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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

‘It Feels Like Freedom’

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Above: COVID-19 vaccines at the Vaccination Super Station near Petco Park. Jan. 10, 2021.

How an older pair of San Diegans described getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Plus: more windy weather, a big win by the California Innocence Project and more of the local news you need.

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Good Morning, I’m Kinsee Morlan in for Annica Colbert….it’s Wednesday, January 20th.


Lots of San Diegans in the 75-plus club are stoked that they can now get their COVID-19 vaccines...

We’ll have that story soon... but first... it’s headline time….


The city and county of San Diego joined communities around the country last night in a nationwide memorial to remember lives lost to COVID-19.

At 5:30 p.m., several historic buildings across San Diego were lit in amber light to honor the nearly 400,000 Americans who have died from the virus.

Multiple buildings in Balboa Park had an amber glow, including the California Tower, San Diego Museum of Art and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration committee led the nationwide memorial.

And today, of course, is inauguration day for Biden...tune into kpbs on the radio or online for live coverage starting at 5 a.m. in San Diego.


San Diego County public health officials reported nearly 2 thousand 5 hundred new COVID-19 cases and six deaths yesterday.

The number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 is slowly declining - it has gone down from a high of 1,804 reported one week ago to 1,721 yesterday.

Of those patients, 419 are in intensive care units, which leaves a total of just 38 staffed ICU beds available right now in the county.

Whew...downed power lines, tree branches and gusts yesterday of up to 77 miles per hour!


From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

It feels like freedom -- that’s how an older pair of San Diegans described getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento introduces us to the seniors who jumped at the chance to get vaccinated once the county expanded eligibility to those 75 and older.

The wait wasn’t too long when Jeff He drove his parents to their early morning vaccination at the county’s Petco Park super site. His 90-year-old father Linxing (LING-shing) He and 88-year-old mother Hwee-CHING Ying were elated to get their shot.
ID: Jeff He / Son of vaccine recipients
00:14:07:04 It’s been very very difficult so i felt when i was able to make an appointment and then when I told them yesterday they were so excited
Speaking Mandarin that was translated by Jeff... LING-shing says the vaccine will sort of give them their life back.
ID: Linxing He / Vaccine recipient
FATHER’S SOT 00:15:31:15 (run it forever how long is needed to go under the full translation.)
TRANSLATION:00:16:07:01 He was very very happy and excited and he also added the -- by the way both parents were scientists before, so he said that this vaccine is the most powerful weapon to fight the pandemic and he said with this vaccine they will feel free again.
They’ve skipped gatherings for the holidays and gone without seeing their families, friends and even the neighbors in their apartment complex. Hwee-CHING Ying says she misses just being able to leave her home.
ID: Huiqing Ying / Vaccine recipient
MOTHER’S SOT 00:07:16:00 (run it forever how long is needed to go under the full SOT from son.)
TRANSLATION: 00:07:55:08 Since the pandemic started they’re restrained, they’re limited. And they’re not going out as much. With this vaccination she feels that they can go out again, enjoy life again, which is what they love to do.
The relief came with the county's Monday announcement that people 75 years and older could sign up at one of their sites. And the options are slowly increasing as Scripps Health announced it’s vaccinating people 65 and older. But Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ghazala Sharieff says they only had 6800 doses available for the 80,000 eligible patients they messaged.
ID: Dr. Ghazala Sharieff / Scripps Health
00:03:43:17 And within two hours we had already filled the 6800 spots so we realize that’s a small dose in the bucket, but every drop counts and the faster we get those drops going the faster we can get there.
Sharieff says Scripps is waiting on another vaccine shipment today. But she says they won’t know how many additional doses it contains that can be given to more patients.
00:03:58:18 Some people are not happy because the husband got it and the wife didn’t, but I ask you to have a little bit of patience the fact that we can get going as fast as we can and even if a single family member got one that’s better than nobody getting one
Sharieff says patients will be notified as more vaccine rolls in, but they aren’t being told when the next shipment would be or how much. She asked patients not to call doctors because they don’t have that information but says if patients can get an appointment at a county site, they should take it.

If you ARE eligible, Go to to find links to make an appointment at a county site.

And about those COVID-19 vaccines...

About a fifth of San Diego firefighters say so far they’re opting out of getting the vaccine.

KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen says this comes even as the disease is spreading within the department.

AB: The 191 firefighters opting out in San Diego mean the department would have a higher vaccination rate than in Los Angeles. But still, the virus is finding fire employees. As of Sunday, 14 people were in isolation because of a COVID-19 outbreak at a dispatch center. Fire chief Colin Stowell says that outbreak is just as concerning as ones at fire stations.
CS: We're very limited on our number of dispatchers, and for us to be able to still respond to all our 911 calls, it's essential that our dispatch center stays healthy and able to process those calls.
AB: Police are among those next in line to get vaccinated. A department spokesman says they don't yet know how many officers will also decline the vaccine, and so don’t have plans for what to do if that happens.


Andrew has been driving full-time for DoorDash in North County for the past two years.
We’re not using Andrew’s real name, because he’s still working for DoorDash and fears retaliation for speaking out.
But he says the push by grocery stores like Vons to use apps like DoorDash is actually hurting his income.
On top of just the long distances, you also have to consider you go into the grocery store//you have to go get the order from them//You finally get to your car loaded up, // Drive, unload the groceries//
Now when I see something come up from Vons, I don’t even give it a second look, I just decline it.
Andrew doesn’t think proposition 22 is bad, per se. He’s now guaranteed a minimum wage for hours he’s actively delivering items. He just wishes that companies like Vons were willing to pay higher wages.

Coming up…
A southern California woman is out after spending 29 years behind bars. It’s another big win for the California Innocence Project.
That story after a quick break.

The California innocence project is celebrating another hard won victory in its efforts to get wrongly convicted prisoners released.
Joanne parks, who was convicted of setting a fire that killed her three children in Los Angeles County, is now out on parole after spending 29 years in prison.
The innocence project says errors in understanding the science of arson fires led to Park's conviction.
Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project...which is based in San Diego…
and Raquel Cohen, the lead attorney in the JoAnn Parks case, joined KPBS Midday Edition host Mareen Cavanaugh.
They described the lengths they went to to gain attention for Parks' case, plus discussed what an odd year it has been for the innocence project - with erratic presidential pardons and COVID related early releases of some prisoners whose cases had been worked on for years.

