Where have most COVID deaths occurred in California? – NBC 7 San Diego

COVID-19 has now killed more than 604,000 Americans. NBC 7 Investigates has tracked death rates by county and found a stunning contrast across California. Some counties have reported nearly four times as many deaths from COVID-19 than others.

According to deaths from COVID-19 reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), San Diego County has recorded 132 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s better than the California county average – 164. Riverside County has reported 209 deaths per 100,000 population and Imperial County has reported 323 deaths – the highest rate in the state.

Public health officials say there are several factors at play in disparities in death rates, such as the types of jobs people work in each county and public interventions, such as stay-at-home orders. and mask warrants, which San Diego County implemented in May 1, 2020.

“It’s a really effective intervention because if you get sick, if you wear a mask, you get less virus and you get less sick,” said Rebecca Fielding-Miller, MSPH Ph.D., assistant professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health, University of California, San Diego.

Bay Area counties have reported significantly lower death rates. For example, San Francisco has reported about 57 deaths per 100,000 people. “People are a lot richer in San Francisco,” Fielding-Miller said. She says people who call the Bay Area home are more likely to work in tech, which means they could work from home.

This is not the case in Riverside and Imperial counties. Both regions are home to essential frontline workers and agricultural workers who lacked that luxury.

NBC 7 Investigates asked the California Department of Public Health about disparities in death rates. They told us, “Several factors, some of which are described in the California Department of Public Health equity dashboard, are affecting COVID-19 outcomes among California communities. For example, death rates for Latin Americans are 21% higher than statewide. Other factors that influence health outcomes include immunization rates, income, and housing conditions. The California Healthy Places Index (HPI) is a useful tool for comparing community conditions: in general, communities with a lower HPI percentile have less favorable conditions and poorer health outcomes.

Mixed messages from Riverside County officials

NBC 7’s Alexis Rivas spoke with friends of a COVID-19 victim in Riverside County, who reported some of the state’s worst death rates.

The Riverside County Public Health Department told NBC 7 investigation that the death toll from COVID-19 is grim, but that makes sense given the number of farm jobs, lack of access to healthcare for health and even lack of internet access – getting public health messages across to everyone is a challenge.

This is especially true when you are competing with other voices. The Riverside County Sheriff made national headlines when he published a video online following the December statewide shutdown order. “These closures and stay-at-home orders are downright ridiculous,” Sheriff Chad Bianco said in the video.

Some of those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 believe these mixed messages played a role in the death rate.

“When you have leaders who just don’t show concern, that’s wrong,” Cindy Mendoza-Collins said. “I think it played a role in preventing people from taking him seriously and not wearing a mask. “

Family photo

Morris Mendoza, a community activist from Riverside, died of COVID-19 in January.

Mendoza-Collins’ brother Morris Mendoza was a longtime activist in Riverside. A street bears his name in the neighborhood of Casa Blanca where he fought for affordable housing. Morris Mendoza, 72, died in January. Mendoza’s friends and family say her death prompted many to get the vaccine. A leader of the Latino community, always in the lead, even in death. “He’s going to leave a big void. He still does and I think he always will, ”his sister said.

Imperial County struggles to contain virus

Sergio Flores of Telemundo 20 spoke to the family members of an Imperial County man who died of COVID-19 and heard county officials talk about their response to the pandemic.

As of June 16, more than 2,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Imperial County. That’s more than any other county, per capita, in the state. Jimmy Rios is one of those deaths. He turned 50 shortly before contracting the virus.

“He had recently had a kidney transplant so we all expected him to be with us for a long time,” said his father, Jesse Rios.

Family photo

Imperial County resident Jimmy Rios has died of COVID-19 months after receiving a kidney transplant.

Just five months after Jimmy received the transplant, he and his father were hospitalized at El Centro Regional Medical Center with COVID-19. A few weeks later, the elder Rios learned that his son would not be coming home.

“It was like I wanted to become God and say, ‘Arise son,'” said Rios.


A mural was recently painted in El Centro to commemorate those who lost their lives due to COVID-19.

Rios and the other lives lost to the pandemic in Imperial County are commemorated in a recently painted mural in El Centro. A closer look reveals a few names, including Efren Coronel, an El Centro policeman who contracted the virus while on patrol.

“He loved his community, as a police officer he always wanted to help others,” said his widow, Sandra Coronel. “He’s always enjoyed life to the fullest. “

Family photo

Efren Coronel was a policeman from El Centro.

County leaders told NBC 7 Investigates that they have done everything to control the spread of the virus.

County supervisor Luis Plancarte was chairman of the board at the height of the pandemic. “We started to see all of a sudden that our healthcare establishments, our services, our ambulances were taxed to the limit,” Plancarte said.

“We weren’t getting a few cases a day, we were getting hundreds of cases a day,” said Janette Angulo, county public health director.

Angulo remembers the week in May 2020 when the pandemic completely overwhelmed the county’s limited resources.

“The systems we had in place, the data systems we didn’t have, just to give you an example – we were hand-delivering isolation orders,” Angulo said.


Janette Angulo, Director of the Imperial County Public Health Department

Angulo remembers asking the state for help, but says they suffered another setback on about day one.

“We initially received state assistance for contact tracing and investigation. It was a bit difficult at first for us because we needed bilingual contact tracers and investigators due to the makeup of the community.

As local hospitals became saturated, the state took charge of transferring patients to other counties, as far north as San Francisco. Dr Pedro Colio, who was on the front line at El Centro hospital, challenged this strategy.

“So if you came in with a serious illness such as a heart attack and needed a heart cath lab, but you also had COVID, we had to call the state line instead of transferring you to the nearest heart center, ”Dr Colio mentioned. “So our patients sat in the emergency room for up to 24 hours while their hearts deteriorated with heart failure.”

NBC 7 Investigates has contacted the California Emergency Medical Services Authority for a response, but they did not respond at the time this article was published.

The Imperial County borders the city of Mexicali, which has a population of over one million, about six times the population of the Imperial County. Health experts say what happened in Mexicali during the pandemic had an impact on the county.

“We all have family on the other side and they come to us on a weekly or monthly basis and we do the same,” said departmental supervisor Plancarte.

Colio also correlates the county’s high poverty rates with the high death rate. More people living in the same home are accelerating the spread of the virus.

“Poverty also leads to chronic diseases like diabetes, heart failure, COPD, and these patients, unfortunately, are the ones who will get very sick because of their immune systems. [system] is low, ”Colio said.


Dr Pedro Colio works at El Centro Regional Medical Center

And when the vaccines finally began rolling out in December, Colio wondered how many lives could have been saved if the distribution had been handled differently by the state.

“It should have been distributed based on death rate rather than population size because even though our population is smaller here our death rate was much higher so I think we should have received more vaccines. than we did. “

In a statement, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said, “The CDPH and the Vaccination Task Force have developed a strategy called The master plan for a more secure economy which created a measure of vaccine equity. The goal was to increase immunization in the hardest-hit communities in the state. The metric’s initial goal was to deliver a minimum of 2 million doses to the hardest-hit quarter in the state, as measured by the Healthy Place Index. We have achieved this goal. “

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