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COVID-19’s Impact On Urban Indigenous Communities

 March 9, 2021 at 4:00 AM PST

Good Morning, it’s Kinsee Morlan filing in for Annica Colbert….it’s Tuesday, March 9. >>>> The impact of the pandemic on our urban Native American community. That story soon, but first... the headlines…. ###### CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM WILL GIVE HIS ANNUAL STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS TONIGHT. The coronavirus pandemic will likely take center stage. But Newsom says he plans to focus less on policy initiatives and more on what he calls the “quiet heroes” of the pandemic — people like farmworkers, children, women and other caregivers. His annual address also comes as signature gathering for a recall election nears its deadline. Backers say it’s only weeks away from qualifying for the ballot. YOU CAN HEAR GOV. NEWSOM'S STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS TONIGHT BEGINNING AT 6 pm ON KPBS RADIO. *** 2020 wasn’t all bad… San Diego Police are touting Crime Decreases last year... Yesterday, police reported that the city of San Diego enjoyed an 8.4 percent reduction in overall crime in 2020.. There was a minor uptick in violent offenses...but again, it’s good news overall. *** And some more good news...Jeeze, I sorta feel like Santa or something… San Diego County remains in the most restrictive purple tier as of yesterday…. but just barely. San Diego County public health officials reported just 307 new COVID-19 infections Monday. The county is awaiting state data scheduled to be out later today which could soon promote us to the less-restrictive red tier. Which means, among other things, spectators at the Padres opening day…. ######### From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. <<> ###### <<> The pandemic has hit Native American communities especially hard -- not just with illness, but with a loss of elders, and traditions. KPBS’s Maya Trabulsi recently visited a local health center that serves the local urban Native American Community to find out more.... Ruben Leyva pours kernels of dried corn from a small pouch. It's an offering to honor the land at the San Diego American Indian health center, turning in each direction for the four phases of life from children to elders. So that means hello. In the Apache language, I am a Shirakawa Chindia patch. He's a member of the board of directors at this clinic in banker's Hill. And I stand here honored. And humble to speak to you on Coney Island started in 1979. The clinic provides a hub of services for patients that are made up of 33% native Americans. Leyva says the clinic represents so much more than that for the urban indigenous community, urban community, uh, is different than the tribal community, because many of us here in the urban areas may not beat traditional to these lands. And so we rely on places like San Diego, American Indian health center to establish networks of support within the committee. In order to understand how COVID-19 has impacted native Americans, Leyva offers some historical context, two 1519, when Hernand Cortez entered the Americas, he came across Montezuma and the Aztecs. And from that point forward, we've been battling diseases. He says native Americans born into historical trauma, want to acknowledge the harm, committed against them, but can use the struggles of the past to turn into positive outcomes, including the fight against the latest pandemic. Ultra Ronnie white horse is an RN here and a member of the Navajo nation in Arizona, which has been hit hard by the pandemic, but we can't go back. You know, without endangering a lot of them, she shares real concerns of members on the reservations because of lack of supplies or medicine, having this vaccine here. And the ability to give it out is really, really huge for us. But even with the availability of the vaccine, white horse faces resistance. When calling on patients to come in for their shots, we don't have a good historical history with the government. So that's the basis of a lot of our mistrust. I can imagine how people would say now, wait a minute here. Health center CEO. Kevin LaChapelle says the organization is built around the patient with native Americans, serving native Americans, which helps build it's another beautiful day to be indigenous on turtle Island. Nick uses social media to engage urban members with classes and cultural activities, cloth. When it comes to vaccination, hesitancy, LaChapelle says patience is paramount, but social media has helped on that front. So one of the things we did the counter at, which was really amazing as some of our board members, um, that our elders, uh, they said. You know what, when I get mine, I'm happy to do it on video and give a message and show that I'm doing this because I believe that we have to protect each other. That helped a lot. One of those elders is Randy Edmond. I'm from the Kiowa and Kevin nations of Oklahoma admins received both COVID 19 vaccinations, his visits, documented and posted on Facebook to encourage the community to follow so they could, uh, understand that this elder would like to continue living. And wants to take the shot to make sure that that happens. A survivor of the residential program and later relocated to California by the Bureau of Indiana in history, we have been lied to. We have been disenfranchised by that. We began to lose traditions. We begin to lose our language. We're going to lose our history. Losing history is something this tight knit community faces again. This time as a side effect of the pandemic Edmunds, a celebrated gourd dancer sits beneath a colorful mural, created of his image and traditional regalia, a reminder of the pre pandemic days of singing, dancing, and socializing. And that's, uh, how we stayed together as Indian people, we don't have a community like the African-Americans do the Hispanics, the Asians, you know, they all have their little communities where they live. And they just don't have that. We, um, We're scattered all over San Diego. And while social media has helped to keep the community connected with traditions, the pandemic still impedes the conveying of important generational knowledge. Ruben Leyva says some objects and ceremonies are too private or sacred to be photographed. Filmed or shared online. We don't have a tremendous documented, written explanation of our customs and culture. Those are delivered and have been since time and Memorial, verbally and in person, and like all challenges of the past that the urban native community has endured and overcome during this pandemic. It's the time spent apart. That hurts the most. That story from KPBS Evening Edition anchor Maya Trabulsi. *** So….can fully vaccinated people take off their masks? Go back to … normal? You’ve probably heard the news by now...CDC officials say yes. FOR THE FIRST time EVER on Monday, officials have laid out a list of SAFE ACTIVITIES FOR THOSE who’ve had their shots. For example...THEY CAN VISIT WITH OTHER fully VACCINATED people iN SMALL GROUPS WITHOUT MASKS - even indoors. KPBS REPORTER MATT HOFFMAN EXPLAINS. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says fully vaccinated people can also be around those who haven’t gotten any doses and are healthy, but recommends limiting exposure to just one household.. For example- 00:09:20:02 If grandparents have been vaccinated they can visit their daughter and family even if they have not been vaccinated and are healthy San Diegans like Moises Garcia getting their second dose shot in Chula Vista today (Monday) say this is a step in the right direction-- CDCVAX 2A I think we should have masks, at least until everyone is vaccinated then from there can maybe start thinking about hanging out with no masks but with family I believe it’s okay Others getting second doses like Elizabeth Taitague (Tida-gwie) are excited about the idea of being close again to loved ones-- 12;53;48;05 Elizabeth Taitague, lives in Paradise hills I have kids, I have grandkids and you know I want to be protected and protect them as well. Despite the guidance for small private gatherings for those vaccinated, officials are still asking people to avoid medium and large groups both outside and indoors.. And keep wearing masks and distancing in public. *** School districts in the South Bay are taking steps toward reopening for in-person instruction. But the state has stalled plans by districts in the North County for reopening middle and high schools. KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong has the latest. Sweetwater Union High School District trustees are voting tonight on a reopening plan that would allow 10 percent of students to return under certain criteria. The plan is the result of weeks of negotiations between the district and the teachers union. Julie Walker is the president of the teachers union. WALKER.mp400:00:19:16JULIE WALKER // SWEETWATER TEACHERS UNION PRESIDENTChildren who are special ed, children who are from low-income homes, and students who are language learners those are our big threes. And they will get first availability for any open slots that are there, we’ll offer it to all of them. Chula Vista Elementary School District also announced last week that it’s preparing for partial in-person instruction after April 5th. Meanwhile, state officials disrupted the plans of Poway Unified, San Dieguito Union High and Carlsbad Unified School districts late Sunday when they denied requests to bring more middle and high school students back to campuses. *** We’ve heard all this talk about quote defunding the police. But recent policy changes around policing involve finding new systems to deal with emergencies that police shouldn’t have to deal with. Now, A pilot program will be expanding county wide in San Diego to improve response to calls about mental health emergencies. Supervisor Nathan Fletcher says they’re calling it the mobile crisis response team... “The team in the pilot are basically a mental health clinician, a case management, and a trained peer support specialist and when called the mobile crisis response team goes to that individual needing care and the teams are trained.” KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne gives us the details. The Mobile Crisis Response Team program is aimed at connecting people experiencing a mental health crisis with a behavioral health expert. Supervisor Nathan Fletcher says the pilot program that launched in North County in January is having positive results. “In a lot of these instances where an individual is not a danger to themself or anyone else, in those instances it should be clinicians not cops who should be responding to the calls for help when it relates to mental health or substance use.” Fletcher said the response team is trained to get the correct help to a person having a psychiatric crisis. Response teams are currently being deployed via the access and crisis line but the goal is to integrate the program into the 9-1-1 system. Fletcher hopes to have the program launch countywide by mid-summer. *** EARLY VOTING IS NOW UNDERWAY IN A SPECIAL ELECTION IN THE 79TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT. KPBS REPORTER MAX RIVLIN-NADLER TELLS US SPECIAL PANDEMIC VOTING RULES ARE STILL IN EFFECT. The 79th assembly district is now vacant, after Dr. Shirley Weber became the state’s new secretary of state. A month of early voting began MONDAY in the primary election to replace her…. With five candidates — four democrats and one Republican — vying for the position. Cynthia Paes [pazz], the county’s interim registrar of voters, says that emergency rules put in place by the state legislature last year are still in effect for 2021. :50 Still because of the pandemic, we are mailing a ballot to every voter. People can drop off their ballots, or vote early, at the Registrar of Voters in Kearny Mesa Monday to Friday, 8am-5pm. They can also vote on election day, April 6th. *** Coming up…wildfires and the air pollution they leave in their wake. That story, after a super duper quick break. Midroll 2 Last year, raging wildfires, especially in Northern California caused weeks of dangerous air pollution. Now researchers at scripps have found that smoke from wildfires is not just bad for your health, but potentially worse for your health than other forms of air pollution. Their study finds that tiny particulate matter in the wildfire smoke can be more damaging to the respiratory system than similar matter from factories and car exhaust. The authors say the findings may change how air quality is measured and how health warnings are issued during wildfires. Tom Corringham, a postdoctoral