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Enforcing The VA Vaccine Mandate

 August 10, 2021 at 5:48 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Tuesday, August 10th >>>> The VA’s challenge with mandating the COVID-19 vaccine More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines…. ###### Protestors rallied against vaccine requirements for healthcare workers on Monday afternoon at Rady Children’s hospital. Rady Children’s registered nurse Lisa Silvera says current safety protocols should be enough. "We wear masks at work we wear face shields with all the patients that I’ve taken care of and the adults I’ve been around I haven’t caught it yet with those safety precautions so I don’t understand why they feel we need to be forced.” Police say some of the no vaccine protesters came from the Los Angeles area and there were counter protestors as well. State officials say by requiring hospital, skilled nursing and other medical staff to be vaccinated, they are protecting the most vulnerable. ... Meanwhile, members of the military who have been reluctant to get the covid-19 vaccine may no longer have a choice. US Secretary of defense Lloyd Austin is seeking approval from President Joe Biden to make the covid-19 vaccine mandatory for all service members by September 15th. ########## A flash flood WATCH is in effect from noon today through tomorrow evening in the San Diego County mountains. It’s expected to be sunny at first, but then there’s a 50% chance of severe thunderstorms by the afternoon. San Diego deserts have a 30% chance of afternoon thunderstorms, with highs in the low 100’s. Along the coast–just cloudy and mostly sunny. ######### From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. President Biden has ordered workers at most federal agencies to either get COVID-19 vaccines or submit to weekly testing. But one agency has gone further. The Department of Veterans Affairs says its frontline health workers must get vaccinated by mid-September or they'll lose their jobs. But enforcing the mandate — and reaching hesitant employees — is proving to be a challenge. From San Antonio, Carson Frame reports for the American Homefront Project. Every person who walks through the doors of San Antonio’s Audie Murphy V-A Medical Center gets screened for COVID-19. NAT of COVID-19 screening process It’s part of a systematic approach to prevention that VA has honed since the start of the pandemic. But now, VA leaders have a new tool to prevent infections: a vaccine mandate for more than a hundred thousand of the agency’s health workers. VA Secretary Denis McDonough blamed the Delta variant, which has shown itself to be highly transmissible — and may lead to more severe infections. MCDONOUGH: So given that our veterans have more complicated healthcare situations, I think that it's my responsibility to do everything within my power to ensure that when they come into a VA facility, they can have confidence that they will be safe and not be exposed. The mandate affects doctors, dentists, nurses, physician assistants and certain specialists. At Audie Murphy, there are about 1300 [TK cume] of them. Valerie Rodriguez-Yu is the nurse executive. She says the mandate makes her feel validated. RODRIGUEZ: I don't know that it makes me feel safer. But what I will say is that I feel supported. I feel supported by the Veterans Health Administration as a whole in taking the say this is, you know, getting a vaccine is that important to us as an enterprise. Rodriguez Yu has been on the frontlines of several covid-19 surges. She says healthcare workers have witnessed the worst outcomes of the virus — and faced extreme emotional and physical hardship. So she struggles to wrap her mind around why some refuse to get the shot. RODRIGUEZ-YU:it is frustrating to know that there are.. health care workers in this organization who have chosen to not get vaccinated….it's the only way that we can really protect our staff and protect our veterans. Audie Murphy leaders have ordered staff members to report their vaccine status. They also can request a religious or medical exemption. Medical Center director Chris Sandles says he’s gotten a few messages from skeptics on staff - including an anonymous comment on his in-house blog. SANDLES: the employee made, you know, some comments about the vaccines either not being effective, or, you know, this being something big pharma was trying to push on the community...not something I would expect to hear from someone that worked in the healthcare field where we're expected to speak truth, use data, and science. Sandles says he doesn’t yet know how many of his healthcare workers are unvaccinated--but he thinks it’s relatively small. But he says he’ll continue to do what he’s always done: provide employees the latest CDC guidance, give them vaccine safety information, and make sure they know how to get shots. SANDLES: it's difficult for us to encourage those that we care for to get vaccinated if we ourselves aren't willing to do it. Healthcare worker unions have been fairly quiet about the mandate. National Nurses United says it supports mandatory vaccines as part of a bigger public health program. The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the largest share of VA workers, encourages vaccination … but suggests it should NOT be a condition of employment. Air Force veteran Charles Moore - who was outside the San Antonio VA after a doctor's visit - says he's vaccinated, but doesn’t think it should be required of VA’s healthcare staff. He worries that requiring vaccines will force healthcare workers to quit, and bog down the system. MOORE: I hope that the VA makes the right decision about this matter, cause they do have some great employees and I would hate to lose any of them. Frontline VA healthcare workers have until mid September to comply with the mandate. If they have a qualifying exemption, they may be moved to areas of the medical center that aren’t high risk. I’m Carson Frame in San Antonio. That was Carson frame reporting from San Antonio. This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ########## Chula Vista Elementary School District has over 28-thousand students attending in person instruction. In the three weeks since students went back to school, there’s been COVID-19 cases. KPBS reporter Alexandra Rangel tells us how school officials are managing to keep students' health and safety at the forefront. Anthony Millican, CVESD Communications Director “We’re upwards of 28,000 and we did experience an enrollment decline compared to pre-pandemic.” Chula Vista Elementary School District Communications Director, Anthony Millican says the school district saw a drop in enrollment by about 12-hundred students this school year. Out of the 28-thousand students enrolled about 300 chose to stick to online instruction. Anthony Millican, CVESD Communications Director “Overwhelming number of parents and families chose in-person instruction. Now we do want to be mindful , we want to do everything we can to maintain our virtual academy. ‘ As the delta variant continues to make headlines, Millican says there has been a small increase in interest for online instruction. Currently 60 students are on a waiting list for the district’s virtual academy. Anthony Millican, CVESD Communications Director “Yes , yea we’ve had positive cases which we thought would happen, but that’s the importance of having multi layers strategies in place. I will say in comparison to high schools that have students going from period to period it is a little bit easier because our classrooms are self-contained.” When a student tests positive for the virus, Millican says the entire class is asked to quarantine. The district has also been able to successfully maintain a covid testing site on site for students and staff, making it easier to mitigate the spread of COVID. For the month of July, the school district registered 112 positive covid cases from students, and so far for the month of August 16 students have tested positive for the virus. Anthony Millican, CVESD Communications Director “You know the overwhelming majority of our system is happy to be back and wants schools and will do anything possible to keep schools open.” Alexandra Rangel, KPBS News. ########### A dramatic video by the San Diego sheriff’s department, meant to demonstrate the dangers of fentanyl exposure to police, has backfired. KPBS’s amita sharma says the video was met with skepticism in the medical world. “I was trying to gasp for breath but I couldn’t breathe at all.” That’s San Diego sheriff’s deputy trainee David Faiivae. He overdosed on fentanyl in early July after being exposed to the opioid, according to a slickly produced video put out last week by the department. Carla Marienfeld is medical director of the U-C-S-D Addiction Recovery and Treatment Program. She says it’s improbable that the deputy actually overdosed. 7:16 Based on what’s in that video, it’s unlikely that the deputy had sufficient exposure to have such a quick and extreme reaction.” Undersheriff Kelly Martinez told KPBS’s John Caroll late last week medical doubt about what the video depicts was unfortunate. 5:08 “For the people who don’t believe that it’s true and that somehow we’re lying about it, you know you don’t have to watch it, I guess.” Asked why the department waited one month to disclose the reported overdose, Martinez said it took time to assemble “the well-produced video.” Amita Sharma, KPBS News. Experts say that while the Sheriff’s Department might be well meaning in showing the dangers of fentanyl, releasing such a video runs the risk of fueling misinformation and creating panic. ########## Coming up.... A UN climate report says it’s too late to stop more heat waves and extreme weather events but, if dramatic action is taken now, it’s not too late to stop the worst of it. We have more on that next, just after the break. Cutting emissions now and in the near future could still save humanity from climate catastrophe....that’s the one hopeful message in a United Nations report on global climate change. But it won’t save us from the climate changes we’re already experiencing, more heat waves, fires, floods and sea level rise. More than 200 Climate scientists contributed to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC. The report contains five scenarios for the future, based on how successful the world is at cutting carbon emissions and limiting global warming. Paul Edwards is the Director of the Program on Science, Technology & Society at Stanford University, and he’s one of the lead authors of the IPCC report. He spoke with KPBS Midday Edition Host MAureen Kavanaugh. Here’s that interview. That was Paul Edwards, one of the lead authors on the UN climate report. He’s the director of the program on science, technology and Society at Stanford University. You heard him speaking with KPBS Midday Edition Host Maureen Kavanaugh. That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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Enforcing the The Department of Veterans Affairs’ mandate that frontline health workers get vaccinated is proving a challenge. Workers must get the shot by mid-September or they'll lose their jobs. Meanwhile, Chula Vista schools are looking to hire more online instructors amid Covid-19 cases in school. Plus, The United Nations report on climate paints some stark outcomes if no immediate changes are made in the amount of carbon released into the air.