Facebook Journalism Project - COVID-19 Reporting

Facebook Journalism Project - COVID-19 Reporting

EAST COUNTY MAGAZINE RECEIVES $100,000 GRANT FROM FACEBOOK JOURNALISM PROJECT

 

COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund aids over 200 newsrooms nationwide

By Miriam Raftery

East County Magazine has been selected to receive $100,000 through the Facebook Journalism Project COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program.  Facebook announced that more than 200 news organizations will receive nearly $16 million in grants through the program as part of Facebook’s $100 million global investment in news.

Read more about our grant project here.  View an index of our grant works to date, organized by topic. 

LA MESA RECOVERS FROM RIOT ONE YEAR AGO

By Miriam Raftery 

Photos by Henri Migala, Jake Rose, Miriam Raftery, Paul Kruze and Rebecca Jefferis Williamson

June 5, 2021 (La Mesa) – A racial justice protest on May 30, 2020 erupted into a night of looting, vandalism and the burning down of three buildings in La Mesa’s historic downtown district, shocking and terrifying the community.  One year later, however, the city has made strides toward accountability, healing racial rifts, helping businesses that were harmed, and moving forward with rebuilding plans.

STATE TO LIFT ALL CAPACITY LIMITS AND SOCIAL DISTANCING REQUIREMENTS STARTING JUNE 15

By Miriam Raftery

May 22, 2021 (San Diego) – Fifteen months after COVID-19 shut downs began, the state of California will be lifting all capacity limits and color-coded tiers starting June 15, allowing all businesses to reopen at full capacity without physical distancing. Locally, that includes Padres games at full capacity, a return of symphony concerts, festivals and more.

The announcement came Friday from Dr. Mark Ghaly, head of the California Health and Human Services Agency, who indicated the state will largely follow guidelines U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There will, however, be some requirements for mega-indoor events as well as guidelines for massive outdoor events. In addition, rules remain pending for workplaces and some travel limits may be imposed for travelers from nations with high rates of COVID, in accordance with CDC recommendations.

NOT VACCINATED FOR COVID? HERE ARE ALL THE PLACES YOU CAN’T GO

By Miriam Raftery

May 19, 2021 (San Diego) – With over two-thirds of Californians now at least partially vaccinated and half fully vaccinated, many people are looking forward to resuming normal activities. But if you haven’t had the COVID-19 vaccine, you may be surprised to learn that you won’t be allowed to go many places.

These include all cruise ships, many colleges and universities, and some sports arenas and stadiums. Nursing homes and other senior care facilities may require vaccinations before admitting new patients or indoor visitors. Some employers are also requiring vaccines. Even some event planners are requiring guests to be vaccinated to attend functions such as weddings.

Not getting the vaccine is a personal choice, but a growing number of places are opting to protect their customers, workers or patients by banning the unvaccinated. Others are allowing unvaccinated people only if they can pass a COVID test. But who really wants to have your nose swabbed every time you go to a Padres game? Similarly, some places are allowing unvaccinated travelers – but only if you both pass a COVID test and quarantine in your hotel room for a number of days after arriving, which can spoil vacation plans unless you have an extended trip.

So where can’t you go, as of now, if you’re not vaccinated?

EAST COUNTY LAGS BEHIND ON VACCINATION RATES, BUT RURAL AREAS ARE UNCOUNTED

Data raises troubling rural/urban equity disparity in vaccine distribution 

By Miriam Raftery

May 17, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – COVID-19 Vaccination rates in East County communities are significantly below the county average – but most rural, mountain and desert communities haven’t even been documented.  

SUPERVISORS VOTE 3-2 TO BLOCK EVICTIONS; LANDLORDS SUE COUNTY

By Miriam Raftery

Photo, left: Supervisor Joel Anderson organized a press conference opposing the measure

May 15, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – An association representing landlords has filed a lawsuit against San Diego County and County Supervisors, one week after the Supervisors voted 3-2 to enact a temporary ban on most evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

East County Supervisors Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond opposed the measure, with Anderson joining several East County city officials in a press conference speaking out on behalf of rental owners. Supervisors Nathan Fletcher, Nora Vargas and Terra Lawson-Remer voted in favor of the ordinance, which drew nearly five hours of impassioned testimony on both sides.

