Family of nursing home resident who died: ‘She had 3 really good years there and 1 really bad week’

Karen Johnson, 77, spent about three years in the Highland Springs Care Center in Beaumont.

“She was at an unlocked memory care facility in Hemet, but she got to the point with her Alzheimer’s and dementia … where she needed to be in a locked facility,” said her daughter, Dena Garcia.


Eye of the Storm

Southern California Nursing Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Latest installments in a continuing series

  • Part One:  What do Southern California nursing homes hard hit by COVID-related deaths have in common? We spoke with experts, nursing home administrators and advocates to find out.
  • Part Two: A tale of two Pasadena nursing homes. One, Gem Transitional Care Center, hard hit by COVID deaths and another, Camellia Gardens, about four miles away, that wasn’t.
  • Today, Part Three: Highland Springs Care Center in Beaumont has one of the highest percentage of COVID-19 deaths per average daily number of residents of any skilled nursing home in Orange, Riverside or San Bernardino counties.

The series was produced by correspondent Brenda Gazzar and SCNG staff writer Beau Yarbrough, participating in the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s California Fellowship.


Garcia, who lives in Moreno Valley, would visit her mother regularly.

“I had a really good relationship with people who worked there. I knew them, they knew me, I could show up at any time,” she said.

And her mother seemed to like Highland Springs:

“She was a very outdoorsy person, so I think she liked getting outdoors and still feel like she was getting outside,” Garcia said, although she noted that Johnson still wasn’t allowed to leave the grounds.

In March, as the coronavirus pandemic swept into Riverside County, Highland Springs stopped all visitation. Management told residents’ families they had a rigorous routine for keeping staff, residents and the facility clean and virus-free. All employees were screened for temperatures when they arrived each day, for example. According to her family, Johnson even appears in a March 23 video about hand washing on the Highland Springs Facebook page.

“She had three really good years there and one really bad week,” said Johnson’s grandson, Kyle Garcia, who lives near Fort Worth.

On April 11, Dena Garcia was told that her mother was running a fever. Three days later, Johnson was sent to the emergency room at Banning’s San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital, where she was nonresponsive. Previously, she was capable of holding conversations and, her dementia and Alzheimer’s aside, was in generally good shape, according to her family.

Highland Springs spokeswoman Liz Tyler blames asymptomatic spread for the virus getting into Highland Springs.

“It’s not like the memory care facility created this virus or served it with breakfast,” she said. “It came in from the outside.”

Despite housing those most vulnerable to COVID-19, nursing homes don’t have the same tools as hospitals do to fight it, she said.

“Nursing homes, they don’t have negative space rooms like you have in hospitals. They have shared ventilation,” Tyler said. “It is an extraordinary effort to contain it.”

Highland Springs stopped admitting new residents on April 13, after the facility was first informed a resident had tested positive for COVID-19.

On April 17, Highland Springs was told Johnson had tested positive for COVID-19. Staff ended up testing all of their patients that same day, Tyler said. Sixty-one out of 86 residents tested positive, most of whom were asymptomatic.

“Their suspicion is it came with an asymptomatic staff member and it may have been a staff member who had a job in more than one facility,” Tyler said.

The facility gave employees an ultimatum, requiring them to only work at one facility, and residents who had tested positive were put in isolation.

Johnson died April 19 — the only person to die of COVID-19 in Riverside County that day, according to county health officials. She was the 75th person to die in the county of the disease.

A nurse at the hospital held up the phone so Dena Garcia could say goodbye to her mother.

“I just told her that I loved her and that we didn’t want her to suffer,” she said. “If it’s your time, it’s your time and you can go. Even without the coronavirus, Alzheimer’s is just a terrible, terrible disease.”

It has been a tough year for Dena Garcia: The last time she saw her mother alive was the day before Garcia’s father was buried. Two of Johnson’s six other siblings also have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

As of Sept. 11, 20 Highland Springs residents have died of COVID-19, roughly 24% of their 84 average daily residents, according to an analysis of data from Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare database and the California Department of Public Health’s Skilled Nursing Homes COVID-19 database.

According to Tyler, Highland Springs hasn’t had any new residents test positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of June.

“They got hit with an invisible bomb, they jumped on it, they did the isolation necessary,” she said. “Even with their dementia population, they kept it from spreading.”

The Garcias feel Highland Springs wasn’t as forthcoming as it should have been about the spread of the coronavirus in the facility, something Tyler denies. But the family is sympathetic to the challenge that Highland Springs faces trying to keep dementia and Alzheimer’s patients from contracting COVID-19.

