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Bay Area Headlines: Thursday, 4/23/20, AM

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'Showers On Wheels' For Homeless Residents In Sacramento / More Testing Needed Before California Economy Can Re-Open / Air Quality Improves, But Climate Change Is Major Cause Of Pollution

'Showers On Wheels' For Homeless Residents In Sacramento

Communities across California are searching for ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among homeless people. In Sacramento, a retired Air Force veteran is using his Showers On Wheels program to help out. 

More than home cooking or even a roof over his head, Mark Lytal says a hot shower was the best thing after returning from one of his deployments in the desert. Now, the former tech sergeant is offering that same comfort and basic hygiene to hundreds of people who are homeless in Sacramento:

“We know right now with what’s going on, that’s a huge thing to keep this from spreading. You know, wash your hands. Stay hygienic, clean. And they can’t do that out on the river. But when they come and see me, they know they’ve got a nice hot shower, and we’ve got the soap for them. We’ve got the compassion and the love that they’re not getting from elsewhere because everybody’s closed.”

Seven days a week, he sets up his silver trailer in a parking lot at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Midtown. It has three separate spaces, each with a shower, sink, fresh towels, and body lotion. As people line up, Lytal even handouts new underwear and socks. When it’s busy, each person gets 10 minutes inside the trailer. After each one finishes, Lytal dons a painter’s suit, respirator, and gloves, and bleach cleans the stalls. 

“Hopefully, it works out right," he says. "They’ll all come out together and I can go back in and clean it. It takes me about three minutes to do each one.”

Seventy-six-year-old Ray Keene lives on the street and says getting a shower makes him feel like a million dollars. “It really helps my ego," he says. "Stress is real bad out here on the street, it really is.” 

For Vintage Monroe, it’s about staying healthy while homeless in a pandemic. “With the COVID-19, you’re making sure you’re extra clean, and you’re not spreading any germs around,” he says.

To pay for the program, Lytal says he relies on small grants and donations — he’s raised about $8,000 on a GoFundMe page. As for why he does this, he says he simply wants to help those in need.

“I could be one of those people tomorrow. Any of us could be. And I just want to be here to help them. They can come and get a meal, see a smiling face, take a hot shower. I mean, that’s the least I can do to help our community.”

The help is appreciated by hundreds without a home.

More Testing Needed Before California Economy Can Re-Open

With California flattening the coronavirus curve, many are wondering when normal life could return. According to Governor Gavin Newsom, not until the state ramps up testing. 

California is currently conducting 16,000 diagnostic tests a day. But Newsom says the state needs to at least quadruple that number before it can start to re-open the economy:

“Our goal is north of 60,000 tests a day. That’s phase one goal, that’s a short term goal over the next number of months. We want to have a minimum of 60,000 tests; we’re hoping to get closer to 80,000.”

California plans to deploy over 80 new testing sites, with a focus on underserved urban and rural communities. In the meantime, Newsom says the timeline for lifting the state’s stay-at-home order is open-ended. 

Air Quality Improves, But Climate Change Is Major Cause Of Pollution

Air quality has improved across California because of the pandemic. But a new report shows climate change played a major factor in pollution in past years. 

Wildfire was the tipping point for many California cities in the American Lung Association's 21st annual ‘State of the Air’ report. Major blazes like the Camp Fire caused significantly worse air. Data for the report was collected from 2016–2019 says Will Barrett with the group. 

“Unfortunately we see the clear impacts of climate change not only increasing our air pollution but threatening all the great progress we know we've made in the state over the last five decades of implementation of the Clean Air Act.”

The top spots for the most particle pollution in the entire country are all in California: Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Those tiny particles get stuck in lungs and can cause asthma attacks and even lung cancer. The results were similar for ozone pollution, but Los Angeles crept to number one and Sacramento came in fifth.