Morning Report: Farm and Construction Workers Most Likely to Die from COVID
Farmworkers and construction workers were among those most likely to die during the pandemic, a new analysis by Voice of San Diego reveals.
Out of roughly 4,000 people who died during the first year of the pandemic, a little more than 1,000 were 65 or younger, reports Will Huntsberry.
The new analysis, part of our ongoing series Year One: COVID-19’s Death Toll, categorized the occupations of each of those working-age San Diegans according to U.S. Census bureau designations. The categories revealed disturbing new findings about San Diego’s essential workers.
Agricultural workers’ share of the death toll was 612 percent higher than their share of the population.
It’s unclear exactly why farmworkers were hit so hard. Despite frequently working outside, agricultural workers often live in more isolated communities and sometimes live in cramped housing.
The second hardest hit industry is a Census-designated class of workers that includes security guards, landscapers and clerical workers. Construction workers had the third highest disparity in their share of deaths. They also experienced the highest total number of deaths: 132.
The family member of one farmworker said: “The irony that I don’t think we’ve come to terms with in this community is that the workers that produce this fruit we’re so proud of are relegated to margins of society here.”
You can see our full series Year One: COVID-19’s Death Toll here.
Living In This ‘Fine City’ Ain’t Easy
As the fog of the pandemic slowly lifts, there remains a sense of exhaustion among workers and unease about what the future holds.
COVID didn’t just wipe out lives and communities. It exposed vast material gaps in San Diego, a place where half the workforce was considered low wage — before the bottom fell out.
Public benefits provided a buffer and many people even saw increases in their income. But the recovery has been far from equal.
Multiple polls suggest that an overwhelming majority of Americans have a negative view of the economy today. Jesse Marx takes stock of the labor market in a new column and newsletter that we launched Thursday.
He interviewed three people who struggled to get through the pandemic. One came out of it in debt and is considering a move out of state. Another is re-evaluating his career as a performing musician.
A third has a more optimistic view. After getting laid off, she pivoted to run her parents’ business. The pandemic offered her a crash course in hospitality that textbooks couldn’t provide.
We’re interested in doing more reporting about what it’s like to actually live and survive in America’s Finest City. Feel free to pass along any ideas or personal stories.
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MTS Renews Airport-Transit Connection Discussion
The conversation around connecting the transit system with the airport is heating up again.
The Metropolitan Transit System unveiled Thursday a study it conducted on building an airport-transit connection. Its conclusion? It’s possible, and could be finished in six to 10 years, costing roughly $2.5 billion (the Mid-Coast trolley extension cost $2.2 billion, for comparison).
Unlike the San Diego Association of Governments, though, MTS is focused on the simple solution of building a spur from the trolley system to the airport from an existing downtown stop, like the Little Italy station. SANDAG is still aiming to build a major regional transit hub, which would also connect to the airport. But MTS was careful to add that starting with the simple trolley connection wouldn’t preclude connecting to a central transit hub later. The transit agency said a strength of its approach is that the new line could also pass the airport to connect with Liberty Station, Ocean Beach and the Sports Arena.
MTS’s new study comes along with renewed attention on the problem, after it took a backseat for nearly two years during the pandemic. The airport this week broke ground on its new terminal, which will reserve space for whatever transit solution the region eventually picks. SANDAG recently announced that it’s considering a downtown transit hub as an alternative to its initial preference of building one by the NAVWAR facility in Old Town. And transit proponents are trying to put a measure on the 2022 ballot to raise sales taxes for transportation improvements, which is expected to include an airport-transit connection.
County COVID Hotel Program Ending in March
inewsource broke the news Thursday that the county’s COVID hotel program will end by March 31, leaving current residents worried about where they’ll go next.
The county separately told Voice of San Diego that more than 13,820 people with or exposed to COVID and more than 1,400 homeless San Diegans considered particularly vulnerable to COVID have stayed in county-funded hotel rooms since March 2020. The county previously reported costs for the program totaled $72.9 million through September – and has already sought Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements for a portion of those costs.
The county’s decision to end the program early next year follows the Biden administration’s announcement that it would extend federal emergency reimbursements for hotel programs through the end of March. A county spokeswoman also told VOSD that other county contracts supporting the program are set to expire at that time. For those reasons, the county has for now decided to stop accepting new hotel referrals for people exposed to COVID at the beginning of March. It has already stopped moving in homeless San Diegans considered particularly vulnerable to COVID in hopes of connecting 216 residents now staying in county hotels into other housing. The county told inewsource that nearly 100 people have already received housing vouchers.
Photo of the Week
Voice of San Diego photographer Adriana Heldiz recently visited Mission Bay to capture in images the effects of king tides, slightly higher tides that occur about four times a year, according to California Sea Grant. But scientists expect these tide events to be among the most catastrophic in the next hundred years as the planet warms, polar ice melts and sea levels rise. Mission Bay will be especially hard-hit as the low-lying, naturally coastal tide is already at sea-level and experiences flooding on a regular basis, unless natural habitats like coastal marsh are restored to help protect against such wave energy. Here’s Adriana’s hot take on this cold rush of sea water:
Beyond the scientific jargon, it’s hard to convey how certain actions in our present will affect us in the future. It often takes a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina to get people’s attention. But what happens in between those life-changing events? What examples or visuals can be used to show the effects of climate change?
Take for instance, king tides, which are exceptionally high tides that occur when the moon and sun are aligned in certain ways. In San Diego, king tides can often cause flooding and high surf during the winter months. They also provide a glimpse at what our bays and beaches will look like as sea-levels continue to rise.
I recently went to Mission Bay to take photos of this phenomenon. I was looking forward to getting some sick photos of waves crashing onto bridges and boating docks. But when I got to Rose Creek Trail, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. A San Diego Audubon Society volunteer directed me to a nearby fence and a boating dock which, normally, aren’t covered in this much water.
Okay, so visually it wasn’t as exciting as I hoped. I didn’t see big waves or flooding on streets, but is that really a bad thing?
The answer is no. It’s representative of climate change itself. The effects will be felt, heard and seen over decades. We shouldn’t wait for something horrible to happen to pay attention.
In Other News
- Former customers of Sullivan Solar stranded by the company’s abrupt, without-explanation closure this fall may be able to get help from other California solar companies, the Union-Tribune reports.
- Father Joes’ Villages is on track to open in March an East Village housing project for up to 400 formerly homeless residents, the Union-Tribune reports.
- San Diego’s minimum wage will increase to $15 in January, while the state’s minimum wage will reach that level for businesses with 26 or more employees. (Fox 5)
- A Swedish life sciences company bought San Diego-based Biosero for $165 million, the Union-Tribune reports.
This Morning Report was written by Will Huntsberry, Andrew Keatts, Jesse Marx, Lisa Halverstadt, MacKenzie Elmer and Adriana Heldiz. It was edited by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña.