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Reporting on the impact of COVID-19 along the border

Reporting on the impact of COVID-19 along the border

Picture of Jessica Bedolla

For my 2020 National Fellowship project, I wanted to cover all COVID-19 angles and regions along the 3000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, including the number of infections, reasons for disparities, multifamily dwellings, the fate of essential workers, the role played by preexisting conditions, and hospitalizations. At first my ideas ran all over the place. But I eventually narrowed by focus to the most prevalent themes impacting my audience along the Tijuana-San Diego border.

One of the most issues is vaccinating workers who cross the border and who were getting infected. More than 100,000 essential workers cross daily from Mexico to the United States to work in San Diego. Members of the U.S. Hispanic Congress Caucus asked Congress to prioritize this group in the distribution of vaccines once they were available. I spoke with one of these binational workers who was hospitalized after getting the virus.

Another topic I covered was the economy in a pandemic and the psychological fallout. The partial closure of the border buried more than 100 businesses and the economy of the village of San Ysidro, California with huge economic losses. Despite this some merchants have persisted. I interviewed a restaurant owner who used different platforms to stay alive. And a psychologist talked about what it means to live with and survive the virus. 

Many Latinos prefer to heal themselves with natural remedies. Sometimes they are afraid to go to the hospital or simply they lack medical services. For my final story, I talked about the myths and realities of healing with home remedies. COVID-19 affects Latinos more than other communities. In San Diego they represent almost 50% of the cases, particularly in areas near the border. And because of lack of medical services or because of fear, they have treated themselves with natural remedies such as teas and skip the doctor. Experts recognize the value of natural medicine but warn of the serious dangers of delaying medical care if coronavirus is contracted. I interviewed a doctor that specializes in nutrition.

In developing these series of stories, I encountered challenges in identifying someone who contracted the virus and wanted to publicly share their story. People were resistant or felt ashamed at the beginning of the pandemic, but as the crisis continued some made it more public, perhaps to raise awareness that this virus was real.  

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As public health officials like to say, "COVID-19 isn't done with us." And journalists know that we're not done with COVID-19. Apply now for five days of stimulating discussions on the pandemic's disproportionate impact on people of color -- plus reporting and engagement grants of $2k-$10k and five months of mentoring while you work on an ambitious project.

Are you passionate about helping journalists understand and illuminate the social factors that contribute to health and health disparities at a time when COVID-19 has highlighted the costs of such inequities? Looking to play a big role in shaping journalism today in the United States? The USC Center for Health Journalism seeks an enterprising and experienced journalism leader for our new position of “Manager of Projects.” 



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