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Omicron surge winds down

 February 2, 2022 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Wednesday, February 2nd>>>>

The Omicron surge subsiding

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

San Diego county public health officials reported more than 2,000 new covid-19 cases on Tuesday and 24 additional deaths. San Diego is close to surpassing 700,000 total covid-19 cases over the course of the pandemic. But the number of COVID positive patients in San Diego County hospitals continues to drop, decreasing by 22 people.


The head of the Navy’s third fleet has decided to not disclose a hearing officer’s decision in the arson case of a sailor accused of setting fire to the USS bonhomme Richard. The commander wants to first decide whether or not seaman apprentice ryan mays should be court martialed. robert muth with the veterans legal clinic says this is something peculiar to military justice.

“a commander would want to be able to have the power to ensure that his troops are behaving in his or her intended fashion. however, of course, the cons to that is you have someone who is not legally trained, who is making a very sometimes complicated decision.”


California figures prominently in the upcoming nomination to fill Stephen Breyer’s seat on the Supreme Court.

state supreme court justice leondra kruger is on President Joe biden’s short list, and california u.s. senator alex padilla sits on the judiciary committee, which will question the nominee.

padilla told cap radio insight host vicki gonzalez why this pick is so consequential.

on the front burner right now, a woman’s right to choose. you know, on the front burner right now, the fundamental right to vote. you know, on the front burner now, our ability to act on some of the most urgent items in the country.”

Biden says he’ll announce his pick by the end of february.


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

After being slammed with covid patients for weeks, scripps health experts say their computer models now show the omicron surge is slowly trending downward.

kpbs reporter kitty alvarado spoke with the hospitals’ president on what this means for their staff and the community

Their computer modeling shows the current surge of COVID related hospitalizations should wind down by early March.

COVID admissions at their five hospitals peaked two weeks

Before the Omicron surge hit us we were down to about 78 COVID patients in the hospital and we ultimately spiked at about 356 COVID patients

Including 60 in the ICU, that’s about five times higher than before the holidays

Scripps President and CEO Chris Van Gorder says their hospitals will remain busy

our hospital census is still very, very high, we’re very busy in the emergency room, we’re very busy in the hospital and so we’re still going to have staffing challenges like every industry is having probably for the next year or so

The hospital and healthcare system has been using modeling since 2020 and it has over a 90 percent accuracy rate. Kitty Alvarado, KPBS News


San Diego city officials are taking action against a homeless encampment along sports arena boulevard -- saying living conditions there are a health threat.

kpbs health reporter matt hoffman was there on tuesday as the cleanup started--

In the Midway District city crews are cleaning up the Sports Arena homeless encampment, similar to what they do downtown.

Rachael Kolacz, homeless in San Diego

Down at 12th and imperial area they do it all the time, I think they do it twice a week and out here we’re not used to doing it at all, like at all

Rachael Kolacz lives at the encampment and used to sleep downtown. she’s used to garbage trucks coming to haul away belongings.. But she says it never gets easier--

I’m tired as hell right now. I’m so tired I’ve been running back and forth helping like 20 people

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria ordered the cleanup.. He says there is drug use, crime and conditions are unsanitary .. He says action is being taken to stop a full blown crisis--

Todd Gloria, San Diego Mayor

to ignore that would be to consign those very vulnerable and very sick people to an existence that really puts them at risk I’m not willing to do that -- others may choose to do that -- it wont happen on my watch

This was day 1 of the cleanup.. The city estimates there are about 180 people living in the encampment. In the month leading up the sweep outreach workers have been trying connect people to services. MH KPBS News


The San Diego History Center's exhibit, Celebrate San Diego: Black History & Heritage showcases the rich history of Black San Diego with fine art, profiles of San Diego’s Black Heroes and a timeline that walks you through the past that helped shape America’s finest city and the region.

Shelby Gordon is the Marketing Manager at The San Diego History Center. KPBS Midday Edition host Jade Hindmon spoke with Gordon about this exhibit.

Speaker 1: (00:27)

So what can people see and learn from this exhibit?

Speaker 2: (00:31)

Well, you know, I'm a San Diego native born and raised here and San Diego black history was nothing that I was taught in school. A lot of it is what I live, um, and what I heard through familial and, and friend relationships. But the exhibition really gives you a tangible visual graphic understanding of how complex, how deep, how interesting and how elevating the history of black San Diego is

Speaker 1: (01:06)

A, and there's also donated ephemera and fine art included in the exhibit. Why are these pieces so important to sharing the history of black San Diego?

Speaker 2: (01:17)

Well, because I think you want for it to be multidimensional, you want for it to of reflect politics, education, religion, the arts and culture, um, regarding family relationships and business relationships, social justice, and local political activities. So you want for, we want for this to really reflect all of that. So for example, a local San Diego artist, um, duke Windsor has donated two of his paintings, but then we have really unusual things. Like we have the program of Bethel AME for their hundred anniversary. Now, you know, for our black church, anniversaries are big and anniversary programs are even bigger. So for them to have donated to that to us and for us to be able to showcase that in the exhibition is really big. We also have, um, an Olympic participation from Jackie Thompson. Jackie Thompson grew up in San Diego. She was the first black female Olympian to participate in the Olympics. She ran in the Munich Olympics. So it's those kinds of pieces that thankfully people think I want this to be a part of a permanent collection. I want for my experience as a black San Diego, to be part of black San Diego history, but also San Diego history. And

Speaker 1: (02:55)

There is a timeline featured in this exhibit, how much time is, is actually covered.

Speaker 2: (03:00)

It starts in 1798 with a Spanish colonial census document. So it starts there, it goes through 1820 with, um, Don P O PCA being the last governor of California. He was an African American descent. Then it goes through issues of school, segregation of social justice protests in downtown San Diego of the establishment of organizations like the urban league in the ACP. It documents the day that Dr. Martin Luther king Jr gave a speech at what is now known as point Loma Nazare was then known at CA as California Western university. So that's May 29th, 1964, all the way to the day in 2010, when San Diego, the San chapter of black lives matter was formed. So you see just the scope of hundreds of years, multiple decades, how San Diego's population has grown, how they've evolved, formed organizations and advocacy groups, how they've advocated for equal housing, equal employment, equal schooling, you know, San

Speaker 1: (04:26)

Diego is your hometown. Are there any parts of the community that you lived in, or, or maybe even your own family featured in the exhibit?

Speaker 2: (04:35)

Um, it's funny, you should ask. Um, I was working with a partner and she specifically asked me, she said, Shelby, can you pull, uh, a photo of a choir, a black church choir? Um, I wanna use that in, in my, uh, project. And so, um, you know, unbeknownst to me, I just see a picture on our digital site. You can research photos on, on from our website. So I found a photo and I, I just happened to be looking at the, at the caption and I see the name, joy Gordon, and it was my aunt. It was N right. And I was just shocked. I showed it to my dad, of course. And he goes, he could tell me, I remember the day that that photo was taken. And I remember Mr. Bayard and yes, you know, aunt joy sang in the choir for years and she directed the choir.

Speaker 2: (05:32)

And it was interesting because that was last February and N passed well in her nineties that March. So it was real heartwarming and it really sort of grounded me. I'm gonna say in my San Diego that, um, my family has a history here that we have been involved and participating and contributing and, uh, partnering and friending, uh, folks from many decades. I often say San Diego is a small town in a big city and black San Diego is even smaller. Black San Diego is a small, tight knit community. And it's really a great joy and pleasure to have the opportunity to have that very rich history, cataloged and archived at the historical society.

Speaker 1: (06:39)

And just imagine how many people that, uh, pride and sense of belonging, oh, my goodness is extended to, through this, uh, exhibition. I mean, you know, if, if people want to contribute, um, you know, pictures, memories, stories, community source, milestones, are they still able to do that? And if so, how can we do that?

Speaker 2: (07:02)

This exhibition is very different for us. One, it is primarily community sourced, but two, it doesn't have an end date. So if folks go on our website, San Diego, um, and if they go to, uh, current exhibitions and then they click on celebrate, there are forms there where they can share their story, upload their photo and history is very personal and people want their history heard. They want it share, and they wanted archive.

That was Shelby Gordon speaking with KPBS Midday Edition host Jade Hindmon about The San Diego History Center's new exhibit, Celebrate San Diego: Black History & Heritage. The exhibit is on display at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park and the timeline can be found on the history center’s website.


Coming up....

“I would just come back and just sit downstairs on the benches when I was feeling a little squirrelly or having a lot of cravings. So this place, it has … just a feeling. They call it a miracle here that happens.”

the story of addiction, relapse and recovery for some in San Diego’s LGBTQ community. That’s next, just after the break.

a rehab center in City Heights called “stepping stones” provides a pathway to recovery, specifically for LGBTQ individuals struggling with alcohol and substance abuse. KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Jacob Aere tells us more…

and a warning, some of the stories may be difficult for some listeners.

Joey Johson says he started messing with drugs when he was 16.

Joey Johnson | Stepping Stone Alumni

“ And you know … I found meth really pretty easily.”

Johnson says the drugs helped to soothe his internalized pain about his sexual orientation.

Joey Johnson | Stepping Stone Alumni

“I never have necessarily been comfortable with the fact that I’m a gay man. I’ve always been in the closet. Growing up I wasn't comfortable in high school coming out. I pretty much, to be honest, hated the person that I was.”

That’s where Stepping Stone comes in. The recovery center first opened its doors in City Heights in 1976, and hasn’t stopped serving the queer community since then…. even through an ongoing pandemic.

Stepping Stone Outpatient Director Pam Highfill says the rehab facility has come a long way from its humble roots.

Pam Highfill | Stepping Stone Outpatient Director

“They got the property, it was at the time 4 or 6 little cottages here. That's how we got kicked off, that's how we started. And over the years, it’s continued to grow.”

Highfill says the non-profit organization is the only one in the region that specializes in the LGBTQ community.

Pam Highfill | Stepping Stone Out Patient Director

“A lot of places turn to us when dealing with issues relating to the LGTBQ community. We do a lot with transgenders, that’s been out the gate. Of course every place has to now, but back in the day the other facilities didn't know … ‘what do they do?’”

For graduates of Stepping Stone’s residential program in City Heights, the organization also offers a Sober Living program.

Johnson began that process recently.

The 32-year-old has been to a couple of different rehab facilities… and relapsed more than once. But he says he felt understood at Stepping Stone … unlike at other treatment centers.

Joey Johnson | Stepping Stone Alumni

“Making bad choices and using drugs has constantly led me to homelessness and … you know, selling my body, ending up in the hospital more times than I’d want for numerous reasons. So yeah, I pretty much lost my way….This is the one place I felt a special closeness to people that nowhere else could really provide.”

Chris Mueller is the organization's Director of Programs … but he was once a client and says Stepping Stone saved his life.

Chris Mueller | Stepping Stone Director of Operations

“23 years ago I went through Stepping Stone outpatient. I’ve been clean and sober since then.”

Mueller says many people still misunderstand substance abuse… and how it affects the LGBTQ community. He says many clients feel a sense of shame when reaching out for help.

Chris Mueller | Stepping Stone Director of Operations

“There’s stigma of the addiction, there’s stigma of being gay and lesbian, not accepted in the community — transgender, we serve transgender clients. Some of the individuals are HIV positive so there’s stigma associated with that.”

Joe Westcott is the lead counselor at Stepping Stone’s outpatient facility in North Park … but back in 2017, he was a client too.

Joe Westcott | Lead Substance Abuse Counselor

“We tackle the reasons why they use. The majority of our clients are meth users and there’s a lot of drug-sex links that we have to work through. And this is just a safe place for them, and myself to do that.”

For Westcott, the best part of the center was… and still is.. the community it offers.

Joe Westcott | Lead Substance Abuse Counselor

“Initially when I left here I would just come back and just sit downstairs on the benches when I was feeling a little squirrely or having a lot of cravings. So this place, it has … just a feeling. They call it a miracle here that happens.”

For clients who have attended different Stepping Stone programs over the years, Mueller says the journey often comes full circle, like it did for himself and Westcott.

They work for the organization that provided them sobriety… to help the Stepping Stone community further grow … and with it, guide others like Johnson to follow similar pathways to recovery. Jacob Aere, KPBS News.


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.

According to Scripps Health, daily COVID volumes at their five hospital campuses peaked two weeks ago. Scripps predicts the omicron surge is winding down. Meanwhile, the San Diego History Center's exhibit, ‘Celebrate San Diego: Black History & Heritage’ showcases the rich history of Black San Diego. It’s timed for Black History Month which began on Tuesday. Plus, a City Heights rehab center provides a safe pathway to recovery for LBGTQ individuals that struggle with alcohol and substance abuse.