A Year of Life in San Diego Through a COVID-19 Lens

A Year of Life in San Diego Through a COVID-19 Lens

The pandemic impacted virtually every aspect of life in San Diego and beyond. Here’s a look back at some of the major decisions, pivotal moments and dilemmas from the past year and how our region has changed.

A health care worker with Family Health Centers of San Diego stands ready to help patients at a coronavirus testing center in Chula Vista. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the day the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, and, boy, it’s been a wild ride.

Schools largely remain closed across the county, businesses are still struggling to get back on their feet and although vaccines are being deployed throughout the region, we’re not out of the woods.

Here’s a look back at our reporting over the past 12 months, and how our region has changed.

March 2020

On March 3 — the night of California’s primary election — San Diego County Democratic Party Chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy spoke to a room full of supporters as the results rolled in. In the weeks following that day, 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 coronavirus 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

As news spread that the coronavirus had reached U.S. soil, San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten announced at a last-minute press conference on March 13 that schools would temporarily close. At the time, officials thought they’d reopen on April 6. They remain closed. Marten is now President Joe Biden’s nominee to become U.S. deputy secretary of education. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

April 2020

USE ONLY FOR EOY PHOTO ESSAY

To help prevent the spread of the virus, 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 reported, more than 160 residents and staff tested positive for the virus in December, leading dozens to temporarily isolate in county-funded hotel rooms.

After serving more than 4,000 individuals, the shelter is set to close this month. People still staying at the Convention Center are expected to move into smaller shelters nearby. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

USE ONLY FOR EOY PHOTO ESSAY

When the pandemic started, VOSD’s Adriana Heldiz began documenting how low-income workers, who often work without any health or employment benefits, were dealing with our new reality.

She 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 time, the pandemic didn’t just affecting farmworkers; it created a domino effect in the agricultural industry. In an effort to protect vulnerable communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, officials made farmworkers eligible for COVID-19 vaccine shots in February 2021. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

May 2020

Endiya Griffin

As the bizarre school year came to an end in May, high school seniors began 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 once-in-a-lifetime experience. Heldiz spoke to some of those students to learn more about hurdles they had to face to get to this point. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Small businesses experienced a rollercoaster of changes as state and local officials wrote and rewrote regulations on how to operate safely during the pandemic. 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. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

June 2020

USE ONLY FOR EOY PHOTO ESSAY

Months into the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd sparked hundreds of protests across the country — 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 also began to circulate. Photo by Adriana Heldiz  

July 2020

As the Black Lives Matter movement continued to spread throughout San Diego Countyphotographer 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   

August 2020

With students still out of school as the summer came to a close, a new question emerged: When would it be safe to return to school? 

Magnolia Elementary was one of several schools in the Cajon Valley Union School District to offer child care for families during the summer. 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 2020

school

In September, when the new school year began, many parents were growing restless with their students still not allowed to return to the classroom. 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 could not help her daughter learn proper English because she is an immigrant and is still learning English herself. Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran  

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 had tested positive for COVID-19, including a pregnant woman. 

Victor Ray Cruz was the first inmate at MCC to die from 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 2020

Schools again dominated the news headlines in October as San Diego Unified began phase one of its reopening plan.

Heldiz 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, our education reporter Will Huntsberry reported that the plan seemed to have created new inequities. Services are available for students at some schools, but not others. Photo by Adriana Heldiz  

November 2020

Amid all the chaos of the year, we still had another election to get through. By Nov. 1, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters had received more than 1 million mail-in ballots. Cruz-Fejeran captured early voters dropping off their ballots from their cars at the Chula Vista Civic Center Public Library. Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran  

December 2020

December proved to be the pandemic’s worst month for our border region. As cases continued to rise and hospitals reached capacity in Baja California, thousands of businesses across the state reportedly closed their doors for good.  

Further north in San Diego County’s South Bay communities, we spoke with residents, business owners and health care workers about how the pandemic has changed their reality. 

Ana Canales, a child care provider in Chula Vista, said that although she was taking all necessary precautions, there was a constant air of fear and uncertainty among families. Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran 

January 2021

As state stay-at-home orders dragged on, Carlsbad businesses began openly defying rules regarding indoor and outdoor dining. Kayla Jimenez and Sara Libby examined the business’ claims that they were simply engaging in a “peaceful protest” of the restrictions; legal experts and others tasked with enforcing the rules disagreed with that interpretation.  Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

In the new year, we also learned that tens of thousands of San Diegans were struggling to pay their water bills, especially in the region’s lowest-income and most diverse areas. 

City Heights resident Shara Sin told us that once the water bills started piling up last spring, her family switched to eating off paper plates to avoid the cost of washing.  

At the time of our reporting, nearly 70,000 people in San Diego County were behind on their water bills. Photo by Adriana Heldiz 

February 2021

coronavirus vaccine san diego covid homeless

As San Diego County began to receive shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine, health care workers and vulnerable residents were placed at the front of the line to receive their shotsHomeless residents staying at the temporary shelter in the Convention Centerlike Rude Rowe pictured above, received their first vaccines in February. 

Now, roughly one in four San Diego County adult residents has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to county data. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

March 2021

And now, here we are. 

This month, Halverstadt checked in on Mayor Todd Gloria’s pledge to dial back police enforcement efforts affecting homeless San Diegans that had soared on Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s watch. 

Three months into his term, she found not much has changed. Instead, homeless camps continue to expand in the downtown area. Gloria said he’s taking a hard look at city policies before ordering major changes and has asked a national expert to share recommendations. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

escondido schools covid

As more residents become vaccineeligibleperhaps the biggest question remaining is when all schools will resume in-person instruction, and what exactly it will look like.

Bear Valley Middle School in Escondido is one of several schools throughout the region welcoming students back for in-person learning. But other schools and districts throughout the state, including San Diego Unified, remain closed as teachers and officials continue to negotiate the terms and conditions for returning. Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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