Alfredo Banuelos. Courtesy photo.

Frontline Dispatch: SF Paramedic Reflects on Pandemic

Before coronavirus cases were confirmed in San Francisco, paramedic Alfredo Banuelos and his colleagues were watching case numbers in other cities, still at a distance. Then he got his first patient. When the virus arrived in San Francisco and the city locked down and everything changed, procedures on the ambulance changed too. He reflects on how the pandemic unfolded for emergency medical responders. “I remember having our morning roundups, and having our supervisors say, ‘OK, we’re still fine you guys.’ But then you get closer: OK, now it’s in the state of Washington.

The Grier family, featured in the documentary film “Sky Blossom.”

Documentary ‘Sky Blossom’ Highlights Young Caregivers

Millions of Americans have stepped in as caregivers for loved ones with illnesses or injuries that mean they need help with daily living. The work is generally unpaid and often invisible to the world outside the family. Some of these caregivers are children. A new documentary, “Sky Blossom: Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation,” highlights young people who are taking on these roles in their families. Director and co-producer Richard Lui, a news anchor at MSNBC and NBC News, talked with “Civic” about why and how young people are stepping in to do this work and what it means to be a caregiver. 

“Sky Blossom” will screen at CAAMFest on May 18 at 6 p.m. It will also air on MSNBC May 29 and 30, and will reach a theater in every state on May 26. 

“Caregiving for my own father is what probably opened my eyes to this.

Mission High School on 18th St.

SF School Board 101: How Education Policy Gets Made

San Francisco schools and their leaders have been in the spotlight recently for a variety of controversies. Some parents have pushed for schools to reopen sooner. A member of the school board is suing the district. An effort to recall some board members is underway. And an initiative to rename certain schools has come under fire.

Susan Philip at the city's COVID Command Center at Moscone Center in April 2021.

SF Relaxes Outdoor Mask Rules

Under a new health order, San Franciscans no longer need to wear a mask while doing outdoor activities like walking or biking alone or with members of their households. Unvaccinated people should wear a mask if social distancing can’t be maintained. Fully vaccinated people can almost entirely forgo masks outdoors, with certain exceptions. Dr. Susan Philip, San Francisco’s health officer, explained the details of the new order and how these decisions are made on “Civic.” 

“When people are choosing to appropriately follow the guidance, and not necessarily wear their masks all the time outdoors, I’ve heard stories about being yelled at for not wearing their mask — just in the last day or so since the order has come out — being told that they’re being inconsiderate, and people getting very upset with them. They are not doing anything that is against our guidance.

Sara Eisenberg deputy city attorney

City Attorney to SF School District: Show Us Reopening Plan Details

After more than a year of online learning, certain groups of students and staff at some San Francisco schools began meeting in person in mid-April. For tens of thousands of students, distance learning continues. The school board and district intend to give every student the option of coming back full time in the fall. But the lawsuit that City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed against the district and board in February to compel them to reopen schools promptly is ongoing even as more students return to campuses. Sara Eisenberg, a deputy city attorney and chief of strategic advocacy in the city attorney’s office, said on “Civic” that the city attorney’s office is continuing the case to ensure that the district actually follows through on its promise.

Joe Eskenazi, managing editor at Mission Local

Journalist Uncovers Potential Fire Danger in Earthquake Safety Retrofits

In an effort to keep certain buildings from collapsing during an earthquake, thousands have received city-mandated seismic retrofits. But as Joe Eskenazi, managing editor at Mission Local, revealed in a recent special report, some of these upgrades left gas lines encased in concrete, which raises concerns about post-quake fires or explosions. 

“The real problem is if it breaks and the gas leaks out inside the building, where it’s leaking out quote-unquote under slab,” meaning under the concrete foundation. “Then all you need is some manner of spark, and then you have an explosion,” Eskenazi told “Civic.” 

It’s unclear how many of the 4,000 retrofits completed in the city have potentially problematic encased gas lines, which makes it difficult to measure exactly how catastrophic the aftermath of an earthquake could be. “If even just a small percentage of the retrofits have a problem like this in an earthquake situation, that could be a significant number of fire risks throughout the city,” Eskenazi said. “Even a small portion of these having this risk could lead to a terrible situation following an earthquake, because all the emergency services are going to have enough to do after an earthquake.”

In a second special report, he surfaced complaints that engineers have been making for years about shoddy construction work on such retrofits, which they allege were brushed off by the building inspection department.

Signs at a side entrance to Mission High School outline coronavirus safety guidelines for students.

SF School District Charts Paths to Reopening

Some students in the San Francisco Unified School District are back in classrooms — as of April 26, a district statement indicated more than 19,000 children had returned to campuses. But there are tens of thousands more students in the district. The Board of Education has resolved to give all students the option to return to in-person instruction in the fall. Gentle Blythe, deputy superintendent of strategic partnerships and communications with the district, discussed with “Civic”  the impacts of distance learning and next steps for reopening schools. One factor is whether requirements for distance between students in the classroom remain in place, which Blythe said is the biggest limiting factor for classroom capacity. 

“We’re planning for a few different scenarios.

Courtesy of Free Burma Action Committee.

S.F. Organizer Sees Repetition of Brutal History in Myanmar Military Coup

When Ko Ko Lay has managed to speak to his 86-year-old mother living in Myanmar under a military regime, she has told him she cannot sleep through the night. Like many civilians, she fears armed nighttime raids. “They are so worried about one day some security forces will come and will break through their door, and and they’re going to torture, and they’re going to kill,” Lay said. 

On Feb. 1, after a democratic election, Myanmar military forces seized control of the government and declared a year-long state of emergency. Civilians have been protesting that takeover, and the military has responded with deadly use of force, killing hundreds, including at least 40 children.

Installation at Yerba Buena Center Examines Mourning in a Time of Isolation

An installation at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts called “Mourning is an Act of Love” uses non-traditional forms of documentary film as well as poetry and photography, which visitors can view from the outside of the building, to explore concepts like memorials, grief and public space. Documentary filmmaker Susannah Smith, who curated the exhibit, and filmmaker and cinematographer Melinda James talked with “Civic” about mourning and connecting at a time when people are isolated by pandemic restrictions. Smith said there have been several deaths among her family and friends in recent years. “The main way that I dealt with it, that felt constructive, was really sharing stories and being with people and that kind of collective process,” she said. 

But the pandemic hindered mourners’ ability to gather. “The pandemic has shifted the ways that we are able to mourn the ways that we come together, collectively and as a community,” James said.

In Two Shootings a Decade Apart, Police Claim Taser Confusion

In 2009, BART police officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant, later claiming he had meant to use his Taser and not his gun. In April 2021, Brooklyn Center, Minn. police officer Kim Potter shot and killed Daunte Wright. Police say this, too, was due to confusion between the less-lethal weapon and the gun. Demian Bulwa, now director of news at the San Francisco Chronicle, covered Oscar Grant’s death and Johannes Mehserle’s trial extensively and spoke with “Civic” about how much these two shootings more than a decade apart have in common.