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Omicron in California

 December 2, 2021 at 9:24 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Thursday, December 2nd>>>>

The newest coronavirus variant shows up in California

More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….######

Scientists at UC San Diego have been monitoring wastewater from dorms and other buildings for months now, for evidence of covid-19. And UC San Diego professor Dr. Louise Laurent (lore-ent) says they’re now keeping a close eye out for the omicron variant.

“what’s different is what we look for in the results. for example, the omicron variant has a deletion in the spike protein gene.”

If Covid and any of its variants shows up, people in the building where it came from are asked to take a nasal swab test. Dr. Laurent says this method has proven very effective in staying ahead of infections.

The first case of Omicron in the US was detected in California, and we’ll have more on that just after the headlines. In response to this new variant, San Diego county health officials are urging people to continue to follow existing public health guidance.

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Many California water agencies won’t be getting any of the water supplies they’ve requested from the state heading into 2022, beyond what’s needed for critical health and safety. That’s according to an announcement from the department of water resources on wednesday. It's the earliest date that the Department has issued a 0 percent water allocation. State water officials also warned that mandatory water restrictions could be coming.

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The price of gas is finally going down -- a little bit. Today the price of a gallon is down four-tenths of a cent leaving the average price at 4 dollars and 65 cents. Prices started dropping on Tuesday following a 19-day streak of price hikes.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

The first case of the omicron variant in the United states was detected in California, and state officials are urging people who haven’t been vaccinated to get the shot. capradio’s nicole nixon reports.

The case was detected in a San Francisco resident who traveled from South Africa in late November and later developed symptoms. Sequencing revealed it was the contagious variant that’s surfacing across the globe and prompting concern during the holiday season.

NEWSOM: We are not surprised by this. This was predictable. This was predicted. <<:05>>

Governor Gavin Newsom said the state’s robust testing system caught the variant. For now, he doesn’t believe omicron will force school or business closures.

NEWSOM: None of us want to see that happen. I certainly don’t want to see that happen. And I see no indication at this moment whatsoever that that’s in our immediate future as long as we continue our nation-leading efforts.

California currently has one of the lowest case rates in the nation, but Newsom and health officials encourage vaccination and mask-wearing as winter gatherings ramp up.

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cases of coronavirus in animals are popping up at zoos across the country. Last month three snow leopards died from complications at a Nebraska zoo.. but not every animal is at risk. kpbs health reporter matt hoffman went to the san diego zoo to find out how the virus impacts animals and how they are being protected–

Dr. Nadine Lamberski is chief conservation and wildlife health officer at the San Diego Zoo.. she’s been leading efforts to protect animals from the same virus that’s killed millions of humans--

We know from scientific studies that carnivores particularly cats, big cats and primates are extremely susceptible to this virus

Between the Zoo’s main location and their Safari Park over 20 cases have been confirmed in animals.. Staff usually aren’t able to get a nasal swab, so they test fecal matter. Lamberki says sick animals have symptoms similar to humans--

Some animals just go off food, some are lethargic some develop a cough, some develop a fever, some develop all those things on different days and each case has been a little bit unique but we’ve been fortunate that everyone has recovered

Since the beginning of the year more than 260 animals including tigers, leopards, gorillas, baboons and hyenas have been vaccinated. MH KPBS News.

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In the wake of the COVID pandemic, many people are finding it difficult to meet their own basic food needs.

KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez shares some startling statistics about local community college students and efforts to keep them clothed and fed, especially around the holidays.

Hunger is on the move among California’s community college students. The State confirms half of them..50-percent...don’t have the money or resources to buy enough food.

“I have some more mash potatoes up here.”

18-year old C.J. Pallach is a freshman at San Diego Mesa College. He moved here from San Jose with plans to keep playing soccer and begin his education toward a career in civil engineering. Just before Thanksgiving, he joined hundreds of fellow students lined up in their cars in one of Mesa’s parking garages. This is the third annual Pack the Pantry food drive, a community collaboration between the College, the San Diego Food Bank, and California Coast Credit Union...established by teachers in 1929 to improve education...never expecting in 2021 students would be going hungry. Christine Lee speaks for Cal Coast….

CG: Christine Lee/California Coast Credit Union

“that’s a problem because what happens is these students have the potential of dropping a class, missing a class, and even not achieving their academics to the potential that they normally might.

C.J. is grateful to be able to fill up his car with so many cans and boxes...

CG: C.J. Pallach/SD Mesa College Freshman

“This helps me because then I don’t have to go grocery shopping and I can also afford rent with a little bit of help. This is a lot of food and it’s going to help me in the long run, so I’m able to eat.”

“Go ahead and grab utensils and grab bread.”

Mesa College also hosted an early Thanksgiving dinner for students who could use an extra meal. Hunger insecurity is happening on four-year university campuses, too. The University of California reports 44-percent of its students often go hungry and 14-percent of them don’t have stable housing...that percentage is even higher for community college students.

