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22 Photos That Tell the Story of 2020

San Diego 2020 photos
Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

Every December, Voice of San Diego compiles some of its best photojournalism from the past year. Some of the visuals capture an issue we worked on extensively, while others capture spurofthemoment breaking news that we did not expect. 

2020, however, was a year like no other. 

Not only were we presented with the challenge of capturing the coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice protests and two local elections, we had to do it simultaneously while all those issues kept evolving and changing on a daily basis. 

That’s why this year we’re taking a look back at each month to reflect on how quickly and dramatically our region changed. 

January

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In January, VOSD’s Megan Wood tagged along as the Regional Task Force on the Homeless and other local officials conducted their annual point-in-time count, which is essentially a census of the homelessness population in San Diego. Former City Councilman Chris Ward (right), who was the chair of the Regional Task Force, helped conduct the count. The census found   [1]7,619 homeless San Diegans living on the streets or in shelters across the county. Photo by Megan Wood 

February

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It’s hard to imagine now, but at the beginning of 2020 students across public schools in San Diego were still attending in-person classes. I tagged along with VOSD’s Will Hunstberry when he visited Tabatha Footman-Robertson’s fifth grade class at Edison Elementary. Nearly 100 percent of students at the school live near the federal poverty line. Yet its reading and math scores beat the district average by double digits. [2] Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

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Meanwhile, Sweetwater Union High School officials were still dealing with the district’s financial crisis [3] that unraveled in late 2018. On Feb. 25, students and faculty rallied at a school board meeting against the district’s proposal to lay off more than 200 employees and shut down learning centers dedicated to struggling students. Sweetwater officially fired Superintendent Karen Janney in September. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

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On primary election night, San Diego County Democratic Party Chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy spoke to a room full of supporters as the result rolled in. In the weeks following that day, Democratic candidates, activists and operatives did what they normally do: They celebrated victories together. We now know that those days aligned with the early days of the novel coronavirus [4] spreading through San Diego, and many in those social-professional Democratic circles may have been infecting one another. Shortly after, Rodriguez-Kennedy announced that he had tested positive for the virus. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

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As news spread that coronavirus had reached U.S. soil, San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten announced at a last-minute press conference that schools would temporarily close  [5]until April 6. Since then, San Diego Unified and most other school districts in the region, are still physically closed but students continue to participate in online learning from home. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

April

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When the pandemic started, I wanted to document how low-income workers, who often work without any health or employment benefits, were dealing with our new reality. I got to know Marisela Monroy Ramirez, a farmworker and single mother, who was struggling to support her family financially because of the pandemic. In just a short amount of time, I learned that the pandemic wasn’t just affecting farmworkers; it had already created a domino effect in the agricultural industry [6]. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

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To help prevent the spread of coronavirus, the city of San Diego decided in April to temporarily house hundreds of homeless residents at the Convention Center downtown. Throughout the following months, there had been just over two dozen confirmed positive cases. But as VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt recently reported [7]more than 160 residents and staff received positive test results in December, leading dozens to temporarily isolate in county-funded hotel rooms. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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As San Diego County continued to increase the number of coronavirus tests it was administering on a daily basis, one thing became clear: The South Bay region was getting hit the hardest [8]. Data showed a great share of coronavirus tests administered to patients in the area were coming back positive. Pictured above is a Family Health Centers of San Diego testing center near downtown Chula Vista. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

May

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As a bizarre school year came to an end in May, high school seniors were starting to grapple with the fact that many would not have the chance to experience a regular graduation ceremony. Over the years, high school graduations have become a cornerstone of American life and a given for some. But for students who are among the first in their families to finish high school, the pandemic had robbed them of a onceinalifetime experience. I spoke to some of those students [9] to learn more about hurdles they had to face to get to this point. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

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Small businesses have experienced a rollercoaster of changes as state and local officials write and rewrite regulations on how they can operate safely during the pandemic. The ups and downs continue today as business owners try to navigate another shutdown during the holiday season. VOSD’s Megan Wood spoke to several businesses back in May, including Kono’s Cafe, where owners were trying to adapt fast to keep their companies afloat [10]. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