Let me start with you. As I say, you were the lead attorney working for Joann Park's release. How did it finally happen?
Speaker 3: 01:12 Oh man, it's been a crazy whirlwind, but when we first started working in Joanne's case, she was serving a sentence for life without the possibility of parole. So basically sentenced to die in prison. Um, and, uh, in 2013, as you know, Justin Brooks Michael's man check and Alyssa miracle, March, uh, 12 clemency petitions up to governor Brown's office. And one of them was Joanne Parks's case. We hope that governor Brown Brown would grant clemency and commute under sentence, giving her the chance of parole. But when he didn't, um, governor Newsome stepped up and in March of last year, so March of 2019, he commuted her to 27 years to life, which made her immediately eligible for parole and took her off of, uh, the life without the possibility, uh, sentence. So from there, we geared up for her parole hearing, which is something she had been doing while she was in there. Anyway, she had been working on bettering herself, so she set herself up for success. And then in October, the end of October, we had our parole hearing and she showed the parole board. She was not a danger and she got her date. And then we walked her out last Tuesday.
Speaker 1: 02:22 Wow. Justin, that this conviction was largely based on what investigators thought was an arson fire set by Joanne, but are their conclusions now considered junk science?
Speaker 2: 02:35 Well, there is a science related to arson and there are scientists and very good experts. But the problem is there's also a lot of bad experts. There's a lot of a glorified fireman who loves CSI and Joann's is one of those tragic cases where when the fire was analyzed, a conclusion was obtained that it was intentionally set fires. We now know can jump inside a house. And what happens is a fire can start accidentally as it did in this case as a result of an electrical problem. And then the fire can pass up to the ceiling and then move around the house and start in other locations. So the examiner later on comes to the conclusion, Oh, it must've been intentionally set because there were multiple points of ignition, but we now know you can have multiple points of ignition in an accidental flyer.
Speaker 1: 03:29 Tell the story of the fire and parks conviction is told in the book, burned by Edward Humes, which came out a couple of years ago. And I believe before this commutation, you were in the process of raising money to build a recreation of the parks apartment, to prove that the fire was not arson, are those the lengths, the innocent project has to go in it's efforts to get wrongly convicted people out of prison.
Speaker 3: 03:55 When we first, uh, lost the hearing and from the superior court, I would have loved to set all of the, um, fire investigators who disbelieved in her innocence, set their mind to rest by recreating the fire and showing that, uh, what they believed were multiple points of origin were really just one single origin and post slash over fully involved fire. Um, unfortunately we weren't able to raise that money, but we did have, uh, something close to that. We were able to raise enough money to do computer modeling. So Dr. Gregory Gore Britt Corbett, um, is able to simulate a fire on the computer. And so what he did was after we lost that hearing, he did this computer modeling, which definitely demonstrated that, um, based on all of the evidence, including witness statements and the burn damage, so that there was one single area of origin in the living room. Um, and that, um, the two areas of origin is not supported by the evidence.
Speaker 1: 04:51 You know, Justin, the March that was just referenced that you made it to seek clemency for several of your clients from governor Jerry Brown was unsuccessful. And that governor seem to be reluctant to issue pardons and grant parole. Is governor Newson turning out to be different in that area?
Speaker 2: 05:10 Absolutely. After 30 years working in the criminal justice system, it's hard not to be a little cynical. So when Gavin Newsome made a lot of promises when he was running for office, I wasn't sure what kind of governor who would be, but as soon as he got an office, he immediately suspended the death penalty. And we know in the United States, nearly 200 people have walked off death row after finding their innocent. And he immediately started examining these cases COVID did create an opportunity for us. And as you mentioned in the opening around the country, governors have started giving clemency because they had to get people out of the prisons. They had an emergency, but they weren't just walking people out who were guilty of serious crimes. Um, there were a lot of low level offenders who are released, but only in cases like this, which is, you know, a murder case of children where we able to actually establish an innocence claim to get them out. Otherwise, Joanne parks would still be in prison. It's not like they've emptied out the prisons and are letting everybody go. Uh, violent offenders are still all locked up, but it created an opportunity to present those cases and get some attention to them.
Speaker 1: 06:23 You know, as, as I also mentioned, the president's pardons have been controversial overall, what do you think has that note notoriety been good or bad for your work? Does it taint the idea of pardons?
Speaker 2: 06:35 Yeah, it's really been abused over the past couple hundred years and governors also abuse it. And it being as a result of, you know, favors and lobbying and, and the people, most of deserving, don't typically get clemency. It's the people who are most politically connected that get it. And president Trump will have his whole list of people who will be released before he leaves office. And it's, it's just, it's disheartening sometimes because we have the most compelling cases and innocence organizations around the country have the most compelling cases that should be looked up by governors. And yet those are the ones that don't get attention because we're not politically connected and we don't have that kind of power. So I've been really heartened that, that governor Newsome has granted clemency and pardons to the powerless.
Speaker 1: 07:24 Raquel has Joanne doing
Speaker 3: 07:27 She's excellent. It's actually, um, really, really fun to watch her transition back into society. I mean, she was down 29 years and, um, we've done so much since she has been out. I've taken her grocery shopping. I've taken her yarn shopping cause she likes to crochet. Um, we've gone to the beach and, um, through all of it, she's just grateful. Um, she is adapting well. I mean, you know, sometimes you walk clients into a grocery store and they're nervous and they stand by your side. I think I lost her like three times cause she was looking for specific items that she really wanted. Um, so she was very ready for this. Um, she's making good friends at her transitional living facility and I'm just really proud of her. It's just really awesome to watch her, um, take the second chance and really run with it.

And that was Raquel Cohen and Justin Brooks of the California Innocence Project talking with KPBS Midday edition host Maureen Cavanaugh. You can listen to Midday live every weekday on KPBS radio at noon, or find the Midday podcast in Apple or wherever you listen to podcasts.
And again, for live coverage of the Inauguration today, listen to kpbs radio at 89.5 or listen to our live stream online at kpbs dot org. Thanks for your support.

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San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.