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Bay Area Headlines: Thursday, 7/16/20, PM

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Climate Change, COVID-19 Create Perfect Storm Of Conditions For Health Concerns For Aging Americans / San Francisco Ends Phone Call Fees In County Jails / “Mineral Fire” Proving Hard To Handle In Central Valley

Climate Change, COVID-19 Create Perfect Storm Of Conditions For Health Concerns For Aging Americans

Social distancing recommendations during COVID-19 create what experts are calling a “perfect storm” of conditions for heat-related deaths among older Americans.

Carmelita Miller’s elderly disabled father used to live in an apartment in San Bruno with no central AC. During a heatwave a year ago she got a call about him possibly having a stroke. She says:

“Actually he was severely dehydrated because the building was too hot.”

Miller is with the Greenling Institute advocating for low-income communities and people of color to have access to things like affordable or free air conditioning. She says not having AC is a climate change issue:

“With the climate changing, we're actually endangering people who have to stay in their homes.”

She says there are two California programs helping, but COVID-19 slowed them down. The group is advocating for a bill that will change the threshold of who is low income based on where they live instead of a broad national standard. 

All this is important because around 12,000 Americans die from heat-related issues every year and around 80 percent are people 60 or older. Sean Sublette is a meteorologist with the nonprofit group Climate Central. He says:

“This is going to continue to be an issue that becomes a bigger and bigger deal as we go forward in time. We need to think again at the local state and perhaps federal levels, what we're going to do about it.”

His group found that three-quarters of US cities are experiencing an extra week of above-normal temperatures than they were 50 years ago. And for 30 cities it’s an extra month.

San Francisco Ends Phone Call Fees In County Jails

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to end phone call fees in San Francisco County jails.

Advocacy groups and the families of incarcerated people have long called for the end of phone call fees in prison and jails across the country. And now, with COVID-19, phone calls have become a particularly important way for incarcerated people to remain connected to family and the outside world. 

Phone calls cost 15 cents per minute. Commissary products — like soap and snacks — were also sold at a mark-up. All the profits went toward a fund for rehabilitation and reentry services for people coming out of jail.

But last year, Mayor London Breed decided that incarcerated people and their families shouldn’t be the ones that have to pay for these services and proposed that funds should come from elsewhere in the budget.

And earlier this week the SF Board of Supervisors made it official. The supervisors passed an ordinance making phone calls free. They also voted to stop marking up the cost of commissary products. The city says this will lift some of the financial burden off of families of incarcerated people, particularly the low-income families of color disproportionately affected by these costs. 

San Francisco will now become the second major city, behind New York, to eliminate phone call fees in jails.

“Mineral Fire” Proving Hard To Handle In Central Valley

More than 900 firefighters aided by helicopters and air tankers are battling a wildfire in a rural area of Central California. The fire in the Diablo Range west of the Fresno County city of Coalinga has grown to nearly 26 square miles and is 20% contained as of Thursday morning. One structure has been destroyed, 60 are threatened and some evacuation orders are in place. No injuries are reported. Firefighters are dealing with rugged terrain and temperatures in the 90s. Crews are also adjusting to additional in-camp safety modifications implemented due to COVID-19. San Joaquin Valley residents are being cautioned about health impacts from smoke.