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The murder of George Floyd sparked hundreds of protests across the country over the summer — including some in San Diego. Around the same time, video of a local incident in which a La Mesa police officer stopped and violently shoved a Black man before arresting him began to circulate as well. A couple days after, protesters met at the La Mesa Police Department to voice their concerns. The protest was peaceful for most of the day but turned violent as the evening wore on, and it ended with businesses being looted and a woman being hospitalized [11] after police shot her in the head with a bean bag.  Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

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As protesters made their way down University Avenue in La Mesa, an MTS bus driver held up her hands in solidarity. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

June

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The demonstrations didn’t stop in La Mesa. A couple days later, thousands of protesters walked from downtown San Diego to North Park to speak out against racial injustice. The protest began and ended peacefully. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

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I was not the only one documenting the Black Lives Matter movement as protestors gathered throughout San Diego. VOSD contributor Vito Di Stefano captured hundreds of surfers participating in a paddle-out event at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas to honor George Floyd. Photo by Vito Di Stefano  

July

Within the past year, VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt has explored how Metropolitan Transit System’s enforcement can upend the lives of residents who depend on public transit. That includes ticketing Black riders at a higher rate, [12] o [13]verruling doctors’ orders on reducing fares for the disabled [13] and more. Halverstadt and I joined MTS code compliance officers one morning in July to better understand how they interact with riders. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

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Just a couple miles south of San Diego, another city with vulnerable residents has also been hit hard by the pandemic. VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan reported that Honduran migrants in Tijuana [14] are facing an extreme economic crisis, unable to get the jobs they once relied on, and struggling to access food, pay rent and even bury loved ones. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

August

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As the summer was coming to end, a new question emerged: Will students be returning to in-person school? Some school districts decided to give it a try. Magnolia Elementary was one of several schools in the Cajon Valley Union School District to offer child care for families during the summer. [15] But because of the governor’s order that schools in counties above a certain case count must close, the program was not extended into the fall semester. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

September

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When the new school year began in September, many parents were not happy that students were still not allowed to return to school. VOSD intern Brittany Cruz-Fejeran captured a protest outside of San Diego Unified’s headquarters where families demanded that district officials offer in-person classes for students. Natalia Briggs (right) said she cannot help her daughter learn proper English because she is an immigrant and is still learning English herself. She said she needs schools to open so her daughter can learn properly. Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran 

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Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown had one of the highest number of active cases of any federal Bureau of Prisons facility in the country back in September. At that time, VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan reported that more than 400 of the 554 people incarcerated at the facility [16] had tested positive for COVID-19, including a pregnant woman. Victor Ray Cruz [17] was the first inmate at MCC to die from coronavirus complications. To honor his life and speak out against the rise in cases at federal prisons, dozens of protesters held a vigil outside the facility and held up signs of support toward the building where inmates could be seen turning their lights on and off in support. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

October  

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By October, San Diego Unified had begun phase one of its reopening plan. I had the chance to tour Lafayette Elementary, one of the schools that allowed a handful of vulnerable students to return under strict COVID-19 regulations. Soon after, VOSD’s Will Huntsberry reported that the plan seemed to have created new inequities [18]. Services are available for students at some schools, but not others. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

November

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Amidst all the chaos of the year, we still had to get through an election (yes, another one). By Nov. 1, San Diego County Registrar of Voters had received more than a million mail-in ballots. VOSD’s Brittany Cruz-Fejeran documented the days leading up to the election. The picture above shows poll workers at a polling station at the Convention Center flagging down voters to instruct them on the proper voting procedures. Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran 

December

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Speaking of the Convention Center, then-San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer held a press conference announcing his efforts to transition homeless residents staying at the shelter to long-term or permanent housing. Soon after the announcement, the number of positive coronavirus cases at the Convention Center  [7]skyrocketed, with more than 160 residents and staff testing positive, fueling more uncertainty for those who remain to stay there. Newly swornin Mayor Todd Gloria says he plans to keep the shelter open into the New Year. Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran