Year One: COVID-19's Death Toll | Voice of San Diego

Year One: COVID-19’s Death Toll

Reporting by Will Huntsberry, Jesse Marx, Bella RossMaya Srikrishnan and Jared Whitlock

Visuals by Adriana Heldiz and Megan Wood

In a new analysis of local death certificates, Voice of San Diego examined each COVID-related death during the first year of the pandemic. The analysis provides new insights about a person’s education, occupation and race – information never before released by San Diego County.

COVID-19 took its first life on March 22, 2020, according to the death certificates – a 76-year old business owner, born in Mexico, who lived in the South Bay. Over the next year, 4,045 more people died related to the novel coronavirus.

The database will allow us to better understand who in San Diego bore the worst effects of the pandemic, from those who didn’t have a high school diploma to people who lived in multi-generational housing.

The median age of those who died, for instance, was 76. But more than 1,000 people who died were 65 or younger.

A comparison of death rates and median household income shows a significant correlation. For every $6,600 increase in income, the risk of death in San Diego County went down by 10 percent.

In the vast majority of deaths analyzed by Voice of San Diego, COVID-19 was listed as a primary cause. But in 7 percent of deaths, it was listed as a contributing cause. In the cases where COVID was listed as a primary killer, many people suffered from chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

This reporting project is made possible with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

The Stories 

Francisco Rubio COVID 19 Death San Diego

A College Degree Was ‘an Insurance Policy’ Against Death

A new Voice of San Diego examination of death certificates during the first year of the pandemic reveals the extent to which the virus disproportionately killed San Diegans with lower levels of education and income.

Jose and Teresa Torres COVID Deaths San Diego

Half of San Diego Pandemic Deaths Were Immigrants

Of all the San Diegans to die of COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic, 52 percent were immigrants, a Voice of San Diego analysis of county death certificates reveals.

We Had 4,000 Death Certificates We Didn’t Know What to Do With

Through a combination of public records and interviews, we took stock of the devastation wrought by COVID-19 and found that it had been far from equal. We expected as much but were surprised by how stark the gap really was.

Gemma Rama-Banaag, a chief nursing officer at Paradise Valley Hospital, hold a photo of her late husband Chester Banaag while he was in dental school. Banaag died of COVID-19 complications on December 2020.

Filipinos Were Among Hardest Hit, But Hidden by Data

Filipinos had the second highest mortality rate in the county during the pandemic’s first year — but that cost was largely hidden because the county reported cases and deaths among Filipinos within a broad category of Asian Americans, rather than breaking them out specifically.

Farm and Construction Workers Among Those Most Likely to Die

A Voice of San Diego analysis reveals that COVID ripped through some working-class professions, even as white-collar professionals tended to be more isolated.

7 Observations About Who COVID Killed

Our series Year One: COVID-19’s Death Toll has unearthed new – and disturbing – information about the people and communities hit hardest by COVID. The data tells many new stories.

The Database

Open the COVID-19 deaths database in a new tab.

The People: by Occupation, Education and Age

Open COVID-19 occupation, education and age data in a new tab.

The People: by Income

Made with Flourish

Open COVID-19 San Diego County map in a new tab.

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