SANTEE PUTS BRAKES ON COMMUNITY CENTER AND COMMUNITY CHOICE ENERGY PROGRAM

By Mike Allen
 
Photo:  llustration of the long-planned Santee Community Center, via HMC Architects
 
May 14, 2021 (Santee) -- The ongoing pandemic has forced everyone, including local elected officials, to reevaluate their previous plans.
 
That’s what happened May 12 when the Santee City Council pressed the pause button on two long-planned decisions, building a community center and joining a Community Choice Aggregation program.

SANTEE DIVERSITY PROGRAM GETS OFF TO ROCKY START WITH CLAIMS OF HYPOCRISY

By Mike Allen
 
April 22, 2021 (Santee) -- Spurred by negative press resulting from two ugly incidents involving racist maskers inside local grocery stores and later, violent clashes at demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the city of Santee set out to deal with its image as a less than welcoming place for minorities.

LOSSES AND LESSONS LEARNED: LOCAL RESIDENTS REFLECT ON A YEAR IN QUARANTINE

By Miriam Raftery

March 23, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – A year ago, in March 2020, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic.  All of our lives changed as a result of COVID-19, which has killed over a half million Americans, caused shutdowns of schools and businesses, and forced residents to quarantine at home.

We asked our readers and followers on social media to reflect on what they learned from these historic times. What was the hardest part of the past year?  Were there any silver linings? What changes in your life do you think will be permanent?

Here are their responses.

AFTER FDA APPROVES JOHNSON & JOHNSON COVID-19 VACCINE, BIDEN INVOKES DEFENSE PRODUCTION ACT TO SPEED UP MANUFACTURING

By Miriam Raftery
 
Photo via National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
 
March 2, 2021 (Washington D.C.) – The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved a COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson (J&J). To expedite getting Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible, President Joe Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act.

SANTEE SENIORS GET HELP MAKING APPOINTMENTS FOR COVID VACCINATIONS

By Mike Allen
February 20, 2021 (Santee) - The city of Santee is helping seniors who are having difficulty scheduling appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations, creating a program aimed at bridging the digital divide.

CHURCHES ADAPT FOR ASH WEDNESDAY DURING THE PANDEMIC

Story and photos by Rebecca Jefferis Williamson

Feb. 17, 2021 (San Diego's East County) – Some churches adapted their practices during Ash Wednesday during this time of COVID19 and during the whole course of the pandemic.

The Christian period of Lent was ushered in on Ash Wednesday, today, that witnesses the smudging of ashes on the forehead in a symbol of mortality and penance.

Santee United Methodist Church provided a COVID19 safe Ash Wednesday by offering a drive-thru event. Two times, early morning, and late afternoon were offered to the congregation.

Individuals stayed in their cars and were masked. Pastor Jaime Pangman, and his assistant, were socially distanced and masked.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: SUPERVISORS VOTE TO HONOR COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY BY PURCHASING 98 ACRES IN EL MONTE VALLEY, LAKESIDE

By Henri Migala

Miriam Raftery also contributed to this report.

Photo, left: Billy Ortiz and Bobby Wallace, co-organizers of efforts to preserve El Monte Valley

February 11, 2021 (Lakeside) – Thanks to widespread community engagement, San Diego County Supervisors yesterday voted unanimously to purchase 98 acres in El Monte Valley from Helix Water District for $2.92 million, preserving the land for public use.

The action came after the board received a petition with over 2,000 signatures and heard unanimous public testimony in support of the purchase. In addition, some 200 residents and tribal members held a march through the valley calling for the land to be protected.

Supervisor Joel Anderson, East County’s newly elected representative whose district includes Lakeside, initially voiced concerns over the cost and disrepair of facilities on the site. But after the majority of the board voiced support for the acquisition initiated by former Supervisor Dianne Jacob, Anderson ultimately not only voted for the land purchase, but also pushed his colleagues to support additional funds to restore dilapidated ball fields and other facilities on the site.

HUNDREDS MARCH TO SAVE EL MONTE VALLEY: LAKESIDE RESIDENTS AND TRIBAL MEMBERS URGE SUPERVISORS TO VOTE YES ON LAND PURCHASE

Over 1,500 sign petition to save valley from sand mining

 

By Henri Migala

 

Photo: marchers support land purchase to protect land from sand mining

 

February 7, 2021 (Lakeside) -- San Diego County Supervisors are slated to vote this Wed., Feb. 10 on purchasing 98 acres of Lakeside’s  El Monte Valley from the Helix Water District. A petition signed by more than 1,500 people urges them to vote yes, in hopes of protecting the valley against sand mining and protecting it for posterity. (An earlier petition to stop sand mining in the valley drew more than 3,000 signatures.)

 

Former Supervisor Dianne Jacob introduced the measure to protect the land for the public and prevent it from becoming a sand mine. Jacob, who represented District 2 which includes Lakeside, was a forceful ally of the community and the Kumeyaay in their efforts to protect El Monte Valley from being mined. She secured funds and gathered support of other Supervisors to purchase the land, but term-limits ended her tenure before the issue came up for a vote. Now her replacement, Supervisor Joel Anderson, and two other newly elected Supervisors, will cast deciding votes.  

 

To make sure the new Supervisors are aware of the strong sentiments of the community, a “Save El Monte” demonstration and march was held by Kumeyaay Native Americans and people from across San Diego County on Saturday.

STATE LIFTS STAY-HOME ORDER: SOME BUSINESSES CAN REOPEN

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Creative Commons via Bing

January 25, 2021 (San Diego) – At a press conference this afternoon, San Diego County leaders announced changes to allow some businesses to reopen after the state lifted a regional stay-home order. The change comes due to a four-week regional projection that ICU capacity will rise above 15%.  Our County is now back in the purple tier, but with some modifications.

PALOMAR NURSES PROTEST WAIVER OF NURSE-TO-PATIENT RATIOS AS COVID-19 SURGES: 1 IN 1,000 AMERICANS HAVE DIED OF THE VIRUS

 

By Miriam Raftery

Photo via CHEU:  Palomar Healthcare nurses at a protest earlier this month

December 29, 2020 (Escondido) – Registered nurses and caregivers will hold a car caravan from Palomar Medical Center to Palomar Health’s administration building today to protest a blanket waiver of nurse-to-patient ratios approved by the state Department of Health Tuesday. Nurses contend that the change is dangerous for patient safety.

The action comes as the California Office of Emergency Service announced plans to activate a vacant floor of Palomar Medical Center to handle COVID-19 patients. National Guard members arrived Wednesday to complete a buildout of the surge unit begun earlier this year. Hospital ICU units across Southern California are completely full, with zero capacity, currently due to COVID cases that have increased ten-fold locally since early November. CNN reported yesterday that one of every 1,000 Americans have now died of COVID-19.

CA REPORTS 152 CASES OF RARE BUT SERIOUS COVID COMPLICATIONS IN CHILDREN

Cases impacting people of color disproportionately

By Miriam Raftery

December 20, 2020 (San Diego) – Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) has been reported in 152 children statewide, according to the California Department of Public Health.  The rare inflammatory condition associated with COVID-19 can damage multiple organ systems, and may be life-threatening without early diagnosis and treatment.

The news is troubling given the high number of children back in public school for in-person learning. Cajon Valley Union School District, for instance, has had 297 cases of COVID-19 in students and staff since August 8, yet schools remain open. To date, 2.34% of all students and staff have been infected.

APPEALS COURT BLOCKS JUDGE’S RULING, ORDERS RESTAURANTS CLOSED AGAIN

By Miriam Raftery

Photo, left:  Terra American Bistro, a farm to table eatery in San Diego just west of La Mesa, had moved outdoors but is now back to offering take-out taco Tuesdays and to-go Christmas dinners, among other offerings, as a result of the latest shutdown order.