“You can’t teach them to not eat off each others’ plates. You can’t teach them to keep their hands to themselves. You can’t teach them to not pick up a half-smoked cigarette and smoke it for themselves,” Dena Garcia said. “It’s just going to happen.”

According to Tyler, the big challenge isn’t keeping the virus controlled inside nursing homes; it’s keeping it from coming in from the world outside, where, six months on, the public still can’t agree on how to prevent the virus’ spread.

“This bug is easy to kill. You just have to know it’s there. Once you know it’s there, you separate, do all the cleaning and all the things like that and you get rid of it, like this facility did,” Tyler said. “But any facility in this country, no matter how good their protocols are, they’re just one day from an asymptomatic person coming in.”

This article was produced as a project for the USC Center for Health Journalism’s California Fellowship.

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A tale of two Southern California nursing homes in the era of coronavirus

Administrator Hrag Bekerian felt confident, he said, that they were taking the right precautions at Gem Transitional Care Center before the coronavirus struck.

The four-star-rated nursing home on South Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena had closed its doors to visitors a week before the state’s guidance. Managers held frequent training sessions, screened all entrants and ramped up hand-washing checks.

“We believe we were well-prepared,” said Bekerian, 31.


Eye of the Storm

Southern California Nursing Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Latest installments in a continuing series

  • Sunday, Part One What do Southern California nursing homes hard hit by COVID-related deaths have in common? We spoke with experts, nursing home administrators and advocates to find out.
  • Tuesday, Part Two: A tale of two Pasadena nursing homes. One, Gem Transitional Care Center, hard hit by COVID deaths and another, Camellia Gardens, about four miles away, that wasn’t.
  • Wednesday, Part Three: Highland Springs Care Center in Beaumont has one of the highest percentage of COVID-19 deaths per average daily number of residents of any skilled nursing home in Orange, Riverside or San Bernardino counties.

The series was produced by correspondent Brenda Gazzar and SCNG staff writer Beau Yarbrough, participating in the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism‘s California Fellowship.


 

Yet since mid-April, nearly 55 residents at Gem Transitional tested positive for COVID, more than a dozen of whom died. With typically around 65 daily residents, the nursing home has one of the highest COVID-related resident death rates in Los Angeles County for its population, according to a review by the Southern California News Group.


A caregiver gets a temperature check while Nelida Arlante, administrator of Camellia Gardens, poses at the Pasadena care center on Friday, August 7, 2020. Arlante says a dozen staff members and three residents tested positive for COVID-19, with one patient death. Arlante believes the strict rules, educational sessions and oversight she implemented at her facility helped curb the spread of the virus. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

About four miles up the road is Camellia Gardens Care Center. As a one-star facility, it has the lowest possible overall rating on Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare. The slightly larger home had three residents contract COVID and only one death, said Nelida Arlante, the home’s administrator.

Arlante believes their vigilance helped curb the virus there. As a former physician in the Philippines, Arlante said, she may have had an edge.

2,900 deaths in region

More than 2,900 nursing home residents have died of COVID-19-related causes in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, comprising about one-third of this region’s total coronavirus deaths, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.

Nursing homes across the region have touted early studies showing that location and size largely determine how they’ve fared with the virus. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that several other factors can help seal a home’s fate.

Mass testing with quick results and adequate personal protective equipment are clearly important, experts say. Nursing staff levels, infection-control practices, resident demographics, leadership and even a home’s for-profit status also can contribute to the death toll.

“It’s all those factors,” said Charlene Harrington, professor emerita at UC San Francisco and a registered nurse.


Hrag Bekerian, administrator of Gem Transitional Care Center, poses at the Pasadena center on Friday, August 7, 2020. The nursing home had a high number of patients and staff including Bekerian who contracted COVID-19. Today they have no coronavirus patients. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Behind the high death toll

Bekerian believes the high death toll at his for-profit facility is due at least partly to the type of residents it serves.

“We take high acuity patients,” said Bekerian, whose Gem Transitional facility often accepts patients from neighboring Huntington Hospital. “We had residents in the building that had higher and severe chronic conditions.”

People of color, who are disproportionately affected by the virus, also made up nearly 60% of their residents, according to data Bekerian provided.

California nursing homes with overall quality ratings of four and five stars were less likely to have COVID-19 cases and deaths when adjusting for a home’s size and patients’ race, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association. Nursing facilities with smaller white populations and for-profit ones were more likely to have higher cases and deaths.

Learning hard lessons

Like with many homes, there were also hard lessons they learned in real time.

First, Bekerian said, guidance from local, state and federal agencies kept changing.

He also realized it would have been best to quarantine staff working at multiple facilities at home for 14 days right away. Instead, Gem Transitional had at first waited for COVID-19 cases to surface at an employee’s second facility before doing so.

