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How Coronavirus Is Affecting The Bay Area

Ingrid Taylar
Creative Commons, used under CC BY 2.0
Port of Oakland

HANA BABA: Today, we’re starting with, of course, coronavirus. And, I’m joined by KALW News Director Ben Trefny. Hey, Ben.

BEN TREFNY: Hey, Hana. 

BABA: So what we know today is that there’s a new fatality in Santa Clara County. It’s the county’s first death. A woman in her 60s was diagnosed back on Feb 28. She was one of three people diagnosed. So, what else is going on?

TREFNY: Well, the item getting the most attention around the country now is the Grand Princess cruise ship, which docked in the Port of Oakland around noon today. The ship has more than 3,500 people aboard — about 2,400 hundred passengers and over a thousand crew members. So, 21 of the people on the ship are confirmed to have the novel coronavirus — or COVID19. Nineteen of those people who are ill are, in fact, crew members. So, it’s going to take a couple of days to disembark the passengers, and they’re being whisked away to various places for quarantine, including Travis Air Force base in Fairfield — near here — and Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. And, by the way, Hana, USA Today is reporting that all the guests are having their cruise fees refunded, along with airfare and other incidentals.

BABA: Okay, so a lot of people are asking the question, how are they going to be kept away from the general public? 

TREFNY: Well, Governor Newsom gave a news conference in Oakland yesterday with Mayor Libby Schaaf and made several assurances that they would be held and treated at a safe distance. So, I've been wondering that same thing as far as the chauffeurs, and, of course, the doctors. I have friends who are doctors who have been thinking a lot at their hospitals about how they are going to make sure that they keep from getting the virus as well. But, I think that they will do the same kind of practices that we're being expected to do here, such as wash our hands and make sure to keep as safe as we can.

Public officials, generally, have been scrambling to share information and make sure that people know what’s going on without panicking or overreacting. Here’s a clip of San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who's been one of the earliest to take direct action.

LONDON BREED: A lot of information gets out there. It’s not entirely true, but it’s important that everything that we know is communicated directly to the public so that we have accurate information, every step of the way.

TREFNY: So, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, on Friday, sent out numerous text advisories saying they recommend cancelling non-essential large community events for the next two weeks. Seems like a policy of better safe than sorry.

BABA: So your festivals, your large gatherings.

TREFNY: Yeah, the things that would otherwise —

BABA: Parades? The St. Patrick's Day parade was canceled.

TREFNY: Exactly. And, this is going to be included within the run-up to March 19, which would be two weeks from that declaration. And, of course, that's at the very least. It could go beyond that.

BABA: School closures is another big thing people are thinking about. I'm a parent, you're a parent. My kids' schools are taking extra precautions, like you mentioned. You know, the assemblies are canceled, the big games are canceled. So far in the Bay Area, no whole districts have shut down.

TREFNY: Though the Elk Grove School District near Sacramento did shut down for this week.

BABA: That's right. But here in the Bay Area, it's been individual schools. We’re part of San Francisco Unified School District — what can you tell us about the plans here?

TREFNY: Right. Well, as you said, I'm a father and I have twins who are at San Francisco Unified high schools. My daughter goes to Lowell High School and on Thursday she was sent home midday because a family member of another student was diagnosed with the virus. All the kids have been out of school since then, but it's day-to-day. My son is at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, and they, and other schools in the district, are cancelling events — theater performances and the like. And over the weekend, several sports teams throughout the state had to forfeit games if their schools were shut down — and this is playoff season. So, I can tell you, my kids are getting worried about losing their senior prom — though, I will add, they understand, considering the public health risk.

BABA: Right. I also went to the mall over the weekend. It was pretty empty. What kind of effect will this have on the local economy and shopping?

TREFNY: Well, one thing we know is that grocery stores are finding it hard to keep food and other supplies on their shelves. For instance, sales at Costco are up over 12% in February compared to a year ago. And, I’ll note, the company attributes only about 3% of that growth to coronavirus, but it's happening.

We sent KALW’s Christopher Egusa to downtown Oakland to see how people are feeling. First he spoke with Morgan Reisch.

REISCH: I feel a little more cautious about what doorknobs I touch, whose hands I shake. Definitely, if you hear someone coughing on BART, you're like, ugh, do they have the virus? So I do think it's put more of a barrier, I think between me and other people, which is weird. I go from like being worried like oh, maybe it's okay to Oh, maybe I should worry about it.

MILLET: I'm Deandre Millet. Me personally, I'm really not afraid of it because I really don't get sick like that. For some reason, I got a real high immune system. A lot of the times I will wear the face masks at work, just not today because they ran out, and there's no use in even trying to fight it. Just do the best we can as far as staying sanitized.

SAFI: My name is Lulu Safi I'm 26 years old and I'm the owner of Maya Halal Taueria. As a restaurant owner, you know, it's tough because a lot of people aren't coming into the restaurants. They want to use the delivery services like DoorDash, Uber Eats, and things like that. So I do plan on signing up with them. You know, just to make sure that I can keep my doors open and business is still running.

OWENS: My name is Tanya Owens, I'm 48 years old. I sell hair extensions. My business is hair candy. China is like my only source of income kinda because I get everything from China. So when they shut down, it was slowing me down. They were shut down for like three weeks and a half. I don't know what can happen. This has taught me a lesson, like you gotta have a plan B.

BABA: Thanks to KALW's Chris Egusa for bringing us those voices from downtown Oakland. And Ben, you know, Silicon Valley is reacting in a big way, too. My commute this morning over the San Mateo bridge, over 101, was so light — the lightest I'd say in years — because some big tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook — they've told their employees to work from home.

TREFNY: Yeah, I mean, it could be the case for a lot of businesses. It might be around the corner for us at KALW, as well, Hana. Though we did talk about it at a management meeting this morning, and whether or not our offices are shut down, we plan on continuing to report every day on what’s happening as this story evolves.

BABA: Yes we do. Thank you, Ben.

TREFNY: Thank you.