COVID-19 Spreading Behind Bars
San Diego News Now / December 23, 2020
PHOTO BY KPBS STAFF / KPBS
COVID-19 cases are surging in San Diego County jails, prisons and detention centers, according to community outbreak records obtained by KPBS. Plus: President Donald Trump pardons former Repubican Rep. Duncan Hunter, Gov. Gavin Newsom picks for Secretary of State and U.S. Senate seat and more local and state news.
Good Morning, I’m Kinsee Morlan, in for Annica Colbert….it’s Wednesday, Dec. 23.
COVID-19 cases are surging in San Diego County jails, prisons and detention centers..
What the outbreak records obtained by KPBS show us about how the virus is spreading behind bars..
But first... the headlines….
What a day for California politics…
Yesterday...PRESIDENT TRUMP GRANTED A FULL PARDON TO FORMER SAN DIEGO CONGRESSMAN DUNCAN HUNTER.
HUNTER RESIGNED AFTER PLEADING GUILTY LAST YEAR TO USING 250-THOUSAND DOLLARS IN CAMPAIGN FUNDS FOR PERSONAL EXPENSES.
The pardon comes just JUST WEEKS AWAY FROM Hunter BEGINNING AN 11-MONTH PRISON SENTENCE.
IN A STATEMENT, THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY SAID HUNTER HAS DEDICATED MUCH OF HIS ADULT LIFE TO PUBLIC SERVICE, FIRST IN THE MARINE CORPS AND THEN REPRESENTING CALIFORNIA'S 50TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT.
And California Governor Gavin Newsom has named a replacement to serve out the remainder of Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris’ term in the U.S. Senate….Secretary of State Alex Padilla will finish out the final two years of the Senate term.
He’ll be the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate, a milestone many Latino groups say is long overdue.
Newsom also announced yesterday that he will nominate San Diego assemblywoman Shirley Weber to replace Padilla as California Secretary of State.
Weber is Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus. She is the former President of the San Diego School Board and a retired professor of African studies at San Diego State University.
Newsom's nomination of Weber now goes to the state legislature for approval.
From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.
Stay with me for more of the local news you need.
COVID-19 cases are surging in San Diego County jails, prisons and detention centers.
That's according to county community outbreak records obtained by KPBS.
KPBS reporter Claire Trageser says these numbers underscore that inmates and others held in detention are among the virus’s most vulnerable targets.
I don't think you have to be, you know, an expert to understand that, you know, even if people are in separate cells, the settings require people to share facilities like showers or microwaves or recreational space, um, just exposes people, exposes one person to what another person might be carrying, whether that's the flu, the cold or COVID-19 is an immigrant's rights attorney at the ACLU.
She's among many who have sounded alarms about how vulnerable people in detention are to COVID-19 in April, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to have at-risk immigrant detainees released from the detention center in Otay Mesa. They won the release of about 100 people, but are still fighting for more. There's nothing forcing the federal government to detain anybody at Otani.
So right now, not one of these people are serving a sentence for, in connection with, um, contact with the criminal system. Um, even if they were, that would injustice. If I end up being detained, um, in, in what in effect is, is a death sentence. She's right. To be worried. County of San Diego outbreak records obtained exclusively by KPBS show.
There have been more than 460 cases in the Otay Mesa detention center, which houses, both ice, immigration, detainees, and prisoners for the U S marshals. And ice spokeswoman disputed that number, saying a total of just 200 detainees at the Otay Mesa facility have contracted the virus since the pandemic first struck in March.
Ice does not report cases among its staff at the facility. Or U S marshal prisoners. The Otay Mesa cases are among nearly 1800 reported in jails and detention centers throughout San Diego County for March through December 18th. According to the records, KPBS obtained, the records include numbers of cases at individual County jails, which the Sheriff's department has refused to make public.
Jails with the highest case counts are 149 cases at the George Bailey detention facility in Otay, Mesa, 81 cases at the Vista detention facility. 59 cases at the South Bay detention facility in Chula Vista and 43 cases at the downtown San Diego central jail. It's important to note that the records obtained by KPBS represent a snapshot in time.
And that these case counts are likely increasing. Three of us were put into a cell together to be put back upstairs and, and spent two days in the Sheriff's downtown central jail at the beginning of November, after being arrested for obstructing a police officer during a protest. And there was like half eaten food everywhere.
It was that point. I had noticed they gave, they gave him one of the homies of masks, but they hadn't given all of us a mask. I asked for a mask and they were like, Oh, well, you're on the, you're about to bail out. This is not, what's supposed to happen. When people arrive at a Sheriff's jail says Lieutenant Kyle Bible and assistant medical administrator for the depression.