The nursing home, which has a four-star rating for staffing, eventually told employees they had to pick one facility after the Pasadena Public Health Department directed nursing homes to avoid using employees with multiple jobs “by any means possible” on April 12.

“I think it would have shown us good results if we had done it much, much earlier,” Bekerian said, noting the facility was simply following the guidance given by local health officials.

The vast majority of their employees stayed, he said, and all received hazard pay. He declined to say how much.


How to find nursing home ratings, deficiencies


 

Employees work at other facilities

Sometimes, employees work at nursing homes with known COVID outbreaks and then are allowed by employers to work at a second facility, said Molly Davies, who oversees L.A. County’s ombudsman program that investigates concerns of residents in long-term care.

Along with a lack of adequate staffing and training, Davies believes this has been a main reason why some nursing homes have been harder hit.

“Part of that is because facilities don’t want to pay overtime so they’d rather have you work even at another building because it starts the clock again,” Davies said.

Watch employees ‘like a hawk’

Arlante has pondered how the for-profit Camellia Gardens, which has below-average ratings for staffing and health inspections, had managed to escape a harsher death toll.


Nelida Arlante, administrator of Camellia Gardens, poses at the Pasadena care center on Friday, August 7, 2020. Arlante had a dozen staff members and three residents test positive for COVID-19 with one patient death. Arlante believes the strict rules, educational sessions and oversight she implemented at her facility helped curb the spread of the virus. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“Maybe (it’s because) we are strict with our employees and we watch them like a hawk,” Arlante said. “Hand hygiene seems so simple but if you are lax, you will forget the steps and do the shortcut.”

Calming employees’ fears with regular shift training was important, she said. Being available to answer questions at any time was as well.

Arlante and Camellia Gardens’ director of nursing slept on couches in the conference room for a week after their first COVID case, she said. They later often stayed until 10 or 11 p.m. at night to supervise the employees.

“I treat the facility as family and these employees like children,” she said. “If they are afraid, they can do something drastic unless the mother hen is there.”

Camellia Gardens also provided its employees with meals three times a day to reduce their trips and their exposure outside, Arlante said.

OT and double-time allowed

The home began requiring nursing staff to pick one facility in May, she said, and lost 15 nurses in the process. But Camellia Gardens gave “bonuses” to all employees and allowed for overtime as well as double-time, which enabled them “to get by.”

Bekerian believes the local health order directing facilities to avoid using employees who work at other facilities helped turn things around at his home. Gem Transitional also learned to adapt to a new, stringent reality.

They had separate entrances for those caring for COVID patients, separate areas to put on their PPE and separate break rooms. The nursing home became vigilant about watching its staff put on and take off their masks, gloves and gowns.

It was “being very strict with every policy and procedure we have put in place,” Bekerian said.

New residents accepted

In mid-August, the city gave the nursing home clearance to accept new residents again. New residents are put in an observation unit for 14 days before they can go into the “green zone” with patients who don’t have the virus or have fully recovered from it.

As of Sept. 10, Gem Transitional had 44 patients in a home with 75 beds.

With all the different zones in the building, it has “beds ready in case a breakdown happens,” Bekerian said. But ultimately, he would “love to get back to full capacity.”

“It’s a little challenging but that’s our goal down the road,” he said. “We’re taking it day by day.”

Contributor Elissa Lee contributed to this report. This article was produced as part of a project for the USC Center for Health Journalism’s California Fellowship.

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Coronavirus: Reopening of Orange County schools now delayed to Sept. 22, at the earliest

Orange County’s schools may be able to open in-person on Sept. 22 – not Sept. 8 – the Orange County Health Care Agency announced late Monday night via Twitter.

Under a new four-color, tiered monitoring system, Orange County is in the most restrictive of the tiers, but it’s on track to bump up to the next tier on Sept. 8.

The county would then remain for 14 days in that tier, county health officials confirmed with the the California Department of Public Health, according to the late-night Tweet.

That means that the earliest schools could welcome students to campuses is on Sept. 22.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new color-coded tier system on Friday, there was initially much confusion among Orange County educators as to what it meant for school reopenings. Then, the county’s health officer, Clayton Chau, tweeted that the switch to a new monitoring system did not reset the 14-day countdown and schools could still open as soon as Sept. 8, if lower case trends continue.

I confirmed with the State that has not changed for OC except for the update in the new blueprint usually occurs on Monday and the State posts on Tuesday, so the school reopening would be Tuesday, September 8, right after Labor Day weekend.

— OC Health Care Agency (@ochealth) August 28, 2020

On Saturday, county health officials cast doubt on that opening date. In a Tweet, officials said they requested clarification from schools on the 14-day wait cycle. “State indicated we would get credit for those days. More to come.”

Update re: Gov.’s new system. We’ve requested additional clarification from State re: schools as there are several counties, including #OC, who are in limbo as we were part way thru prior 14 day cycle to re-open. State indicated we would get credit for those days. More to come.

— OC Health Care Agency (@ochealth) August 29, 2020

The answer apparently came late Monday night.  The earliest Orange County schools can open to in-person learning will be Sept. 22.

County Health Officer received confirmation from @CAPublicHealth that #OC is on track to enter into Red Tier on Sept. 8. Providing we meet Red Tier metrics at that time, there will be a 14-day wait for all K-12 schools to be eligible for reopening, which could happen on Sept. 22.

— OC Health Care Agency (@ochealth) September 1, 2020

Al Mijares, county superintendent of schools, said in a statement Monday night: “I know how frustrating it is to be in this position, given the complex planning it takes to restart our campuses.”

“Dr. Chau has advocated strongly on our behalf, but the state was firm in its response.”

To learn more about the new color-coded monitoring system: Orange County lands in most restrictive tier of new coronavirus tracking system 

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Jordan Morris scores twice, Sounders return home and top LAFC

SEATTLE (AP) — Jordan Morris scored two goals less than a minute apart early in the second half, and Seattle rolled past Los Angeles FC 3-1 on Sunday night in the Sounders first home match in 5½ months.

Playing in an eerily empty CenturyLink Field, Morris scored 59 seconds apart in the opening moments of the second half as Seattle gained a bit of revenge after LAFC’s 4-1 thumping of the Sounders during the MLS is Back tournament in Florida.

In the past, two goals that close together would have sent Seattle’s home crowd into a frenzy. But it was instead met with a murmur of piped-in crowd noise as the stadium is expected to remain empty for the rest of the MLS season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think everyone is obviously missing the fans. but it was still nice to be back playing at home,” Morris said. “We’ve obviously never played without fans before but we still feel like this is our home stadium and we feel very confident but of course we miss the fans and we feel their support from afar.”

It was a decidedly un-Seattle atmosphere for the Sounders’ first home match since March 7. Instead of the normal, with nearly 40,000 fans in attendance, some of the lower bowl seats were replaced by tarps with advertisements.

“The Brougham End,” where Seattle’s most rabid fans of the “Emerald City Supporters” normally stand and chant the entire 90 minutes, was replaced by a smattering of banners, including a large “Black Lives Matter,” banner directly behind the goal.

“It’s different without fans. But for what we had to work with, or what we’re dealing with with this COVID-19, I thought it was good. It was a good start,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said.

It was at that end of the stadium where Morris scored his two goals. On the first, Morris collected a long pass from Nicolas Lodeiro and dribbled around LAFC goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, who was late coming out from goal. Morris finished easily into the open net.

Moments after restarting, Seattle’s João Paulo sent a cross into the box and Morris was unmarked, giving Seattle a 3-0 lead.

Raúl Ruidíaz scored in the first half with a stunning 35-yard left-footed shot that caught Vermeer by surprise and out of position. Ruidíaz was subbed off at halftime for precautionary reasons due to a heel contusion.

Diego Rossi scored in the 60th minute but LAFC lost consecutive matches for the first time since the 2018 season. It was the first match for LAFC since learning league MVP Carlos Vela is out indefinitely with a left knee injury.

“(It’s) a tough stretch for us and you can just see with so many guys confidence, mentality, and performance, things we’ve got to find a way to get back,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said.

Both teams had midweek matches postponed after players made a collective statement against racial injustice.

The Sounders last home match in early March came as the COVID-19 pandemic was in its initial outbreak in the United States and with the Seattle region as the epicenter. The Sounders played to a 1-1 draw with Columbus before an announced crowd of 33,080. It was the smallest crowd for a Sounders home match since its inaugural season of 2009.

At the time, there had been 16 deaths and 102 diagnosed coronavirus cases in Washington state. Now, there have been more than 74,000 confirmed cases and 1,900 deaths attributed to the virus in the state, according to the Washington Department of Health.

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These O.C. parents have a message for Gov. Newsom, teachers’ unions: ‘Open up the schools.’

A pro-charter school group brought some 75 parents, teachers and a couple of Orange County Board of Education members together Tuesday evening to rally for the reopening of schools that were closed because of coronavirus concerns.

Parents, they said, should be making the choice of whether their children learn on campus or online.

“Open up the schools,” the crowd briefly chanted.

