking COVID-19 numbers. *** From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. Earlier this year, San Diego County’s tribal casinos bet big that they could reopen and still keep COVID-19 at bay. It’s been a bad wager. County records of community outbreaks obtained by KPBS show that over 600 COVID-19 cases have been linked to seven area casinos. KPBS investigative reporter Amita Sharma has the story. There were at least 638 coronavirus cases linked to seven local tribal casinos from June through mid December. The highest are tied to the counties. Two largest casinos VA has casino and resort and sequin casino and resort. There were 166 cases connected to VA Haas and 155 to six Guam. According to records of community outbreaks obtained by KPBS. It's very concerning that there's ongoing transmission in these settings. Christian Ramers is an infectious disease doctor. He says that transmission fuels community spread. Yes, like a chain reaction. And you know, w we're not going to be able to get our hands around this epidemic when there was just this ongoing transmission. So the cases are linked to VA Husson Sekwan the records reveal that no major casino has been spared. They show 100, two cases tied to Berona. How mall 91 Harrah's 57 Valley view 45 and Palla 22 representatives from those five casinos, either declined to comment or did not respond to interview requests to say that a case is linked with a location means that a person was present in the location. Within two weeks of being diagnosed with the disease. It does not mean that the person contracted the virus at the location or infected anyone else there. The County wouldn't Harmon on this story. And for months it has refused to release detailed information on community outbreaks, arguing that businesses and organizations would not report them. If they knew they would be public KPBS and other news outlets sued for the records and superior court, but lost the cases on appeal. The County defines a community outbreak as three or more people with COVID-19 who are not close contacts being in a specific place over the same 14 day period. The fact that an establishment is the site of an outbreak doesn't necessarily mean it has unsafe practices. Tory big knife, chief legal officer for VA house enterprises issued a written statement to KPBS. Big knife said quote, while it is true that since reopening VA has casino and resort has learned of some guests and team members testing positive for COVID-19, those guests and team members typically interacted with numerous other persons and places other than VA house casino and resort during the potential exposure period end quote. chief administrative officer Adam Day also said in a written statement, quote, there have been no outbreaks linked to our casino. The casino's closed when the pandemic hit in March, but resumed business in may against the wishes of state and County officials. Tribes are sovereign entities and not subject to state and County health orders. Since reopening the casinos have touted new precautions, sick. One offers COVID-19 testing. VA has says it performs contact tracing masks and social distancing are required. They've also intensified sanitation and installed plexiglass dividers. VA has since the Kwan don't intend to close again, despite a new statewide stay at home order amidst skyrocketing, Corona virus numbers Sycuans days stated quote as a tribal government who was responsible for providing medical care, education, police protection, fire protection, et cetera, to our tribal members. We are an essential business. SDSU business lecturer, Miro Kopech says the huge impact. California's 74, a tribal casinos have on the state and local economy create a delicate situation. These tribes throughout California degenerate Oh, over three and a half billion dollars in tax revenues for the state. Tommy Wolf is a VA house security guard who quit when the casinos reopened in may. He says the tribes are putting profits over public health. And so our players, it's not essential to go gamble. That story from KPBS investigative reporter...Amita Sharma. *** With a coronavirus relief deal finally coming from congress, some more support is on the way for renters and landlords struggling during the pandemic. KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler tells us this is still just a stopgap measure. Monday, governor Gavin Newsom said $2 billion of the $25 billion allocated to rent relief nationally, will be headed to California. In San Diego, a county program has now helped 4,000 households… making payments directly to landlords….But it’s run out of money. Alan Pentico is with the Southern California Rental Housing Association…. which advocates for landlords in San Diego county… he says that while the federal money will help, legislators still need to come up with a long-term solution for months of owed back rent. We’ve been addressing things in the short term, especially at the beginning, because every day there was some new policy and new rules, but right now, particularly with the vaccines coming out, we have a little bit more time to come up with something that will address things a little more long-term. Governor Newsom said he’s expecting to extend the existing eviction moratorium well into the new year. *** The holiday season in full swing and airports are at their busiest since COVID-19 related lockdowns began in March. KPBS reporter Jacob Aere says the surge in holiday travel coincides with the highest peaks of daily COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. _____________________________________________________________________ Over a million people have passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints over each of the past three days, marking the first time that has happened in the United States since mid-March. Those travel numbers contrast with public health pleas from the Centers for Disease Control to avoid holiday travel and gatherings. Nicole Hall of San Diego International Airport expects to see those numbers continue to rise in the days leading up to Christmas. “We anticipate seeing as many as 20,000 passengers coming through the airport on our busiest travel days, which are December 23 and December 27.” (Triple A) AAA projects about 85 million people in the United States will travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, mostly by car. *** The first female Marine recruits will be in San Diego early next year. KPBS Military reporter Steve Walsh says it’s part of the process to determine how the Marines will finally integrate male and female recruits in their boot camps. In February, a platoon of 60 female recruits will arrive. They are the first in San Diego’s 100 year history. Col Matthew Palma, heads the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, San Diego. FEMALE MARINE 2A “All and all, recruit training is the same. The buildings are all the same. The training area is the same. There is not much we had to change.” The first three female drill instructors just recently graduated from MCRD San Diego. They will help train the first female recruits. Palma stressed, for the moment, this is still only a test. Part of the process of deciding how the Marines will finally, fully integrate women during basic training. *** Coming up…. Finding new ways to connect art to the community… That profile of a local arts leader after a quick break. The Studio Door has been pivoting since long before the pandemic… The art gallery and studio has had to change locations and rethink ways to both present art exhibitions as well as provide safe spaces for artists to work. KPBS arts reporters Beth Accomando spoke with Studio Door owner and Artist Patrick Stillman on our Midday show. Patrick you run and operate the studio door here in San Diego. So first of all, tell us what the studio door is. And in normal times what you would be doing well, the studio door is Hillcrest premier art gallery in the heart of Hillcrest, and we are a local artists gallery. We have artists studios and under normal circumstances, we would be having concerts, workshops and performances. So when this pandemic hit back in March, what were kind of the initial steps you took to kind of adjust to that? Well, in March it was very daunting because. Everything truly shut down. And there was sort of this panic about what's going to happen next. So we went dark, but I think that as an owner of a business, I was working twice as hard trying to come up with ideas of how to stay relevant. So I started to work on our website. E-commerce focusing on the studio, artists who were no longer able to. Sort of put themselves out there and start thinking about ways that I could try to be relevant online. And as this pandemic has continued on for months, what kind of things have you found have been successful and what ha what ways have you found to kind of connect artists with community and with buyers and display their art? You know, I think it's really a challenging time. I've seen the studio door as sort of a bellwether of how people are feeling about COVID our politics. It's been a real swing back and forth for people to want to be out of their house and engage. Think about buying something like, uh, the arts, uh, to enhance their life. And so no one approach has been the true way to go sorta have to throw the spaghetti on the wall and try a lot of different approaches and just realize that the response is going to be dependent upon. How people are collectively feeling. So we're lucky in some ways that during this pandemic, we have a lot of technology at our disposal. So what kind of things have you been doing through either social media or through zoom meetings that have proven successful? So one of the things that I've been doing for the local artists here. I have a studio practice is I've been promoting them a lot online. We've been doing video interviews. We've actually walked through the gallery to capture what is going on that people would normally see when they come in. And also maybe for the first time we're doing some online advertising to reach people who might be online. And searching for art. And what has this pandemic meant for the artists who have studios there? Are they still able to access that and do their work? There it's been a challenging time for the business, but I think even more so for hardworking artists, those artists that are professional artists trying to make a living at art are having some really serious times trying to maintain a studio practice. Get their art in front of people who are interested in purchasing it. It's been really challenging. I've seen some artists move out of town for financial reasons and they're searching for ways that they can remain relevant. And they might not have thought about those, um, opportunities before. So. It's a challenging