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Six Months Into The Pandemic In America, A Look Back And A Look Forward

Stock Photo by Visuals via Unsplash

Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup where you'll find the top local stories of the week and some of NPR's national stories.

Today marks the last day of July 2020. Who knew a year ago that we would find ourselves in a global pandemic. Despite some predictions in the early stages, summer weather isn’t slowing the spread of the coronavirus. The first known COVID-19 death occurred in early February. This week, the death toll in the United States surpassed 150,000 people. We must not be desensitized by data points, said Cal State Monterey Bay Professor of Statistics Dr. Judith Canner during an online community presentation. Each represents a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, a sibling... a loved one.  

On Wednesday, 26 empty chairs sat in front of the Monterey County Health Department to represent every resident who has died from COVID-19. In a joint news conference, local hospitals announced a call to action. KAZU’s Michelle Loxton attended - Monterey County Hospitals Have a Message For The Public: We Need Your Help.

Monterey County Cases (as of Friday) - 4,542 total, 26 deaths

Coming up next week, we'll hear from a Salinas resident who spent three months in hospital because of COVID-19. Doctors say he was on the verge of death almost every day. He and his daughter shared their story with KAZU.

Credit Michelle Loxton
Empty chairs represent every Monterey County resident who has died from COVID-19, as of Wednesday, July 29.

As we head into August, determined Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland mark a milestone -- more than two months of fighting for racial justice. President Trump sent in Homeland Security officers following violence and vandalism. Last night, those federal officers departed Portland after Oregon Governor Kate Brown reached a deal with federal agencies. 

Michael Brown, 18, was one of the young, black men who helped drive the Black Lives Matter movement forward. A white officer shot and killed Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. This week, the prosecutor in the case decided not to charge the officer

Civil Rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, known as the “conscience of Congress,” was laid to rest Thursday. His funeral took place at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was a co-pastor. President Obama, who delivered the eulogy, shared a story about a Zoom call he and Lewis were on with young activists who helped organize George Floyd demonstrations.

“And afterwards, I spoke to John privately, and he could not have been prouder to see this new generation of activists standing up for freedom and equality; a new generation that was intent on voting and protecting the right to vote; in some cases, a new generation running for political office,” Obama said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep cracks in America’s health system. Communities of color continue to be disproportionately affected. In Monterey County, nearly 75 percent of COVID-19 cases are among the Hispanic and Latino community.  

California’s COVID-19 data dashboard has a section titled, Who is getting infected with COVID-19? The state attributes “structural racism, poverty and the increased likelihood of having underlying conditions” as likely causes.

On Friday, California Public Health officials announced the first COVID-related death of a teenager in the state. Officials aren’t releasing too much information to protect the teen’s family, but said this young person had underlying health conditions. The teen was from the Central Valley.  

Governor Gavin Newsom is paying attention to the Central Valley, where the coronavirus has spread quickly with outbreaks in ag fields and meatpacking plants. A new state program called “Housing for the Harvest” will provide hotel rooms for agricultural workers who need to isolate. When Newsom announced the program, he said it was modelled after a program in Monterey County. The Grower-Shipper Association of Central California says that program was theirs. Since April, the organization has provided farmworkers it houses with daily food deliveries and regular health checks. 

Monterey-Salinas Transit donated two retired minibuses to Clinica de Salud Valle de Salinas. The buses will be used by the clinic in collaboration with the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California for COVID-19 field testing of farmworkers in the Salinas Valley

Credit Doug McKnight
Workers harvest strawberries in the Salinas Valley. Of all the data that's available on those who have tested positive for COIVD-19 within Monterey County's workforce, the ag industry has the most cases.

This week, Monterey County joined a lawsuit against President Trump for trying to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted in the census.

“We want to send a clear message to our communities: if you live here, you count,” Supervisor Chris Lopez said. 

The count determines federal funding, congressional seats and presidential electors in the Electoral College. So far, the census response rate in Monterey County is about 60% and in Santa Cruz County, about 67%. The last day to fill out the census is October 31. Nationwide, door-knocking efforts have been cut short

Santa Cruz County was officially added to the state’s COVID-19 watchlist this week. Now, indoor operations of gyms, places of worship and hair salons have closed again. 

Santa Cruz County Cases (as of Friday) - 1,109 total, 740 active, 4 deaths

The UC Santa Cruz Molecular Diagnostic Lab is expanding their testing capacity. The lab is currently testing 200-400 samples every week collected by Salud Para La Gente and Santa Cruz Community Health. Added capacity will boost those numbers to 500-600. 

You’ll hear from Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel on everything from new evidence around masks to what worries her next week on KAZU News. 

It’s the last weekend of summer break for some Monterey County students. Classes at Monterey Peninsula Unified School District start August 5. Local schools will begin with distance learning under the governor’s rules. Dr. Deneen Guss, Monterey County Superintendent of Schools, said you would be amazed at how creative educators have become. 

KAZU’s Doug McKnight looked into the impacts on teachers, schools and parents in Online Learning Poses Big Test For Local Schools. His reporting illuminated the frenzy of having two young children home. And it’s rather delightful, at least from our perspective.

Elementary schools can apply for a waiver from the state to allow for in-person instruction if their community is on the state’s watchlist. (The list is for counties that are not meeting the state’s standards for containing the spread of the virus.) The school would need to consult staff, their teachers’ union, parents and community members before applying. The local health officer would need to approve it. So far, one district in Monterey County has submitted their request -- Big Sur Unified. It’s a small district with about 6 to 8 elementary school students. 

As the school year begins, and the pandemic enters its sixth month in the United States, the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon. We face a future filled with hope, concern and a presidential election less than 100 days away.