  • Jeff Barke, right, leads a rally outside the Santa Ana Educators Association office in Santa Ana on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The rally calling for the reopening of schools was organized by the California Policy Center’s “Parent Union.” (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Cecilia Iglesias, left, and Orange County Board of Education member Mari Barke, right, join others outside the Santa Ana Educators Association office during a ‘reopen the schools’ rally in Santa Ana on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The rally was organized by the California Policy Center’s Parent Union, a pro-charter school group. Iglesias, a former Santa Ana councilwoman and school board member, works for the center and organized the meeting with Barke’s help. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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  • Rhonda Furin, center, joins others during a reopen the schools rally outside the Santa Ana Educators Association in Santa Ana on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The rally was organized by a group called “Parent Union.” It’s a pro-charter school group under the libertarian California Policy Center. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A man holds up a sign during a ‘reopen the schools’ rally outside the Santa Ana Educators Association office in Santa Ana on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The rally was organized by a“Parent Union.” (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • About 75 protesters gathered outside the Santa Ana Educators Association office for a ‘reopen the schools’ rally in Santa Ana on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Cecilia Iglesias protests outside the Santa Ana Educators Association office during a reopen the schools rally in Santa Ana on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. Iglesias, a former Santa Ana councilwoman and former School Board member, organized the rally as the head of the “Parent Union,” a pro-charter school group under the libertarian California Policy Center. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Jeff Barke, a physician who advocates for the reopening of schools without social distancing or face masks, leads a ‘reopen the schools’ rally outside the Santa Ana Educators Association office in Santa Ana on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The rally was organized by the California Police Center’s Parent Union group, a pro-charter group that said parents should have the choice of whether their children can return to campus for in-person learning or continue with online education. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Protestors gather outside the Santa Ana Educators Association for a reopen the schools rally in Santa Ana on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The rally was organized by the California Policy Center’s “Parent Union.” (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Jeff Barke, right, leads a rally outside the Santa Ana Educators Association office in Santa Ana on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The rally calling for the reopening of schools was organized by the California Policy Center’s “Parent Union.” (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Flanked by American flags and punctuated with religious references and prayer, the rally was organized by the Orange County-based California Policy Center’s “Parent Union,” which pointedly chose to host its event in front of the offices of the Santa Ana teachers’ union.

“That’s why we’re here,” said Jeff Barke, an Orange County physician who regularly advocates for reopening schools without face masks or social distancing but mentioned neither safety precaution during the rally. Instead, he and others focused attention on teacher unions, which have advocated for resuming school online for now.

“We’re here to let them know we’re sick and tired of the schools being closed. It’s not based on science. It’s not based on statistics. It’s not based on facts. It’s based on union power. “

Barbara Pearson, president of the Santa Ana teachers’ union – the Santa Ana Educators’ Association – called the protest “another desperate grab for attention in their struggle to stay relevant.

“It has nothing to do with the reopening of schools or the students of Santa Ana.  Governor Newsom made the decision to close schools, not the unions.  Our priority is the safety of staff and students,” Pearson wrote in an e-mail Tuesday night.

On July 17, Newsom ordered that all public and private schools in counties seeing a spike in coronavirus cases could not reopen for in-person learning in the new academic year. That affected all of Orange County’s schools, except for those elementary schools that are applying for a waiver. (State officials unveiled the waiver application process Monday night; it’s likely to impact mostly private and parochial schools.)

During the rally Tuesday, a few teachers spoke about the detrimental effects of online learning on all students, but especially those who need special services. Students have regressed academically since schools shut down mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, they noted. And many who are in vulnerable situations, some speakers said, have been made even more vulnerable, exposing them to abuse and even suicide, because they don’t have their safe haven – school – to turn to.

Mari Barke, an elected member of the Orange County Board of Education and Jeff Barke’s wife, told the crowd, to “keep fighting” to reopen schools.

“Parents are in the best position to make decisions for their children,” Mari Barke said.

Last week, her board voted to file a lawsuit against Newsom to force a reopening of schools. Fellow Trustee Ken Williams also addressed the crowd, invoking God and talking about “the fight for the children.”

The rally was organized by Cecilia Iglesias, a former Santa Ana councilwoman and former School Board member who works for the California Policy Center, a libertarian think tank that focuses on issues like pension reform and charter schools. The Center runs four chapters of the Parent Union in Southern California. Iglesias said she hopes to hold similar rallies in other counties.

“Our call is a call to action, to let parents choose,” Iglesias said prior to the rally. “We’re suggesting: open up the schools, following safety guidelines, and give parents the choice.”

Read more about These O.C. parents have a message for Gov. Newsom, teachers’ unions: ‘Open up the schools.’ This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

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Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott responds to football players threatening opt-outs

The Pac-12 responded Monday to football players who have threaten to opt-out of the season because of concerns related to health and safety, racial injustice and economic rights with a letter touting the conference’s work in those areas and an invitation to meet later this week.

A letter from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, dated Aug. 3, was sent to 12 football players leading the #WeAreUnited movement. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press and first reported by Sports Illustrated.

The players say they have been communicating with more than 400 of their peers throughout the Pac-12. The group released a lengthy list of demands Sunday and said if they are not addressed they will not practice or play. The group said it reached out to the Pac-12 on Sunday to request a meeting. In the letter, Scott said he was eager to discuss their concerns.

“I will come back to you in the coming days following discussion with our members and student-athlete leaders to schedule a call for this week to discuss the matters that you have raised,” Scott wrote.

Also Monday night, Washington State coach Nick Rolovich said in a statement he regretted cautioning one of his players about being part of the #WeAreUnited movement. A recording of a conversation between Rolovich and receiver Kassidy Woods obtained by the Dallas Morning News revealed the coach seemingly warning the player that being involved with the group would hurt his standing with the team. Woods had called Rolovich to inform him he was opting out of the season for health reasons related to COVID-19.

“I spoke with Kassidy Woods in a private phone conversation last Saturday afternoon. This was before the #WeAreUnited group had released its letter of concerns,” said Rolovich, who is in his first season was Washington State coach. “Without knowing the concerns of the group, I regret that my words cautioning Kassidy have become construed as opposition. I’m proud of our players and all the Pac-12 student-athletes for using their platform, especially for matters they are passionate about. WSU football student-athletes who have expressed support for the #WeAreUnited group will continue to be welcome to all team-related activities, unless they choose to opt out for health and safety reasons.”

The #WeAreUnited players’ demands focused on four areas: health and safety protections, especially protocols related to COVID-19; guarding against the elimination of sports programs by schools during an economic downturn; ending racial injustice in college sports; and economic freedom and equity.

Scott addressed each area, highlighting the conference’s:

— Medical advisory committee working on COVID-19 protocols and webinars for student-athletes and their parents;

— Support for reforming NCAA rules regarding name, image and likeness compensation for college athletes;

— Recent initiatives to address racial inequities such as the formation of a social justice & anti-racism advisory group that includes student-athletes representatives.

Scott also listed 10 areas in which, he wrote, “The Pac-12 has been a leader in supporting student-athlete health and well-being …” Included were enhanced medical coverage post-eligibility; cost-of-attendance stipends added to the value of scholarship; mental health support; and the Pac-12’s support of reforming NCAA transfer rules to allow athletes more freedom to switch schools.

Pac-12 football teams are scheduled to begin preseason practices Aug. 17 and the league’s conference-only regular season is set to start Sept. 26.

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Powerful quake jolts Alaska towns, produces small tsunami

By MARK THIESSEN

ANCHORAGE, Alaska  — A powerful earthquake located off Alaska’s southern coast jolted some coastal communities late Tuesday, and some residents briefly scrambled for higher ground over fears of a tsunami.

There were no immediate reports of damage in the sparsely populated area of the state, and tsunami warning was canceled after the magnitude 7.8 quake off the Alaska Peninsula produced a wave of a less than a foot.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake struck Tuesday at 10:12 p.m. local time, centered in waters 65 miles (105 kilometers) south-southeast of Perryville, Alaska at a depth of 17 miles (28 km).

Because of its location, nearby communities along the Alaska Peninsula did not experience shaking that would normally be associated with that magnitude of a quake, said Michael West, Alaska State Seismologist.

However, that doesn’t mean they slept through it: West said residents in small towns within a hundred miles of the quake reported very strong shaking, and was also felt more than 500 miles away in the Anchorage area, West said.

“No reports of any damage,” Kodiak Police Sgt. Mike Sorter told The Associated Press early Wednesday morning. “No injuries were reported. Everything is nominal.”

Kodiak is about 200 miles northeast of where the earthquake was centered.

The tsunami warning had coastal residents evacuating for higher ground. Social media posts showed long lines of people fleeing towns like Homer and Kodiak while tsunami sirens wailed in the background.

On Kodiak Island, the local high school opened its doors for evacuees, as did the local Catholic school, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

“We’ve got a high school full of people,” said Larry LeDoux, superintendent of the Kodiak School District. “I’ve been passing out masks since the first siren sounded,” he told the Daily News.

“Everything’s as calm as can be. We’ve got probably 300, 400 people all wearing masks,” he said before the warning was canceled.

Tsunami warnings are commonplace for people who grew up in Kodiak.