December 19, 2020 (San Diego) – Beleaguered restaurant owners are once again ordered to shut down, after three justices on the Fourth District Court of Appeals on Friday issued a stay blocking an order issued Wednesday by Superior Court Judge Wohlfiel.  The Appeals Court, responding to an appeal filed by California’s Attorney General, found that Wohlfiel acted too broadly in expanding an order in a case filed by strip clubs to also include restaurants, which were not parties in the case.

The state argued that Wohlfiel’s order jeopardized the health of county residents by undermining public health orders aimed at curtailing spread of the disease at a time when the Southern California intensitve care units are full, with zero percent capacity.

Wohfiel has issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the state and county from enforcing COVID-19 shutdown orders at restaurants and strip clubs.  Many local restaurants swiftly responded by reopening for outdoor and in some cases, indoor dining.  But the reprieve proved short-lived; the Appeals Court action means that restaurants are once again ordered to shut down except for take-out and delivery services.

5,000 BODY BAGS SENT TO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COUNTIES INCLUDING SAN DIEGO AS REGIONAL ICU CAPACITY DROPS TO JUST 1.7%

UPDATE DEC. 18, 2020:  The ICU capacity for Southern California has dropped to zero, meaning ICU beds are 100% full as some local hospitals are diverting ambulances, delaying treatment for critically ill patients.

 

Grim news offsets relief over arrival of first 28,000 vaccine doses locally

By Miriam Raftery

Photo via Governor’s office:  These medical workers are among the first in California to be vaccinated with the newly arrived COVID-19 vaccine. 

December 15, 2020 (San Diego) – With the COVID-19 death toll spiking and hospital ICU capacity dropping to just 1.7% in Southern California, the state has ordered 60 refrigerated storage units to use as makeshift morgues. In addition, 5,000 body bags have been distributed to San Diego, Los Angeles and Inyo Counties, Governor Gavin Newsom announced today.

NO ROOM IN THE ICU FOR CENTRAL CALIFORNIANS; SOUTHERN CA ICU AVAILABILITY DROPS TO 5.3%

By Jonathan Goetz

Photo: ICU medical worker, via Bing

December 13, 2020 (California) – The San Joaquin Valley region in Central California, comprised of Calaveras, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Benito, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare, and Tuolumne counties, had zero available ICU beds, as of Saturday, 16 days after Thanksgiving. Only one day prior, according to the California Department of Public Health, that figure had been 4.5%.

The Southern California region's ICU availability is at 5.3%, according to ECM News Partner 10News.

At this rate, San Diego and Los Angeles may have no ICU availability as early as Tuesday.

REGION’S ICU CAPACITY DROPS TO 7.7%; SOME LOCAL HOSPITALS ARE NEARLY FULL

By Miriam Raftery

December 11, 2020 (San Diego) – San Diego County reported 2,040 cases on Dec. 9, as the availability of ICU beds (ICU capacity) in the Southern California region dropped to just 7.7%.  While San Diego still has just over 20% of ICU beds available, Orange and Imperial Counties are at or near capacity, meaning patients may be turned away or diverted to hospitals in adjacent counties, further stressing San Diego’s medical care system.

Nationwide, at least 200 hospitals are at full capacity and a third are nearly out of ICU beds, with over 90% of ICU beds occupied, CNN reported Dec. 10, based on data from the  US Department of Health and Human Services.

A database now available to the public now shows capacity of all hospitals in San Diego County. Although it does not list ICU beds, it does reveal that some hospitals are filling up. Sharp Hospital in Chula Vista has 93% of its adult inpatient beds in use (just 7% available); Palomar Medical Center has 91% in use, Sharp Grossmont Hospital and UCSD Medical Center each have 85% of all beds for adult inpatients occupied.

COVID CASES CONTINUE TO CLIMB, ICU BED AVAILIBILITY DROPS

By Miriam Raftery

December 8, 2020 (San Diego) – Nearly 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 (1,998) were reported yesterday in San Diego County, two days after an all-time record of 2,287 cases were found.  A month ago, cases hovered around 500 cases a day.  Equally concerning, the region’s ICU bed capacity has dropped to just 10.9% across all Southern California counties.

In San Diego County, intensive care unit (ICU ) bed capacity in hospitals is 24%, above the state’s 15% threshold for regions to shut down. That’s prompted objections from many San Diego County business owners and politicians over state health officials lumping our county in with others that have lower ICU availability and may be doing less to contain the virus, such as not enforcing masking and social distancing mandates.

But ICU beds aren’t the only measurement.  It takes specially trained nurses to staff an ICU unit, where critically ill patients may be placed on ventilators  and must be closely monitored.  Across the U.S., there is a shortage of medical personnel including ICU nurses, a shortfall compounded by medical personnel taking time off to quarantine or in some cases, ill after contracting COVID-19 themselves. That's resulting in some patients in critical condition from other illnesses or accidents being transferred hundreds of miles for care and has led to triaging of patients in some areas to determine who may receive ICU beds or ventilators, putting some vulnerable patients at higher risk.

BUSINESS OWNERS, HEALTHCARE AND POLITICAL LEADERS SHARE VIEWS ON NEW COVID-19 SHUTDOWNS

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Prete-a-Porter Salon & Spa in La Mesa moved outside during the last shutdown, but this time, salons are ordered to close completely. 

December 6, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – Healthcare leaders, business owners and public officials are offering mixed reactions to the state’s latest stay-home order and business shutdowns prompted by Southern California dropping below 15% ICU bed availability. 

RACIAL DISPARITIES IN BLACK OWNERSHIP WORKSHOP DISCUSSES REDLINING, TIPS FOR BLACK HOMEOWNERS AND YOUNG HOMEOWNER HOPEFULS

 

By Briana Gomez

 

December 3, 2020 (San Diego) -- A workshop on Racial Disparities in Black Ownership took place over Zoom on December 1.

 

“When someone buys a home and they preserve that home and they stay in that home, what is the ultimate ownership?” asked Reverend Shane Harris of the People’s Alliance for Justice, who moderated and hosted the forum in collaboration with the San Diego Union Tribune. 

 

Speakers included Bishop Craig Worsham, NAREB National Director of Faith and Community Partnerships; Rod Watson of Watson Group-Keller Williams, Beverly Hills; Justin Flisher of Keller Williams, La Jolla; Sheri Jones of SAKK Realty; and Lora Washington, NAREB Civic Engagement Chair.

STATE ORDERS CURFEW NOV. 21-DEC. 21 AS COVID SURGES; COUNTY SHERIFF CRACKS DOWN ON VIOLATIONS INCLUDING IN EL CAJON, DESPITE MAYOR'S HANDS-OFF STANCE

 

By Miriam Raftery

Chart via San Diego County: Surging COVID cases increase stress on healthcare system

November 19, 2020 (San Diego) – California’s Department of Public Health today issued a curfew Nov. 21-Dec. 21 aimed at reducing spread of COVID-19 as cases surge statewide. The County also announced beefed up enforcement efforts, with many cease and desist orders issued in East County, including El Cajon despite the Mayor's pledge not to enforce health rules.

What the curfew impacts

The limited stay home order applies in Purple Tier counties including San Diego. Between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., the order prohibits gatherings with people not in your household either on your property or elsewhere. 

Non-essential businesses must cease operations during the curfew; only activities defined as “critical infrastructure” (COVID19.ca.gov Essential Workforce) may continue.

The curfew does not prohibit individuals or people in the same household from leaving their residence, as long as they don’t interact with people from other households. You can walk your dog, exercise alone or with those in your household, ride your horse, and travel for essential purposes such as medical visits, picking up food or going to the pharmacy. The curfew also does not apply to people who are homeless.