“(Do you live in an apartment or student housing?) ...No, I’m currently homeless (oh, you are?) ...yeah”

Alex Montes represents one of those statistics and he is determined to turn it into his success story. He’s an immigrant from Colombia, trying to find housing through the San Diego LGBT Community Center. At the moment, he uses Mesa College’s Basic Needs Resource Center called The Stand where there is donated clothing and food.

“I usually come here to see what kind of snacks they have.”

Johanna Aleman is The Stand Coordinator who also comforts students when they need it most.

CG: Johanna Aleman/Mesa College Basic Needs Coordinator

“They don’t have anybody who cares, anybody who will help them and listening to those stories can be emotionally overwhelming...but we do everything we can and most of them leave feeling at least that the college loves them.”

“On this side we have all your can food goods.

At Cal State San Marcos, they’ve packed a new pantry. The ribbon was just cut on the school’s student Cougar Pantry which is now 12-hundred square feet filled with food both non-perishable and frozen. There are diapers and hygiene products for struggling students who are parents. All provided by Feeding San Diego, the San Diego Food Bank and local grocery stores as another solution to the problem. Alonda Gutierrez is the Pantry Coordinator

CG: Alondra Gutierrez/Cougar Pantry Coordinator

“Having access to a meal or ingredients that can put together a meal that way you’re not stressing over what to eat while dealing with different stressors that come from being a student.”

That’s food for thought as back at Mesa College Alex Montes begins an education for his future career.

CG: Alex Montes/SD Mesa College Freshman

“Probably develop or help develop some of the new generation of bionic arms and limbs over all that’s what I probably want to achieve.

Food feeds students while nourishing their dreams. MGP KPBS News.

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Coming up.... California has rules to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke, but they’re almost never enforced. We’ll have more on that next, just after the break.

California rules meant to protect outdoor workers from the dangers of wildfire smoke are almost never enforced. That’s the finding of an investigation by KQED and The California Newsroom.

Farida Jhabvala Romero has the latest in an ongoing series called Dangerous Air.

Breathing wildfire smoke can lead to serious health problems like worsening asthma and heart failure.

So when there’s unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke, California employers are required to reduce exposure such as by moving workers indoors or providing N95 masks.

But in Fresno, the state’s top-producing agricultural county, many farmworkers I spoke with say they’ve continued to work in heavy smoke with no protections.

In a field by the highway, a man pulls dry grape vines from the soil. He’s worked in U.S. agriculture for 15 years. I hand him a wrapped N95 mask, and ask if his boss ever offered him one.

No, la verdad no. En el trabajo no nos han dado ni máscaras para nada.

No, at work they haven’t given us masks at all, he says…

We’re not using his name because he says he fears retaliation from his employer, and -- like more than 40% of the state’s ag workers -- he’s undocumented.

An estimated 4 million people work outdoors in California.

Over the last two years the rule’s been in place, the state has faced the worst wildfire seasons on record. But the agency tasked with protecting workers’ safety cited employers for violating the smoke rules just 11 times.

That’s according to data obtained by KQED and The California Newsroom.

The official who was in charge of enforcement at Cal/OSHA just got a bigger job as head of federal OSHA.

Senators will each have five minutes for a round of questions

During his Senate confirmation hearing this spring, Doug Parker told lawmakers a top priority is to enforce worker safety laws.

PARKER: We also have to be able to deliver the goods once those workers have the trust in us to come forward.

He declined to speak with KQED and directed us to Dan Lucido who’s now the acting chief of Cal/OSHA.

LUCIDO: We are a leader in providing worker protection, including against smoke.

FARIDA: Do you really believe there’s only 11 violations of this law statewide over two years?

LUCIDO: So first of all we can only respond to complaints that are issued. And in all of the cases where we responded and found evidence of a violation, we issued a citation.

Back in the field in Fresno, the worker says he didn’t know about the rule. So he couldn’t complain about not getting the required protections.

His employer never told him how to stay safe on smoky days, he says. Other farm workers I talked to said the same thing.

WORKER 1: Jamás nos han dado clases

And that’s something the rule says employers must also do -- in a language workers understand.

Can II Ag Mgt employs workers in this field.

GARCIA: We already sent over your email to our attorney. So he’s the one that’s going to be responding to it.

Angie Garcia works at Can II Ag Mgt. I contacted her after sending a request for comment.

GARCIA: We provide everything necessary for them to, you know, use while they're working.

Later, the attorney told KQED the company is in compliance with the smoke safety rules. But declined to provide any evidence.

What’s really needed, advocates and state lawmakers say, are strike teams of Cal/OSHA inspectors in the fields on smoky days.

But a bill to do just that was gutted in the state legislature earlier this year after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration opposed it.

I’m Farida Jhabvala Romero in Fresno.

Join us tomorrow, Farida will have more on that reform proposal, and the push back from the Newsom administration.

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.

The first case of the omicron covid-19 variant in the US has been reported in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the state of California reports that half of its community college students are facing food insecurity. Plus, rules to protect outdoor workers in this state from wildfire smoke are rarely enforced.