time for working artists. And are your artists actually able to still come into the studios at the studio door? Yes. Studio artists are considered light manufacturing, so, um, as long as they keep to their studios, they're allowed to be in the space and continue working. Hearing you use a definition of an artist like that makes me think of how much people have had to learn about what they do and how it's defined by the state and how daily changes in these lockdowns affect them. So, How was it for you to have to deal with things that are constantly changing and that you can't really plan for? Cause you don't know if a month down the road, something you're planning on doing was okay to do and suddenly is not. Yeah, it's been very confusing trying to keep up with all of the changes that the state and County put on to us. Uh, we definitely. Think of ourselves as artists and the gallery and all of a sudden we're, you know, forced to start looking at what is retail mean? What does light manufacturing mean? It's extremely challenging. And then along that same line, we're in the community in a neighborhood. And so when restaurants and bars close, It's impacting, you know, the foot traffic that comes into a small boutique or a gallery and you are a gallery space. So have you figured out a way to do kind of an online exhibition at this point, or are people allowed into the gallery space physically? So we're allowed to have capacity at 20%. I wish that we had capacity at 20%. Right now it's a bit of a ghost. We, um, uh, feel very optimistic about keeping the out in the public and in front of people, I am having art exhibitions that are ongoing. Some are, are featuring local artists like our affordable art marketplace. So we bring in affordable small pieces from local artists, um, at this time of year. But we're going to move right into January with our regular programming of. Featuring six artists, um, in the main gallery. And so the challenge now is to come up with ways that we can do that in person, but also online. And so we're doing a lot more artists, videos, interviews. You know, spotlights on specific works of art, actually moving in the direction of the gallery in ways that we hadn't been before and financially, how difficult is it to stay afloat when your main source of income is really being, you know, infringed? So I've always been a good businessman and not always in the arts. And so when the opportunities came to seek out a government assistance, I went in full force and I, one of the few businesses, small businesses that benefited from PPP disaster alone and even some local funds from city and County governments. So. Without those funds. I don't think we would have been able to stay open, but in some ways, especially with the loan from the federal government, I think, man, I worked so hard to put myself into so much debt and that's going to be a real challenge in 2021 for me. And I'm sure other small businesses and in coming up with ways to deal with presenting artists in this pandemic, have you. Started to do things that as you head into 2021, you may continue to do, even though you may not have to like some online components or, you know, things like that, because it seems like a lot of arts organizations are innovating in ways that may prove beneficial beyond just the pandemic. Yeah, I think that, um, the positive side of the pandemic, uh, arts organizations like the studio adore, I've been able to come up with, uh, innovative online programming that. We didn't really have the time or didn't feel was as a top priority in the past is now becoming an essential part of how we operate. And how do you feel now in terms of the position studio door is in, are you optimistic that you're going to be able to stay afloat? If this stay at home, stays in place for another number of months or, you know, uh, What's kind of your outlook right now. I think a lot of uncertainty about the coming new year and how we're going to survive that I certainly am hoping that patrons will step up and return to the gallery in ways that they did before this pandemic hit. But overall, I feel. I think I'm an optimist when it comes to my heart. So I'm optimistically looking forward to the new year and I'm gonna do everything I can to keep the doors open, but it is going to be, uh, difficult times ahead. I want to thank you very much for talking to me about struggling through the pandemic at the studio door. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with someone here in the arts community and a small business. We appreciate everything that you do. And I hope that. We all can look forward to a new year. And that was Beth Accomando talking with Studio Door’s Patrick Stillman on KPBS Midday Edition. Check out the holiday art market at the studio door dot com...and for more Midday stories...look for the kpbs midday podcast wherever you listen. *** And that’s the show. I’ll be back tomorrow. Happy holidays.

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Community outbreak records obtained by KPBS show a total of more than 630 cases in which people diagnosed with the disease had been at casinos within 14 days of their diagnosis. Plus: support is on the way for renters and landlords struggling from the pandemic, the first female Marine recruits will be in San Diego early next year and more local news you need. Support this podcast by becoming a KPBS member today.