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Bay Area Headlines: Tuesday, 6/9/20, AM

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SF Corruption Probe Expands / Coronavirus Outbreak At San Quentin / California’s Masks Cleared / Protest? Test

SF Corruption Probe Expands

Three more people — two of them former city officials — have been charged in a San Francisco corruption case centering around former public works director Mohammed Nuru.

A lot has changed since Nuru and a local sports bar owner named Nick Bovis were arrested back in January and charged with wire fraud.

Back then, prosecutors alleged that they unsuccessfully schemed to bribe an airport commissioner for prime restaurant space at San Francisco International Airport. They also say Nuru got favors from city contractors and gifts from people with city business.

Nuru resigned his post in February and is free on $2 million bail while awaiting trial. Last month, Bovis pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in the federal investigation.

The U.S. Attorney’s office announced, yesterday, that Nuru’s longtime girlfriend, Sandra Zuniga, is charged with conspiring for years to help Nuru launder money from various illegal schemes. According to the office, she headed a city fix-it team and was director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services. Charges for bribery and making false statements to investigators were also filed against two construction company directors.

In a statement an IRS agent called Zuniga’s alleged crime “money laundering 101,” saying she:

“Deposited cash and checks from Mr. Nuru into her checking account then turned around and wrote checks to him and paid the mortgage and contracting work on his vacation property.”

Her charges could carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. 

Coronavirus Outbreak At San Quentin

COVID-19 has spread to San Quentin State Prison, where over a dozen people incarcerated there have now been diagnosed with the virus. San Quentin began reporting COVID-19 cases last week, and the number has been rising quickly.

Prisons are perfect incubators for the virus, and many facilities around California have seen outbreaks spiral quickly out of control. A prison in King’s County has confirmed over 800 cases, while another in Riverside County has nearly 1000. 

One of these hot spots is a prison in San Bernardino County. The California Institution for Men recently transferred several prisoners to San Quentin. CIM, as it’s known, has over 475 active cases. The goal was to move healthy, but at-risk, people to a safe location. 

But, despite passing initial health checks, four of those transfers have now tested positive for COVID-19, according to a department of corrections spokesperson.

Gavrilah Wells is an advocate for prison reform, and has friends who are incarcerated at San Quentin:

“I can’t believe that any health expert would approve this move. It should not be a death sentence to be stuck in a prison where you have no control over your environment.”

So far, 12 incarcerated people at California Institute of Men have died after testing positive for coronavirus, as well as 2 state prison employees.

California’s Masks Cleared

Millions of protective masks will soon be on their way to California after the manufacturer paid by the state to make them finally won U.S. federal certification. The announcement from Governor Gavin Newsom’s office came more than a month after the masks had originally been set to start arriving.

Newsom’s administration signed a nearly $1 billion contract in April for hundreds of millions of protective masks for health care workers and others. The deal is with BYD, a Chinese company with California offices, for both tight-fitting N95 masks ideal for health care workers and looser-fitting surgical masks. The surgical masks started arriving last month, but the critical N95 masks were twice delayed as BYD failed to win certification from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Now that the company has approval, the state expects to receive the first shipment in “the coming days," according to a press release from Newsom's office. The state will receive a total of 150 million N95 masks.

That's half of what the state originally planned to receive when it took the unusual step of paying nearly $500 million up front. BYD refunded California half of that in May when it failed to meet its first certification deadline. 

In a statement, Newsom said the masks “are game-changing and play a crucial role in our state’s public safety and reopening strategy.”

The contract faced a series of delays since Newsom first announced it in April on a nightly cable news show before the deal was finalized. Lawmakers immediately voiced skepticism when the administration didn't show them the contract.

Newsom's administration eventually released it. The contract revealed the state was paying $3.30 per N95 mask, which officials said was a good deal at a time when many states were paying double that for masks.

Protest? Test

Some county health leaders are asking people who’ve attended demonstrations against police violence recently to get a coronavirus test. Experts are concerned the protests will increase spread, especially among African Americans who are already considered vulnerable to the disease.

But epidemiologist Flojaune Cofersays people will make their own choices despite the risk, and health officials should be prepared to support them.

“Keep making testing and information accessible, provide recommendations for how people if they are gathering can safely gather, and then also recognizing that at this point it’s certainly a bigger issue than just the risk of COVID.”

In Los Angeles, health officials say anyone who spends more than 15 minutes in a large crowd should get tested. San Francisco opened up special pop-up testing sites just for people who attended demonstrations. 

People should wait until three to five days after they think they’ve been exposed to get a test.