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Wildfire Smoke Days Tripled In San Diego

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Tuesday, September 28th.
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Smoke days tripledMore on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

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Following recent federal approval for Pfizer booster shots, county officials are urging those who can get them to do it. That means-- people over 65, those with underlying conditions, and healthcare workers. County public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten says the booster dose is the same as the original.

maybe in the coming year just like as every year we take the flu shot again based on what’s been circulating the previous year -- that could happen going forward but for right now today the booster is the exact same vaccine (

There’s only approval for pfizer boosters right now, so if you’ve had the moderna or johnson and johnson vaccines, officials say you’ll need to wait.

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Parents in the San Marcos Unified School District have been warned that some students have attended class while symptomatic for covid-19…and in a few cases, after testing positive for the virus. The warning came in an email from district superintendent Andy Johnsen. Johnsen says his district is working overtime to keep up with cases.

"we’ve hired 6 or 7 additional people just to do full-time contact tracing. they’re on the phone every day making hundreds of calls to our parents.

The superintendent is reminding parents to keep their children at home if there is any chance they are symptomatic.

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The county lost a covid-19 testing site last week when the Tubman Chavez community center permanently closed its doors. Now, three local churches have stepped in to help the county continue to provide free testing in southeastern San Diego. Testing will be offered at the bayview baptist church, Encanto southern baptist and the city of hope international church. No appointment is needed at any of the three sites. Masks are required.

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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.

California grapples with wildfires every year. And a new analysis of satellite imagery finds wildfire smoke is causing problems far away from the fire zones. The analysis was done by NPR’s California Newsroom and Stanford University’s Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson says smoke is also a growing problem in San Diego County.

Wildfires are a part of life in Southern California. Flames race out of control. Evacuations are ordered. Fire crews respond. And after hours, days and in some cases weeks, the blaze is finally snuffed out and the damage is assessed. (nats) But new research finds the flames are only one problem. Wildfire smoke has greatly extended the damaging reach of these out-of-control blazes.

“I refer to them as the long arm of the fire.”

Neil Driscoll is a Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher who helps firefighters track wildfire movement in Southern California.

“These plumes can go long distances. We noticed that this year. We had areas in New England being shut down because of air quality from fires that were in California.”

In San Diego the amount of smoke in the air has more than tripled over the last decade. NPR’s California Newsroom teamed with researchers at Stanford University to analyze more than a decade’s worth of satellite images of wildfire smoke. Stanford’s Marshall Burke worked on the project.

“We’ve seen a clear upward trend in San Diego County and across other parts of Southern California an upward trend with the number of days with smoke plumes in the air and rapid increase in the number of days with these very heavy dense smoke plumes overhead.”

The investigation found Oceanside residents are now living with more than a month of smoke a year and it’s the same for other parts of North County like Escondido, Fallbrook and Camp Pendleton. In Imperial County, some areas outside El Centro are now experiencing two months of smoke a year. Even so, Burke says the local region didn’t get the worst of it.

“Southern California did get hit with wildfire exposure but really parts of Northern California, the Bay area, got hit really hard just because of the confluence of wind direction and where exactly the active wildfires are.”

But the smoke is still impacting health in San Diego and Imperial Counties. The analysis found a 17 percent increase in hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiac conditions in the heavy fire year 2018, compared to just two years before. Prescriptions for the asthma medication albuterol spiked -- by nearly 21 percent between 2013 and 2018.

“It can be very bad for people with preexisting heart or lung disease.”

Greg Hirsh is an Escondido pulmonologist. He says wildfire smoke is notoriously bad for people. Healthy folks can experience coughing, lung irritation and shortness of breath. In more serious cases it can cause asthma and heart disease. Hirsh is particularly concerned about tiny particles smaller than 2.5 microns that can get past the upper airways.

“they get down into the smaller airways or the alveolar, the air sacks where the gas exchange occurs. They can be difficult to get rid of.”

The wildfire smoke is particularly dangerous in communities of color that are already coping with poor air quality. Barrio Logan, San Ysidro and Escondido face additional challenges. Their air is already polluted because of traffic or industry. San Diego County supervisor Nora Vargas chairs the regional air board. She says politicians and regulators need to take extra steps to help communities of color cope...for instance by providing alerts about poor air quality

“Give our communities the tools that they need so they are very mindful and they know when pollution is at those levels so they’re able to also protect themselves.”

Vargas says making sure people are aware of the risk of dirty air and giving them access to health care are important for working class communities. She knows the Air board can’t regulate wildfire smoke, but regulators can work to reduce other pollution sources that amplify the smoke’s health impacts.

“We are really thinking about what are the potential risks of the different industries that are in the region to be able to mitigate that. That’s another huge issue for us.”

Meanwhile, fires continue to burn in California. There are more than a dozen active battles against wildfires. Flames from more than 77-hundred (7,713) blazes have already charred more than two point-four million acres in California this year.

That was KPBS Environment reporter Erik Anderson.

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California’s eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of the week. Race and Equity Reporter Cristina Kim says the City of San Diego is looking to get more funds for its rental assistance program to keep more people housed and protected.

The city has given out more than $103 million dollars to nearly 12,000 households to help them pay rent and utilities over the last few months.

Now it has about 13 million dollars left and Mayor Todd Gloria doesn’t expect it to last long…

L3: Mayor Todd Gloria, San Diego City

We have received a tremendous number of applications, our expectation is that money will go quickly and that’s precisely why we are letting San Diegans know if you have initiated an application now is the time to complete it.

The city’s has given funds to those in need…through partnerships with groups like the San Diego Refugee Communities Coalition. Gloria hopes he can get additional state and federal funding to continue the program.

L3: MAYOR TODD GLORIA, San Diego City

to try to make sure that every possible dollars that we try to get out there to bring it to San Diego because if you entrust us with your dollars we will use them wisely and quickly.”

After Thursday, people who haven’t paid rent are still protected from evictions ...BUT ONLY IF they have applied for rental assistance. And That protection only works if there’s rental assistance funds available.

And that’s why renters need to apply for available funds now and stay informed….. says Gilberto Vera, Senior Housing Attorney with San Diego Legal Aid.

L3: GILBERTO VERA, Legal Aid Society San Diego

It is very important for tenants to follow up on the status of their application and keep an open line of communication with their landlord as their emergency rental assistance progresses….

He says tenants should know their rights, because they may not need to move out if they’ve received an eviction notice.

In anticipation of more evictions on the horizon, Mayor Todd Gloria also announced a new legal-aid program. He’s proposing spending 5 million dollars in federal funds to educate and provide legal counsel for tenants facing eviction.

The San Diego City Council will consider the proposal next week.

That was KPBS’s Cristina Kim

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Schools across San Diego County call the police on hundreds of students every year … and some of the most vulnerable kids are getting the brunt of it. inewsource investigative reporter Jennifer Bowman has more.

BOWMAN: Joshua Zavala has autism. He was just 13 when Lakeside Middle reported him to police.

ZAVALA: “All of a sudden they just said, ‘OK you have to come with us.’ And then they put me in handcuffs.”

Other kids accused Joshua of threatening to attack the school, which he denies. He was sent to a mental health facility for three days.

Now, Joshua says he’s left with an intense fear of cops.

School officials in San Diego County say they only contact police for the most serious violations. But inewsource found Black students and kids with disabilities are being disproportionately reported … and some of the schools calling the cops the most serve students who have already encountered the juvenile court system.

San Diego State professor Frank Harris has researched school discipline. He says educators shouldn’t rely solely on policies that create disparities.

HARRIS: “If we can't have that type of grace with a kid then who can we have it with?”

BOWMAN: Joshua now attends a different school. For KPBS, I’m inewsource investigative reporter Jennifer Bowman.

And that was inewsource investigative reporter Jennifer Bowman. For more on this story, go to

inewsource dot org. inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.

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This afternoon, the San Diego Unified School Board takes up the controversial issue of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible students. KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez tells us even though the meeting is virtual, parents plan to show up and protest.

San Diego Unified School Board President Richard Barrera is clear what he believes the district should do..

SOT: 2:50-3:03 “I absolutely support vaccine mandates for eligible students...most of our students who are 12 and older. It’s the best way to keep everyone safe.”

Barrera’s opinion is only a part of the discussion planned Tuesday afternoon as the entire Board of Education considers implementing COVID-19 vaccinations for all eligible students in the district.

Late last week an opposition community group called LET THEM CHOOSE filed a legal complaint to stop any vaccine mandate from going into effect. The group plans to protest outside the school administration building starting at 3 p.m. even though all board members are expected to meet online and not in person.

MGP KPBS News.

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Coming up.... How san diego is working to bring equity to the cannabis industry. More on that next, just after the break.

When Californians voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana back in 2016, there was also an effort to undo some of the damage done by the War on Drugs. Communities of color were disproportionately affected by arrests and jail sentences for illegal marijuana sales...and the new law held the promise that the legal California marijuana industry would be created with a social equity component...helping members of previously targeted communities to establish legal cannabis businesses. But while both San Diego city and county officials say they are committed to establishing a cannabis social equity program...those plans are still not in place.

Jackie Bryant is a reporter for the Voice of San Diego. She spoke with KPBS Midday Edition host Maureen Kavanaugh.

That was Jackie Bryant, reporter for the voice of San Diego, 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.

In San Diego, wildfire smoke days have more than tripled in the last decade, and smoke from western wildfires is causing air pollution problems and health issues far away from fire zones. That’s according to a new analysis of satellite imagery from the California newsroom and Stanford’s Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab. Meanwhile, Mayor Todd Gloria announced a proposal on Monday to establish a $5 million legal defense fund to support struggling tenants as statewide eviction protections end. And, our partners at inewsource found that Black students and kids with disabilities are being reported to police at school at disproportionately higher numbers.

In San Diego, wildfire smoke days have more than tripled in the last decade, and smoke from western wildfires is causing air pollution problems and health issues far away from fire zones. That’s according to a new analysis of satellite imagery from the California newsroom and Stanford’s Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab. Meanwhile, Mayor Todd Gloria announced a proposal on Monday to establish a $5 million legal defense fund to support struggling tenants as statewide eviction protections end. And, our partners at inewsource found that Black students and kids with disabilities are being reported to police at school at disproportionately higher numbers.