”I’ve been doing these since I was a little kid,” LeDoux told the newspaper. “Old news.”

Officials at the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, began calling off tsunami advisories and warnings after a wave of only 25 centimeters (.8 foot) was recorded in the community of Sand Point.

“I might have expected a little bit more water, but I’m happy that there wasn’t,” said David Hale, the senior duty scientist at the tsunami center.

Tuesday’s quake was more powerful than the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that caused damage in the Anchorage area in November 2018.

“This earthquake released about 15 times as much energy as that earthquake, said West, the state seismologist.

More than a dozen aftershocks of magnitude 4.0 or higher were reported immediately after the earthquake, he said by telephone from the Alaska Earthquake Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

”We got people here who are going be working all night,” West said early Wednesday morning. ”These aftershocks will go and go and go and go.”

The Alaska-Aleutian Trench was also where a magnitude 9.2 quake in 1964 was centered. That remains the second most powerful earthquake ever recorded. The temblor and ensuing tsunami caused widespread damage and killed 131 people, some as far away as Oregon and California. Alaska is the most actively seismic state. Nearly 25,000 earthquakes have been recorded in Alaska since Jan. 1, according to the center.

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Supreme Court clears way for execution of federal prisoner

By MICHAEL BALSAMO

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The Trump administration was moving ahead early Tuesday with the execution of the first federal prison inmate in 17 years after a divided Supreme Court reversed lower courts and ruled federal executions could proceed.

Daniel Lewis Lee had been scheduled to receive a lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital at 4 p.m. EDT Monday. But a court order issued Monday morning by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan prevented Lee’s execution.

A federal appeals court in Washington refused the administration’s plea to step in, leaving the hold in place, before the Supreme Court acted by a 5-4 vote. Still, Lee’s lawyers insisted the execution could not go forward after midnight under federal regulations.

With conservatives in the majority, the court said in an unsigned opinion that the prisoners’ “executions may proceed as planned.” The four liberal justices dissented.

Lee’s execution was scheduled for about 4 a.m. EDT Tuesday, according to court papers. There was another delay when the government asked for an emergency ruling related to an old stay that had been issued in the case, but that wasn’t expected to derail the execution.

The Bureau of Prisons had continued with preparations even as lower courts paused the proceedings.

Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, has had access to social visitors, visited with his spiritual adviser and has been allowed to receive mail, prison officials said. The witnesses for Lee are expected to include three family members, his lawyers and spiritual adviser.

Lee was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.

“The government has been trying to plow forward with these executions despite many unanswered questions about the legality of its new execution protocol,” said Shawn Nolan, one of the attorneys for the men facing federal execution.

The decision to move forward during a global health pandemic that has killed more than 135,000 people in the United States and is ravaging prisons nationwide, drew scrutiny from civil rights groups as well as family of Lee’s victims.

Some members of the victims’ family argued they would be put at high risk for the coronavirus if they had to travel to attend, and sought to delay the execution until it was safer to travel. Those claims were at first granted but also eventually overturned by the Supreme Court.

Critics argue that the government is creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency for political gain. The developments are also likely to add a new front to the national conversation about criminal justice reform in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.

Two more executions are scheduled this week, though one, Wesley Ira Purkey, was on hold in a separate legal claim. Dustin Lee Honken’s execution was scheduled for on Friday.

A fourth man, Keith Dwayne Nelson, is scheduled to be executed in August.

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department has a duty to carry out the sentences imposed by the courts, including the death penalty, and to bring a sense of closure to the victims and those in the communities where the killings happened.

But relatives of those killed by Lee strongly oppose that idea. They wanted to be present to counter any contention that it was being done on their behalf.

“For us it is a matter of being there and saying, `This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,’” said relative Monica Veillette.

The federal prison system has struggled in recent months to contain the exploding number of coronavirus cases behind bars. There are currently four confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates at the Terre Haute prison, according to federal statistics, and one inmate there has died.

Barr said he believes the Bureau of Prisons could “carry out these executions without being at risk.” The agency has put a number of additional measures in place, including temperature checks and requiring witnesses to wear masks.

But on Sunday, the Justice Department disclosed that a staff member involved in preparing for the execution had tested positive for the coronavirus, but said he had not been in the execution chamber and had not come into contact with anyone on the specialized team sent to handle the execution.

The three men scheduled to be executed this week had also been given execution dates when Barr announced the federal government would resume executions last year, ending an informal moratorium on federal capital punishment as the issue receded from the public domain.

Executions on the federal level have been rare and the government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988 — most recently in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a young female soldier.

In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.

The attorney general said last July that the Obama-era review had been completed, clearing the way for executions to resume.

