7 Observations on Who Killed COVID – Voice of San Diego


Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

Our series Year one: The death toll from COVID-19 has unearthed new – and worrying – information about the people and communities hardest hit by COVID.

The data tell many new stories. But if I could reduce it to just one statistic, it would be this: For every $ 6,600 increase in median income in a given San Diego County zip code, the death rate decreased 10 percent.

Money, in other words, protected people from COVID. It’s not surprising and a moral failure.

Here is a San Diego County zip code map with death rates overlaid. Hover over each of the zip codes and you will see that some affluent zip codes have not had a single COVID death. There were hundreds in poorer parts of the county.

It can be instructive to go through a litany of COVID death statistics. But in the takeaway list, a data point isn’t all that much about data. It’s about families.

At least 4,046 people died of COVID in the first year, according to the county’s death certificates. 7 percent of the time, COVID was a factor, but it’s not necessarily what killed the person. In other cases, the deceased were in their 90s or 100s and family members had prepared to be released before the pandemic.

But in so many cases, people died too young and before their family members were ready to see them abandoned. Many of us have left the worst of the pandemic behind, but for those who have lost a son, mother or brother, moving on is out of reach.

“People often forget what happened last year,” one granddaughter told us, “except for those who have lost loved ones.”

Francisco Rubio COVID 19 death San Diego
Jackie Rubio erected an altar in her home in honor of her son Francisco Rubio III, who died of COVID-19 complications earlier this year. He was 21 years old. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

One of the biggest realizations when our team of reporters was logging the death records was the large number of immigrants who died.

Although they made up only 23 percent of San Diego County’s population, immigrants made up 52 percent of all deaths.

The finding was a bit shocking. The “healthy immigration effect” is a well-known public health trend showing that immigrants in the United States tend to be healthier than the average resident.

But the immigrants faced an onslaught of problems that made them more susceptible to the virus. They speak the language less often and have access to credible information. They live more often in multigenerational houses. They have less access to medical care. They’re more likely to have public jobs.

Among the working-age San Diegans who died, 60 percent were immigrants.

This graphic shows the nationalities of the people who immigrated to San Diego and died.

Research into the level of education also produced terrifying results.

A bachelor’s degree essentially served as an “insurance policy” against death, one expert told us. At the other end of the spectrum, people without a high school diploma were far more exposed than most.

Our latest story in the series examined the occupations for every San Diegan of working age (65 and younger) who died in the first year of the pandemic.

The analysis again confirmed that COVID wasn’t an equal opportunity killer.

Farm workers died most disproportionately, while professionals such as lawyers and accountants died far less often than the average person.

It is unclear why farm workers died so often. Some lived in more isolated communities with less access to credible information about COVID risks. They often lived in multigenerational houses. They were also important workers and unable to work from home.

Filipino residents also suffered more than most during the pandemic. as Maya Sriskrishnan reported.

They experienced the second highest death rate: 120 per 100,000 people. Latinos had an even higher death rate, while the White San Diegans death rate was significantly lower: 38 per 100,000.

The increased risk of death for Filipinos appears to be related to their increased likelihood of working in health care. Of the working-age Filipinos who died, 20 percent worked in health care. The same was true for only 6 percent of the rest of the population.

Voice data also shows that men were significantly more likely to die than women, which was the case across the country.

Sixty percent of the people who died related to COVID in San Diego County were men.

COVID is a virus that is more likely to kill the elderly. So it is surprising that the men who died tended to be significantly younger than the women. On average, 72 men died from COVID. Women were 79 years old.

Other studies have shown that men who have died from COVID are more likely to have chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Chronic illness also greatly increases the risk of death for COVID patients.

Paying attention to these statistics has the potential to lead policy makers to make better decisions about resource allocation in the future. But it’s also important not to get lost in the laundry.

Jayme Mejia, a construction worker and reggae singer, was 43 years old when he died of COVID complications in January. He leaves behind eight children, a wife and several grandchildren. Spending time with his family was his favorite thing in life, say his children.

They went to him with their problems or when they just needed a laugh.

“I don’t think we’re all showing this too much, but it’s really hard,” said his son. “I don’t understand life anymore.”


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