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The Tijuana River flows throughout the U.S.-Mexico border region in San Diego. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

In part two of our week-long series looking back at what we learned this year, we’re checking in on the Tijuana River sewage crisis.

At the beginning of the year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had some $300 million to combat cross-border pollution. Activists were hopeful that a big chunk of that money would go towards long-standing maintenance issues in Mexico, but as MacKenzie Elmer and Vicente Calderón explain, most of the money will be spent on a second treatment plant in San Diego’s South Bay.

While some argue that the U.S. is addressing the problem at the end of the pipeline — the river begins in the U.S. and travels through Tijuana where it collects sewage spilling from the city’s broken infrastructure — officials say the problem is mostly political.

Click here to read Elmer and Calderón’s roundup on what they learned about the issue. See the rest of the stories in our series, What We Learned This Year, here.

What About Long COVID? Immunologist Follow Up

If you somehow missed our latest podcast interview with immunologist Shane Crotty, who helped explain the omicron variant and answered many other questions we had about the COVID-19 pandemic as it stands now, we have this summary of the interview available here

We had a follow up for Crotty as well: what’s the deal with so-called “Long COVID” and what are the risks people who have been vaccinated should understand about it? We asked and he emailed this response:

“It’s a great question. There is no clear answer. The chances of vaxxed getting long COVID from Delta were low, but real. The chances of vaxxed getting long COVID from Omicron are unknown, but it is reasonable to assume for now they are the same chance as for Delta. 

“Long COVID is not well understood. The two most likely causes of long COVID are (1) An unusually large amount of damage to tissue (e.g. lung) from a high viral load and the virus killing lots of cells, which is not visible by eye, but takes a long time to heal; or (2) an autoimmune antibody response, which almost exclusively occurs in people hospitalized with COVID and probably reflects a situation where the infection was so bad, the immune system just decides to throw the kitchen sink at the virus, and sometimes that has undesired consequences.  Both of those scenarios are the consequence of a person having a lot of virus for a longer-than-average infection. So, vaccination should protect from long COVID by reducing all of that (fewer infections, lower overall viral load, much shorter infections, much fewer hospitalizations). Consistent with that, the highest risk factor for long COVID is hospitalization with COVID. 

Health care workers prepare hundreds of needles that will administer the COVID-19 vaccine to residents and staff at the La Costa Glen Retirement Community in Carlsbad. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

“Long COVID advocates focus on the fact that vaxxed people can still get long COVID. That is true, but the risks are much lower. (And it has made it a charged topic on Twitter this past year.) The definitions of long COVID are fuzzy, so it is still difficult to nail down how common ‘severe’ long COVID is and how long it lasts. There is a big difference, to me at least, between having any measurable symptom still 2-3 months later (e.g., a bit of drainage, or a bit of shortness of breath when exercising)  and having serious symptoms 2-3 months later (e.g. can’t work! Can’t think straight. Can’t walk up stairs.). The less serious stuff occurs for a variety of respiratory virus infections we get from time to time. It’s not great, for sure, but it’s not unique to this virus.”

The money line seems to be that one about hospitalizations.

Here is the latest on hospitalizations in San Diego County as of Dec. 15:

In hospitals: There were 371 people in San Diego County hospitals battling COVID-19. Ninety-five of them are in ICUs. 

Vaccinated: Since March 2021, 3,083 people who are not fully vaccinated have had to go to the hospital in San Diego to fight COVID-19. Only 627 fully vaccinated people have had to, even though they make up more than 76 percent of the population over age 5 who are eligible to be vaccinated (2.42 million people).

You can listen to all our podcasts here. And you can check out our new What We Learned This Week (or maybe this Fortnight?) here, consider signing up to receive it

School vaccine mandate stalls: A judge has ruled San Diego Unified School District’s requirement that all students 16 and older be vaccinated before returning to school after Jan. 24 is unlawful (NBC 7 San Diego). The district can still appeal. 

A Short History of San Diego Politics

Speaking of podcasts … our latest episode of the San Diego 101 podcast is in your feed now, and it’s one you can’t miss.

Hosts Adriana Heldiz and Maya Srikrishnan briefly walk us through the past two decades of San Diego politics and tell you what you need to know about what happened to understand why local politics are the way they are. They break down the scandals, policy shifts and movements that led to San Diego going from being a predominantly Republican-run region to a Democrat-led one.

Heldiz and Srikrishnan talk to our very own Scott Lewis, who first started covering city hall in the early 2000s. They also speak with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and City Councilman Chris Cate.

Click here to listen to the new episode.

Environment Report: More on San Diego’s Climate Equity Index

MacKenzie Elmer last week broke down a peculiar result from the city’s new Climate Equity Index, a tool it’s using to identify poor communities that are most vulnerable to climate change as a way of funneling resources to them. A poor, disadvantaged neighborhood didn’t qualify, while its wealthier neighbor did. 

One reason that might be the case, one researcher who spoke to Elmer said, is because the city has so many data sources feeding into its index. At 41 different sources, he said, it’s no longer clear what the index is attempting to measure.

An environmental justice advocate, meanwhile, told Elmer her group lobbied the city to just rely on an existing state tool that other cities already use for the same purpose. But that tool leaves out some neighborhoods in Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe’s district, in part leading city staff to build their own version.

Read the Environment Report here.

Other News

Dems to weigh sheriff wannabes: The San Diego County Democratic Party will meet tomorrow night to decide whether to endorse anyone in the race for sheriff. Several Democratic elected leaders already endorsed Kelly Martinez, the sheriff’s current No. 2, but activists at the party seem more likely to support Dave Myers, a former deputy who ran in the last cycle but lost to Sheriff Bill Gore. 

But there’s intrigue: La Prensa reported that the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the union of deputies at the county, was going to try to influence the discussion with $25,000 of spending. The Democratic Party, here, though, has demanded candidates not take donations from law enforcement unions like this. We asked Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, the chair of the party, whether that’s changed and he said absolutely not. The money sounded like it would be used, he said, to whip votes somehow but the party wouldn’t accept donations. “We don’t take law enforcement money and have not at least since I’ve been chair,” he said. 

101 Ash latest: Prosecutors want to meet with Cybele Thompson, the former head of real estate assets for the city of San Diego about the 101 Ash Street scandal. But the city isn’t sure whether it should pay for her lawyers on that case or not. The city is paying for lawyers for her on the civil side. (Union-Tribune)

In your ears: Our MacKenzie Elmer joined KPBS’ Midday Edition to talk about her piece last week about the potentially flawed approach the city of San Diego is taking to decide which neighborhoods should get a cut of the $7 million it will have to spend to help them adapt to climate change equitably. 

How Qualcomm survived: After 14 years at Qualcomm, Don Rosenberg, the top lawyer for the company, is retiring and he shared some interesting stories with Mike Freeman of the Union-Tribune including how he discovered “a loose thread in the netting around Broadcom’s hostile takeover attempt of Qualcomm.” It’s a pretty good story about how the company survived as an independent one. 

Lastly, It’s going to rain.

This Morning Report was written by Scott Lewis, Maya Srikrishnan, Megan Wood and Andrew Keatts.

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