Morning Report: Key Decisions Fueled COVID's Spread in Downtown Jail - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: Key Decisions Fueled COVID's Spread in Downtown Jail

The Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Prisons are a safe place to isolate from a dangerous virus, until they aren’t.

In a new story, Maya Srikrishnan lays out how lax procedures and failure to properly quarantine inmates has helped fuel the massive, deadly spread of COVID-19 within the Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown.

One key decision that appears to have facilitated the spread of the virus within the facility happened when a local hospital recommended that instead of bringing an inmate in for a procedure, medical professionals do it at the jail with phone support from the hospital. The inmate was brought to the hospital regardless, and wasn’t quarantined upon his return. Soon, he and the inmates around him tested positive for the virus.

Inmates, their family members and attorneys also expressed concerns about failure to truly quarantine sick or exposed inmates, and access to medical care once someone has tested positive.

The facility also began accepting new intakes earlier this month, broadening the potential for exposure.

A Bureau of Prisons spokesman said the facility follows proper quarantine procedures and provides appropriate care.

Barrios, Out (But Not Off the Ballot)

Kelvin Barrios, a candidate for the San Diego City Council, has suspended his campaign in the face of a criminal probe, a series of potential ethics violations raised by Voice of San Diego and the loss of major endorsements.

A former staffer in Council President Georgette Gómez’s office, Barrios is now a policy and community engagement director for Laborers Local Union 89. He took the job in late 2018, days after working on a wastewater infrastructure project that had huge financial implications for local unions.

He wasn’t the lead or co-lead staffer in Gómez’s office working on Pure Water. Instead, he was assigned to transportation policy and handling constituent complaints in City Heights.

Why that’s a big deal: San Diego rules prohibit staffers from working on any issues that directly benefit a future employer. The City Council approved the construction contract on Dec. 4, 2018. Barrios, however, has said the Laborers didn’t approach him about joining their organization until later that same month.

For a single week in January 2019, Barrios was on the Laborers’ payroll while also working in Gómez’s office. He failed to disclose that at the time and has since maintained that nothing inappropriate took place.

So what next? KPBS was first to report that Barrios was suspending his campaign Monday but he’ll still be on the November ballot. 

“He lost some key supporters over the weekend and he didn’t feel like it was fair to his remaining supporters … to force them to stick by him,” Barrios campaign spokesman Tony Manolatos told us. “He felt like the appropriate thing and honorable thing to do would be to not put his supporters in a tough situation. They’re all getting calls to pull their endorsement.”

Barrios declined, however, to say whether he’d still accept the election results if he collects the most votes, the Union-Tribune reported.  

Gómez’s congressional campaign consultant, Dan Rottenstreich, confirmed that she requested Barrios drop out of the D9 race over the weekend. 

In a statement to union members obtained by KPBS, the head of the Laborers blamed “one-sided media coverage” for causing friction in the local labor movement. It also pulled support. 

About that: Last year, the California Fair Political Practices Commission fined Barrios for misspending funds while working on a school board campaign and for his time as treasurer of the California Young Democrats Latino Caucus. His political opponent in the D9 race, Sean Elo, also accused him of using money set aside for the San Diego County Young Democrats club on personal expenses.

The state kicked the issue down to the local level and in August the Union-Tribune reported that the district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit had opened an investigation.

VOSD also reported in recent weeks that Barrios did not disclose income he earned before starting his job in Gómez’s office and did not disclose his overlapping public- and private-sector pay. 

County Loves, and Also Hates, Its Climate Plan

In a press release last week, San Diego County celebrated the fact that it 98 percent of its 2020 greenhouse gas-reduction goal. Later this week, the County Board of Supervisors will vote to rescind the entire climate plan. Wait, what?

MacKenzie Elmer unpacks what’s going on here in this week’s Environment Report.

Back in June, the Fourth District Court of Appeal told officials that its Climate Action Plan for reducing planet-warming emissions wasn’t truly cutting emissions. One of the major problems was that the county allowed sprawl developers to offset projects by purchasing carbon offsets in international markets, which have little oversight or accountability.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Environment Report without, um, an interesting reference to animals. This time around, Elmer is advocating that California, like Alaska, create an online bracket to figure out who are the fattest, most beautiful bears (in the wild, presumably). 

Politifest Begins Today

From Scott Lewis: It may be too late to get tickets to your favorite sessions in this week’s extraordinary political online gathering. Just kidding it’s the internet and there’s a lot of room. Today, the biggest, most diverse Politifest since we launched the event in 2011 begins. Normally it’s just one day but tonight, the first of dozens of sessions over the next five days begins.

First up, our traditionally most popular session: It’s the conversational run down of all the state ballot propositions. This time, Sara Libby is partnering with Jesse Marx.

Pretty bold to go up right against the presidential debate, right? That’s how we roll.

We’ll have debates about everything from Chula Vista City Council to the Oceanside mayoral race. (There are so many candidates in that race we had to break it into two sessions. Someone could win with a very small percentage of the vote, it’s wild.) Our staff is mobilized. Maya Srikrishnan, Will Huntsberry, Lisa Halverstadt, Kayla Jimenez and I will also run panels. This is Mackenzie Elmer’s first Politifest and she gets to manage a debate about the 53rd Congressional race featuring Gómez and Sara Jacobs. No problem!

We have an array of local media partners: Journalists like Andrew Bowen and Claire Trageser, Max Rivlin-Nadler and John Carroll from KPBS will moderate debates. Gustavo Solis from the Union-Tribune will handle the Chula Vista candidates.

Danny Freeman from NBC 7 San Diego will moderate the County Supervisor District 2 debate between Joel Anderson and Steve Vaus, two Republicans. One of the toughest places for small town politics right now is Encinitas where the arguments are deep tensions high. Caitlin Steinberg from The Coast News will handle that one.

And then there’s the brawl in East County for the Congressional seat vacated by Duncan Hunter. Ammar Campa-Najjar and Darrell Issa’s debate is on. Jack Cronin from AM 600 KOGO will moderate and the station is carrying it live.

Alain Stephens, from The Trace, will interview Attorney General Xavier Becerra about policing in California.

I know I have a way of exaggerating or at least of saying things are a really big deal often. But I’ve never seen or been a part of a local event like this. This is a really big deal and we have worked hard to build a special program.

Here’s the schedule and registration information. Many of the panels are free with registration and several are being translated in real time into Spanish. I recommend you download the app to pick all the discussions you want to watch and see who else is attending.

There are so many great debates to be had about the future of San Diego. Let’s have them.

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Sara Libby and Jesse Marx, and edited by Scott Lewis.

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