Well, starting with our patrol deputies, our patrol deputies have masks that are spare in their trunk of their car. That before that contact even occurs at the street level, Um, that arresting officer for the Sheriff's department is actually providing a mask to, um, that person in the event, um, that they're coming into our custody.
If for whatever reason that exchange never happened before that arrestee even gets out out of the car to start our booking process, our staff who are completely equipped and PBE will go out and as part of their assessment, If that arrestee does not have a mask, one is provided to them. He says holding cells are supposed to be cleaned after each new person is brought in and new prisoners are tested for COVID-19 within hours of being brought into booking.
Yet even with these protocols cases have surged at local jails. The KPBS records show more than 600 cases in County jails. As of December 18th, Bible confirmed there had been outbreaks at individual jails and says one outbreak was caused when an inmate was moved from the George Bailey detention facility to the Vista detention.
The source about outbreak is, is unknown. You know, we did a CA a very thorough contact tracing. Um, and it would determine that, uh, the spread was a result of somebody that was asymptomatic and that is what's so challenging and tracking this diseases. You could have COVID 19 and bypass, you know, a symptom review or, or a thermometer check while families of incarcerated people desperately searched for information.
People will let us know that, um, they have had outbreaks of COVID. Well, as he's a criminal justice advocate at the nonprofit pillars of the community says the lack of information leads to more mistrust of law enforcement in the community families. Would it be able to. Um, keep track of their loved ones.
Um, if we had the transparency, we were able to a rapid response or risk mitigation, um, something that should be built into our system. We were able to see, we could stop the spread
That story from KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser, with help from investigative research assistant Katy Stegall.
Go to KPBS.org/outbreaks to see a map and searchable database of all community outbreaks of COVID 19 in San Diego County.
AT LEAST 20-THOUSAND DOSES OF THE MODERNA CORONAVIRUS VACCINE ARE NOW IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY.
THAT MEANS MORE VACCINATIONS FOR NURSES AND DOCTORS ARE HAPPENING THIS WEEK.
IT COMES AS THE COUNTY REPORTED 28 MORE DEATHS FROM THE VIRUS YESTERDAY...PLUS MORE THAN 23-HUNDRED NEW CASES.
KPBS REPORTER MATT HOFFMAN SAYS EVEN THOUGH VACCINES ARE GOING OUT, THE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM COULD BE OVERWHELMED THIS HOLIDAY SEASON.
That was easy…
00:08:32:08 Susan Myrick-Jacobs, Rady Children’s RN supervisor
I’ve been waiting with bated breath to get this vaccine to help protect myself my community patients and my family
At Rady Children’s hospital some of the first Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations are being giving to health care workers--
I came here to take a step toward getting back to normal life
00:07:54:25 Cinnamon Harper, Rady Children’s care coordinator
The risk of getting the virus is bigger than any risk that might come with getting the vaccine
Rady officials say so far they’ve been able to vaccinate 2,000 healthcare workers.
00:21:58:16 Dr. Nicholas Holmes, Rady Children’s COO
In terms of being able to actively contain this and and combat this it’s the first tool in our tool belt so it’s a game changer
Rady’s and other hospital systems like UC San Diego and Kaiser are not only getting first Moderna shipments but also more Pfizer vaccines.
00:30:37:12 Dr. John Bradley, Rady Children's Infectious Diseases
this vaccine has been incredibly well studied both vaccines pfizer and moderna to the best of our ability in medical science this vaccine is safe and effective
The priority is still frontline healthcare staff then those living and working in long term care facilities.. Starting next week CVS Health vaccinating nearly 700-thousand Californians living and working in nursing and group home facilities.
the vaccine is incredible important for everyone to see their way out of this pandemic and the angst and anxiety once 70 percent of the population is immunized and we establish heard immunity we'll be able to get things close to back to normal
With majority of the population still months away from getting vaccinated hospitals are urging residents to limit their exposure this holiday season.. Healthcare officials saying just days away from Christmas emergency departments and ICUs in San Diego are at or near capacity..
It’s been years since the Pentagon declared that the services should take into account the wounds of war in cases when vets were discharged for misconduct.
Still, KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh has been following one Marine who is fighting to stay in the Corps.
As a warning this story contains graphic depictions of suicide.
“My name is Cooper Williams. I'm from Mississippi originally. Uh, I'm an active duty Marine chief warrant officer. I've been in the Marine Corps for 17 and a half years now.”
Williams may not be a Marine for much longer. He had a couple tours in Iraq in the mid 2000s followed by a tour in Afghanistan. He remembers being in a convoy when a roadside bomb exploded.
“The whole front right side of the charter bus was blown off. I was the first one there and…..”
Williams stares into space for a moment, like he was watching the scene in his head.
“It's like mayhem, people screaming, people crying”
It was one of several incidents that left him with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. Williams says he ignored his problems for years, as he pursued a career in intelligence. His wife Andrea says she watched him change.
“Things are just set him off, things that wouldn't normally set somebody off. Um, and then more reclusive, um, started being depressed, not being able to sleep, all those things. Um, and again, life just went on.”
Violence in his personal life compounded problems that started on the battlefield. His parents died in a murder suicide.
“And I was I never forget the day it was December 23, was two days prior to Christmas.”
It was 2016, his parents were getting a divorce, when his father killed his mother, then himself, back in their hometown in Mississippi.
“to think I took it bad. My brother took it way worse and I took it bad.”
His personal life was collapsing, but Williams’ career as a Marine was at its height. He was made a warrant officer in the coveted military intelligence field. But he was falling apart.
“The panic attacks became much more severe, like just the impact physiologically, physically, mentally”
Williams started drinking heavily. In 2019, he applied for a transfer to a Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. He completed treatment for PTSD and alcoholism. It’s also where he received two DUI’s in less than a month. He says it was drinking combined with a change in medication.
“. I remember waking up and and then but what I was doing was just blacking out and then just doing things that were uncharacteristic to me.”
Because of the DUI’s, Williams' 17 plus year career is on the line. The Marines have started the process of involuntarily separating him from the Corps. That means a potential loss in pension, health care, and GI bill benefits.
“This is the rest of my life. I have five children. I've been in the Marine Corps almost eight years now. ...And you're just going to take everything from me?”
Thousands of troops with PTSD have been discharged for misconduct. Starting in 2014, the Pentagon began requiring services to consider how much the wounds of war played a role in troops’ behavior. That re-evaluation helps veterans trying to upgrade their discharges. That consideration doesn’t always extend to active duty troops. Esther Leibfarth is an attorney with the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington DC. She says the rules need to change so the military looks more seriously at the wounds of war - before kicking-out a service member in the first place.
“We need to stop the problem before it occurs. It[s not enough to do it post discharge. It’s too late. The damage has been done.”
Meanwhile Cooper Williams is appealing to the Marine Corps to at least give him an in-person hearing. At the moment, he can only wait.
That story from KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh.
Keeping the performing arts alive through the pandemic…
We check in with the San Diego Opera after the break.
Arts organizations have been hit hard by the pandemic, but San Diego opera discovered that some of the lessons it learned from an earlier financial crisis have proven useful during these current challenging times.
In our Midday show…. KPBS arts reporter, Beth Accamando spoke with the operas general director David Bennett, about how their organization is adapting...
Speaker 2: 00:21 David, when you stepped in to help out the opera at the time when it was facing closure, I went to one of your town hall meetings. And one of the concepts that came up way back then was the idea of being nimble. So how has that played into this whole pandemic?
Speaker 3: 00:41 I mean, we have a core value at the opera as a result of the near closure. We wrote new core value, mission, vision statements. And one of the core values that came about at that point was through nimble adaptation to the changing marketplace. We preserved the future of San Diego opera. That was one of our core values. Now that was really in response to, I think, a financial changing marketplace, right? The fact that we almost closed, but boy, there is not truer words that could be spoken about where we're living right now as a company, right? We were the first opera company in the United States to have to postpone or cancel performances due to COVID. So we, it hit us very early in March and then we had to postpone the rest of our season. And so since then, all we have done is think about being nimble and pivoting and trying to find ways and explore ways to produce opera that can guarantee safety. So that's paramount, artistic success is important and engaging with our community is important. Those are all wonderful things, but making sure that we can have an activity where the safety of our audience and all of our employees are, are guaranteed is really the most important.
Speaker 2: 01:56 Well in opera too, you have singers who their voice is, their instrument and the idea of getting a virus that, you know, in part in attacks, you know, your ability to breathe and use your lungs seems like a particularly intense concern for you. And when you did finally get to do a staged performance, what were some of the restrictions and kind of adaptations that you had to do?
Speaker 3: 02:23 Well, as you mentioned, singers are sort of singing is kind of a unique activity that you have to have concerns of COVID right, because of aspirin nature and sort of the volume of activity that happens with opera singing. So space was a very important consideration and we had a lot of going back and forth with the union that represents singers, American Guild of musical artists. And one of the protocols that they established was for an outdoor performance, which we did each singer had to have 120 square feet of their own space. And you couldn't encroach in this space of another. So that was a challenge and that was defined by 15 feet in front of your mouth and the next singer, and then four feet on the side. So of course at the same returned, then you had to increase that base of 15 feet.
Speaker 3: 03:11 That was a challenge. And as you know, a lot of the storytelling of opera is with actors, singers being very close to each other. [inaudible] is in lava wham when Rodolfo feels the hand of a muni for the first time and says, your hand is cold. Your tiny hand is cold, which is a foreshadowing of course, knowing that we need will die at the end, but it's sort of hard to have Rodolfo Mimi hold hands when they need to be 120 square feet apart. So we had to come up with some creative solutions to make sure we told the story of love of whim within the constraints of safety.
Speaker 2: 03:48 And talk a little bit about how you've adapted. Um, you guys have come up with a couple of different kind of solutions. So what have you learned through this pandemic and what kind of opportunities are you seeing for having some sort of opera performance and community for that?
Speaker 3: 04:07 Well, clearly San Diego, we have some advantages in San Diego that other places don't have and it's our climate, right? So outdoor activity is much safer than indoor activity. We know that, I mean, that's been proven everywhere and our climate here allows us to have outdoor activity for a longer period of time than other cities. So that's our first sort of big learning experiment, I would say. And it's taught us that we need to be producing outdoors more than we have in our past. So I think that will be something we'll continue to look at post COVID right now, in terms of safety are audiences confined to their cars. That's really the only kind of performance with a live audience that is permitted. I think the next step will be once we have some vaccine in making its way through our community will be outdoor performances with a live audience outside of cars and spaced, and then we would get back into the theaters. So there's still more learning to do with what kinds of activities that we'll be able to be outdoors outside of cars. And I think that's going to be our next step.
Speaker 2: 05:12 Now, I also remember from that town hall meeting, that one of the things you were exploring at that point were some really interesting outdoor venues.
Speaker 3: 05:21 Do you remember? I threw up a picture of Mount helix because, you know, and that was just something that I was fascinated by, by seeing that gorgeous, then you that's sitting on top of Mount helix and I thought, wouldn't that be a great place to do a performance? Well, maybe it's time for us to start thinking about that again. And of course the proximity we have to the ocean of finding some way to get an audience and performers near the ocean for a performance would be magical. So, so challenges can give you a lot of opportunities. Let's put it that way.
Speaker 2: 05:50 Now, another thing that's very challenging for a company during the pandemic is that the rules are constantly changing based on how many COVID cases we have. And how do you kind of plan for the fact that you can't really plan all that securely for what you want to do?
Speaker 3: 06:10 Time horizon for planning is much shorter. And that means our commitments to contracting artists and, you know, just making the sort of finality is also much closer to the performance date, but that's the world that we live in. I will say most organizations are not actually hiring artists right now. So it's a little bit of an ongoing conversation with the people that we intend to engage, to say, it's going to be a tighter timeline of whether we're able to make a commitment or not. Right. As a matter of fact, with LABA wham, we didn't actually know where we were going to be able to do LABA lamb until about a month before we started doing rehearsals. Again, we typically hire contract singers 24 to 36 months in advance. It's a whole nother world right now.
Speaker 2: 06:54 How is it for an arts organization financially in these times because you obviously can't generate the same kind of income you had when you were charging for live performances.
Speaker 3: 07:04 Correct. So I'll use Bowen as an example. My goal, which I shared with the staff is that we reduce the production expenses to virtually the same level as we did revenue. So the impact on us as a company and particularly on our cashflow would be almost the same as had we done it at the civic theater. Now we didn't quite make that because it needed to be within the realm of that. But what we did find was that we had some new sponsorship opportunities that came to us because we were doing something outdoors that really reached the whole community in a way that it didn't, if we did it at the civic theater. So some of that was offset by new sources of contributions. Funnily enough, you may know, as a nonprofit, every time we open our doors and we put on a production, we lose money because we never raised enough in ticket revenue to cover all the costs. That's why we're a nonprofit, right? So if you're getting rid of the production expenses and you're getting rid of the revenue, you can exist for a little while, but how long you can be an opera company that's not producing opera and still stay in business is the big challenge. So luckily we're staying very close with all of our patrons. We have a lot of online, online activity and people are being generous right now. So we're feeling good for the time being,
Speaker 2: 08:24 How was the opera able to sustain itself in terms of, did you have to lay people off? Have you been able to keep your full staff?
Speaker 3: 08:34 You know, we've been very lucky because we haven't had the furlough or lay anyone off. We did receive the PPP funds that came through during the summer, which helped us retain employees, but we've still been in a situation that we haven't had to do that, which has been terrific.
Speaker 2: 08:48 All right. Well, I want to thank you very much for talking about pivoting in the pandemic.
Speaker 3: 08:53 It is where we all live, right. Being comfortable with
Speaker 4: 08:56 Pivoting is I think a lesson for all of us.
And that was the San Diego Opera’s David Bennett in a “pandemic profile” by arts reporter Beth Accomando. Check out SD opera dot org for the latest updates about upcoming events and performances.
And we’re always interested in learning more about how you have pivoted because of the pandemic. Call or text us at anytime at (619) 452-0228...Tell us who you are, where you live and how you’ve changed because of the pandemic.
that’s all for today...I’ll be back again tomorrow. Happy holidays.