___

Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Mark Sherman in Washington, Michael Tarm in Chicago and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

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UCLA’s AD Martin Jarmond faces many challenges with new job

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Most new athletic directors who take over in July have the luxury of getting acclimated to their new school before things really ramp up in two months. That isn’t going to be the case for the start of Martin Jarmond’s tenure at UCLA.

“You would like have something resembling normalcy, but I have to come in and embrace the challenges,” said Jarmond, who officially took the helm on Wednesday. “I’m not the only one going through what is an uncertain time.”

The 39-year old Jarmond was named UCLA’s first Black athletic director in May. He is also the first AD in the program’s 101-year history who has no prior ties to the university. He replaces Dan Guerrero, who led his alma mater for 18 years.

Jarmond, who was hired in Westwood after three years leading Boston College’s athletic department, has a lot on his plate. Not only is there trying to navigate 23 teams in 15 sports through the coronavirus pandemic, but there is the added challenge of Under Armour trying to terminate its record apparel contract with the university. The company informed UCLA last week of its intentions.

The two sides are four years into a 15-year deal worth $280 million, which remains the highest in college athletics. Under Armour pays $11 million per year in rights and marketing fees as well as contributing $2 million per year to aid in facility improvements. Under terms of the contract, the company is supposed to supply $6.85 million in athletic apparel, footwear and uniforms.

Jarmond reiterated last week’s statement that the matter is being evaluated by the university and its attorneys.

Under Armour cited the team’s struggles in its highest profile sports as a reason for ending the partnership. The football program has had a losing record four straight seasons, including a 7-17 mark in Chip Kelly’s first two seasons, which has led to declining attendance at the Rose Bowl. Men’s basketball struggled the first half of last season but won nine of its last 11 in Mick Cronin’s first season.

On-field performance though will eventually rise on Jarmond’s list of priorities. His first task is trying to make sure UCLA’s teams can return healthy once games begin. The campus started welcoming athletes in football and fall Olympic sports last week, beginning with testing before they could progress to offseason conditioning drills.

The NCAA recently approved a plan allowing for extended football and basketball workouts, but the county has not cleared UCLA for that timeline yet. The university reports that 75 members of the campus community have tested positive, but doesn’t specify whether they are athletes. This past week, 18 students and six staff members had positive tests.

When football players expressed concerns about returning to campus two weeks ago, Jarmond met with the team via Zoom to answer questions along with Kelly.

“I thought it was important to make sure everyone was heard, along with trying to show coaches that things can be addressed head on,” Jarmond said. “I think our safety plan is thorough but we can’t control the spikes going on throughout the country.”

Jarmond is known as one of the country’s best athletic fundraisers, not only at Boston College but when he worked in the athletic programs at Michigan State and Ohio State. That will be needed at UCLA, which ran an $18.9-million deficit during the 2019 fiscal year. That figure could more than double this year.

Jarmond is still doing most of his work from Boston while trying to relocate to Los Angeles. He was on campus last month for the first time after all of his interviews with the search committee were done remotely due to the pandemic.

In order to find out more from students and supporters, he has launched MJ Listens on the athletic program’s website.

“It is critically important to listen and learn from key stakeholders. I have a pretty good idea of where to start but a lot of things will be dictated with what is currently happening,” he said.

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DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie have coronavirus, may not return with Nets

NEW YORK (AP) — Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan said Monday they have tested positive for the coronavirus, potentially leaving the Brooklyn Nets without two starters when the NBA season resumes.

Jordan said he won’t be in Florida with the Nets when they return from the suspension of the 2019-20 season, while Dinwiddie told The Athletic that he was experiencing symptoms and it was unclear if he would be at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.

At least six players on the Nets have tested positive for the virus. The other four were back in March, when Kevin Durant said he was one of them.

Both players said they tested positive after returning to New York to rejoin the team. Some players left the city, which was a hot spot at the time, after the NBA halted play.

Dinwiddie said he tested negative for the virus multiple times after returning to Brooklyn and took part in a couple practices. But he has since tested positive and said he has a fever and chest soreness.

His absence would be a significant blow to the Nets, given he has played so well this season with Kyrie Irving out of the lineup because of injuries. He is averaging 20.6 points.

Jordan announced his status on Twitter, saying he learned of his diagnosis Sunday night and it was confirmed again Monday.

The center signed with the Nets last summer along with Durant and Irving. The 2016 U.S. Olympic gold medalist spent most of the season as a reserve but had moved into the starting lineup for both games after Jacque Vaughn replaced Kenny Atkinson as coach in March.

The Nets have a half-game lead over Orlando for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They are set to face the Magic on July 31 in their first game back.

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