COUNTY CRACKS DOWN ON BUSINESSES AND CHURCHES VIOLATING HEALTH ORDERS AS LOCAL CASE RATE TRIPLES

By Miriam Raftery

November 17, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – New COVID-19 cases in San Diego have broken all-time records the past two days, at 1,087 and 833 on Nov. 14 and 15.  

The County yesterday announced that it has issued cease and desist letters to 10 businesses and churches caught in “blatant and willful” violations of purple Tier orders banning indoor operations for worship services, restaurants and gyms, according to Greg Cox, Chair of the County Board of Supervisors.  The County has also sent letters to all regional mayors urging help to enforce public health orders.

But El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells has thus far defiantly told media outlets that his police will not prioritize enforcement.

SOME CHURCHES AND RESTAURANTS FLOUT RULES, OTHERS COMPLY AS PURPLE TIER SHUTDOWNS COMMENCE

 

Story and photos by Jake Rose

Miriam Raftery contributed to this report

 

Photos, left: Parishioners at Skyline Church flock to indoor services, many without masks

November 15, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- Skyline Church in the unincorporated area of La Mesa and Shadow Mountain in El Cajon had full parking lots for Sunday morning services, despite new Purple Tier restrictions now in effect throughout the county.

Purple tier restrictions started at midnight Saturday, due to rising numbers of Covid-19 cases. Purple tier, or Tier 1, is the most restrictive level for California and comes into play when positive tests exceed 8%. Many non-essential business operations must close, places of worship, restaurants and gyms must move all activity outdoors, and retail must cut capacity to 25%.

With businesses already struggling after the initial lockdown followed by an overall slowdown due to the public’s worry about the coronavirus, this second lockdown has some businesses and places of worship around East County flouting the new restrictions.

COUNTY RELEASE DATA ON COVID-19 EXPOSURE SETTINGS: RESTAURANTS AND RETAIL TOP LIST

By Miriam Raftery

Photo:  shopping online may be safer than in retail and grocery stores, which account for 8.8% of cases countywide since June.  Photo CC by SA

November 13, 2020 (San Diego) – After repeated pressure from media to release more information on which locations pose the highest risks of COVID, San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Department has released new data on potential exposure settings. 

OWNERS CALL FOR AID TO MOVIE THEATERS IN LAME DUCK SESSION CONGRESS

By Miriam Raftery

November 12, 2020 (Washington D.C.) -- The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) this week called for Congress and the Trump administration to act now to save local movie theaters devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic by passing relief legislation. According to a press release issued by the organization, 96% of movie theaters have reported over 70% in losses in 2020. 

NEW SHUTDOWNS START SATURDAY AS STATE MOVES COUNTY INTO PURPLE TIER

Chamber of Commerce calls on Congress to pass federal stimulus aid to save jobs and businesses

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Creative Commons image by SA via Bing

November 10, 2020 (San Diego) – The state has moved San Diego County into the most restrictive level, the Purple Tier, after the county’s COVID-19 case rate exceeded 7 cases per 100,000 residents for a full two weeks, soaring as high as 8.9.  To limit spread of the virus, the region must stop indoor operations at restaurants, gyms, churches and movie theaters starting Sat., Nov. 14. Retailers will need to keep customers at 25% of capacity.

“If we don’t continue to take proven, preventive precautions, we won’t be able to get out of the Purple Tier and loosen restrictions,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the County public health officer. “The key to decreasing cases is wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, avoiding gatherings and following other public health recommendations.”  She added, “We understand that people have COVID fatigue, but we have to do what we know works.”

The County will remain in the Purple Tier for at least three weeks. It won’t be able to advance to the Red Tier unless it posts a case rate below 7 cases per 100,000 residents two weeks in a row.

San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerry Sanders, in a statement on the new shutdown orders, said, “Small businesses, which account for more than 90% of the businesses in San Diego County, have shouldered the bulk of the impact in the struggle to contain the spread of COVID-19. The toll this health crisis is having on small business is overwhelming and every day more small businesses are not able to survive the closures and changing restrictions on their operations."

Pages