research economist at Scripps institution of oceanography and a co author of the recent report, joined KPBS Midday Edition’s Maureen Cavanaugh to discuss the findings. Can you start off by reminding us just what particulate matter is like its size and why it causes damage? Speaker 2: 00:58 Sure. There are, there are several kinds of, uh, fine particulate matter. What we studied in this, uh, work was PM 2.5 or particulate matter that is smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. Uh, to give you a sense of what that is like, it's about one 20th, uh, the width of a human hair, uh, it's important because, uh, our body has natural defenses against larger particles, but when they get that small, they can actually get into the lungs and pass into the body. Speaker 1: 01:27 What did researchers look at to determine the health impact of particulates in wildfire smoke? Speaker 2: 01:33 So in this study, we, uh, we took 14 years of data where we looked at wildfire occurrence and, uh, levels of PM 2.5. And then we linked that to hospital admissions for respiratory conditions. And we found that while we were able to separate out the wildfire particulate matter from other forms of particulate matter. And we found that a 10 unit increase in, um, non wildfire related, uh, particulate matter led to a 1% increase in hospitalizations. Whereas the wildfire particulate matter unit for a unit led to a 10% increase. So there was, there was a substantial difference, um, between the two forms of air pollution. Speaker 1: 02:15 And what kind of respiratory problems do these particulates? Cause, Speaker 2: 02:20 Uh, it's a variety of, uh, of, uh, respiratory complaints. The main ones we focused on were upper respiratory tract infections, asthma and COPD, but, uh, the, these particles have been implicated in a lot of different health conditions beyond just the respiratory, uh, impacts. Uh, they, uh, have been shown to increase cardiovascular problems, um, among other things, Speaker 1: 02:45 Why are the PM 2.5 particular it's found in wildfire smoke worse than the same tiny particles in other kinds of admissions? Speaker 2: 02:55 Uh, so it's, it's still, uh, still something of an question. There is evidence in the toxicology literature that there are certain compounds in, uh, in burning organic matter that aren't present in other forms of particulate matter. And, uh, I should say, um, you know, there are things out there that are worse than, than wildfire smoke. So diesel set for example, is quite harmful and certain pollutants that come from industrial plants. But, um, what we found in this study is that, uh, you know, over our domain and time period, uh, the, the wildfire smoke was, was more harmful in terms of, uh, causing hospital admissions than the other sources of pollution. Speaker 1: 03:36 Sure. About how close to a wildfire do you have to be, to be at risk from the potential health effects from the smoke. Speaker 2: 03:43 There's still there's work ongoing to answer, answer that question, but it does seem like, uh, clearly the effects are, are more pronounced when you're closer to the fire. But, uh, we have seen in, in more recent work that, um, even smoke from as far away as Northern California, seems to result in an uptick in, in hospital admissions. So when you think about the fires of 2020, looking at the satellite images, there's just the whole West coast was blanketed in smoke. And, uh, smoke was, uh, seen as far East as, as, uh, as the East coast. So, um, I think certainly for the West, um, any of these large fires can have potential health impacts. Speaker 1: 04:25 Does this possibly mean that when we're finally able to take off our COVID masks, that we may be advised to wear masks during wildfire season? Speaker 2: 04:35 Well, certainly I think the main thing that people can do to protect themselves is, uh, stay inside if possible, uh, during these heavy smoke conditions and definitely avoid any kind of strenuous outdoor activity. And if you're able to stay inside, uh, it may be worth investing, uh, in, uh, improved air filtration system for your home or buy a portable purifier. So those are the types of things that people can do ahead of the fire season. And during the fire season to protect themselves, Speaker 1: 05:03 Your findings of course have a particular significance considering what we know about climate change and its effects on wildfires, because we're likely to be seeing more wildfires isn't that right? Speaker 2: 05:15 That's right. With the changing climate, we're seeing hotter and drier conditions across the Western United States and this leads to a more frequent and more intense wildfires of larger area. So it's definitely something that we need to be thinking about, uh, as we, as we move forward and we've actually done very well with reducing pollution from other sources, but clearly the wildfires are, are not something that you can regulate. So it's something that we need to take seriously. Speaker 1: 05:47 And the study seems to suggest that our air quality standards need to be updated to reflect the extra health risk associated with wildfire smoke. How should they be updated? Speaker 2: 05:59 I think there's certainly a possibility here for changing the thresholds. For example, of the air quality index that's put out by the EPA, um, to reflect the, the source of the pollution. Um, another option would be simply to, to add a flag to the, to the warnings, uh, alerting people to the fact that this air pollution is due to wildfire and should perhaps be taken more seriously. And that was Tom Corringham, a postdoctoral research economist at Scripps institution of oceanography talking with KPBS Midday Edition’s Maureen Cavanaugh. You can listen to more interviews like that one by finding KPBS Midday in apple podcasts, spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Rain is on it’s way..possibly tonight and into Wednesday and scarf up San Diego. That’s all for the podcast. Thanks for listening.

The pandemic has hit Native American communities especially hard -- not just with illness, but with a loss of elders, and traditions. Plus: San Diego Police tout a decrease in crime las year, vaccinated San Diego’s on the new CDC guidelines for what people with shots can do and more of the local news you need. Support the podcast by becoming a member today: