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Jackie Rubio set up an altar at her home to honor her son Francisco Rubio III, who died of COVID-19 complications earlier this year. He was 21 years old. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This week our team published the beginning of a series documenting the devastating toll COVID-19 has taken on our community. Not only did we learn that more than half of San Diegans who died in the first year of the pandemic were immigrants, but that for every $6,600 increase in median household income, a person’s chances of death decreased by 10 percent. 

You may be wondering why we’re sharing this information now. Allow me to explain. 

Over the past several months, our team has spent countless hours at the San Diego County archives logging thousands of death certificates. One data entry for each San Diegan who died from COVID-19. The documents are in fact public records, but we had to sue for access to them. 

Background: In April 2020, Jared Whitlock, a freelance journalist who contributes to VOSD, requested copies of county death certificates. At the time he wanted the information for a series he was doing on nursing homes during the pandemic. But county officials told him he needed to provide the name of each decedent and their date of death — something we obviously didn’t have.  

Fast-forward a few months and we sued for the information. The county’s suggestion that a reporter must already know the details contained in the document they’re requesting turns state law on its head. It would require the public to know what records its government has before being able to access them.  

Then came the fun part. After winning our case, the county told us that our staff would need to travel to the county archives in Santee to see the documents. Otherwise, copies of everything we needed would run us a bill of more than $80,000. We said no, thanks. Instead, our reporters spent months at the archives reading through the paperwork, without knowing exactly what we’d find. (Reporter Will Huntsberry shared more about that experience here). 

That brings us to today. When we filed our lawsuit, we had hoped to find out on a granular level where the virus has caused harm. So far, our stories have detailed two key findings. 

The first is that the virus disproportionately killed San Diegans with lower levels of education and income. These factors have already been linked with increased risk of death among COVID-19 patients, but we found the share of San Diegans without a high school degree who died of COVID-19 was nearly three times as high as their share of the county’s population. 

As our team noted, having a bachelor’s degree is often the distinguishing factor between essential workers and those who worked from home during the pandemic. 

And second, that immigrants accounted for more than half of all COVID-related deaths during the pandemic’s first year but make up just 23 percent of the county’s population. 

Consider this: As our editor Andrea Lopez-Villafaña asked reporter Will Huntsberry on this week’s podcast, “Had you had access to these death certificates early on — and you could pull and show those numbers — do you think it would have made a difference?” 

What do you think? Comment below or email me at megan@vosd.org. 

Click here to read our series Year One: COVID-19’s Death Toll. Stay tuned next week for more. 

News You Can’t Miss 

  • The San Diego Association of Governments is considering building a transit hub downtown, replacing City Hall and tunneling several area train tracks. If the plan moves forward, it would take the place of the previous “San Diego Grand Central” concept that eyed the NAVWAR property along Interstate 5 in Old Town. 
  • Council President Jennifer Campbell will present a new proposed ordinance to the City Council this month to regulate sidewalk vendors. We spoke to vendors in Barrio Logan and Ocean Beach about what they want the city to consider. 
  • San Diego is once again considering the old Central Library in downtown for a homeless shelter. Lisa Halverstadt explained the history behind the building and what it would take. 

Read These Comments 

On San Diego’s lack of access to public restrooms … 

“With all due respect to the Mayor, San Diego has a severe shortage of public restrooms. I visited San Francisco a couple years ago, walked for miles every day, and NEVER had a problem finding a clean, well-tended public restroom. It was a stunning contrast to my hometown. Balboa Park, Mission Bay Park, and the waterfront have some, but not enough, to accommodate visitors and residents. Elsewhere in downtown, I don’t even know where I would find a clean public restroom.” – Catherine Thiemann 

On reconsidering the location of “San Diego Grand Central” … 

“Whatever the reason (sounds like slow Navy may be the main one), I am glad the focus on the NAVWAR site is being reconsidered. A transit hub that is located somewhere that transit isn’t actually needed would be the ultimate San Diego Special: A convenient site or building that’s not fit for purpose. Like, oh, a skydiving fun zone for homeless services. Here, the NAVWAR site is not fit for purpose because of location. It’s in between a few big places that transit is needed (airport, downtown, areas of dense housing), but not in or close enough to any one of those places to make sense.” – Hunter 

On the regulation of sidewalk vendors … 

“Go down to the boardwalk vendors in front of Belmont Park. The boardwalk had been reduced from 24 to 18 feet with the vendors setup. Then you have two customers. Another three feet plus occasional vendors selling along the sea wall.” – Mike Johnson

Thanks for reading. If you enjoy this newsletter, check out our others here. Have something you want me to include? Email me at megan@vosd.org.

Megan Wood

Megan is Voice of San Diego’s engagement editor. She is responsible for producing and overseeing content that extends the reach of the organization....

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