The Unequal Toll of Covid-19 in California – The New York Times

ENCINITAS, Calif. — The celebratory chords of a mariachi band filled the community center. On seemingly every surface fresh marigold blossoms glowed a bright orange.

And, in this town just north of San Diego, two types of masks were present at its recent Día de Muertos event: faces painted white and black to resemble skulls as well as the more familiar kind — cloth coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The virus we’ve been living alongside for nearly two years has left us grappling with a staggering, unfathomable level of loss. On Monday, the official worldwide death toll from Covid-19 hit five million.

In California, the pandemic has imbued Día de Muertos, the annual tradition also known as Day of the Dead, with particular, painful significance.

Covid-19 has killed more than 32,000 Latinos in California, giving the group the highest death rate of any race or ethnicity in the state.

Naimeh Woodward, president of Encinitas Friends of the Arts, which hosted this weekend’s Día de Muertos celebration, told me, “This year, it’s really relevant more than ever.”

Día de Muertos ceremonies remember and honor the dead, typically around Nov. 1 and 2 — All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar. The holiday, widely celebrated in Mexico, has been gaining popularity across the world and the United States in recent decades, with an extra boost from the 2017 Pixar movie “Coco.”

At the event in Encinitas, colorful candles, painted skulls, fresh and paper flowers, and framed photographs of smiling faces lined tables. These altars, or ofrendas, are meant to entice departed loved ones to briefly return to the land of the living.

I saw ofrendas adorned with mangos, sweetbreads, cans of Tecate and glass bottles of Coca-Cola. Garlands and bouquets of brilliant marigolds further help attract the spirits.

“If you don’t put that picture there that means you forget about them, so that’s why every year you have to remember them so they can come and bless you,” said Beatriz Villarreal, who grew up in Mexico City and M.C.s the Encinitas event. “My father loved whiskey and chocolate, so I put a little bottle of whiskey and chocolate.”

Latinos make up the largest ethnic group in California (they are 39 percent of the population) but their share of Covid-19 deaths (45 percent) is even higher, particularly among younger age groups. The same is true nationwide.

Sixty-six percent of 18- to 34-year-olds who have died from Covid-19 in California were Latino, though Latinos account for just 45 percent of the population in that age group, according to The Los Angeles Times. By contrast, white Californians make up 30 percent of that age group but 12 percent of its deaths.

There are several reasons: Latinos are more likely to have poor access to medical care, work essential jobs that can’t be done remotely and live in crowded, multigenerational homes where the virus can easily spread.

The mortality gap is likely to persist as long as the pandemic does, and may even widen. In recent months, a lower rate of Covid-19 vaccination has emerged among Latinos.

For all communities in California, the toll of the pandemic has been extraordinary, and far more than we could have imagined back in March 2020. Last month, California surpassed 70,000 deaths from Covid-19.

This is a scale of devastation typical in wars and the most horrific of natural disasters. The pandemic has left us with a grief so enormous we will process it for years to come, perhaps on Día de Muertos.

  • Covered California opens: Open enrollment for the nation’s largest state-run health insurance marketplace began on Monday, The Associated Press reports.

  • American Airlines attack: A flight attendant on a plane bound for California was struck by a passenger, leaving her with a concussion and a facial injury.

  • Transgender rights lawsuit: The Supreme Court on Monday declined to wade into a case involving a transgender man and Mercy San Juan Medical Center near Sacramento, The Associated Press reports.

  • Vaccine harassment law: A federal judge has thrown out California’s new 30-foot buffer zone designed to restrict protests at coronavirus vaccination sites, The Associated Press reports.


  • Garcetti aide returns: Ana Guerrero returned to Los Angeles City Hall after being placed on leave for comments she made in a Facebook group, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • New Chargers headquarters: The Los Angeles Chargers are planning to construct a headquarters and training facility in El Segundo, The Los Angeles Times reports.


  • Catalytic converter theft: The number of catalytic converters stolen from cars in Fresno County has spiked this year, The Fresno Bee reports.


When a California pit stop became permanent, they scrambled for a place to buy. Which home would you choose?

Today’s tip is from Vicki Rae, a reader who lives in Sonoma. Vicki recommends nearby Sebastopol and Bodega Bay:

In Sebastopol, stock up on handcrafted chocolate truffles at Sonoma Chocolatiers, then meander down Florence Avenue, where whimsical metal sculptures by the artist Patrick Amiot line the street. On to Walker Apples in Graton, a family-owned apple orchard that gives a glimpse of Sonoma County 50 or 100 years ago. Continue over a forested hill to Occidental and then take Coleman Valley Road to Bodega for breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Quickly stop at Spud Point Crab Company for crab cocktail to go and catch the sunset at Bodega Head. Perfect day.

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

These 12 titles before they leave Netflix in November.

When Gabi Conti went on a date with Daren Johnson at a bar in West Hollywood, she did something pretty unusual for Angelenos: said exactly what she was thinking.

“I excused myself to the bathroom and said, ‘If you don’t start asking me things to let me know you’re interested in me, I’m leaving,’” Conti told The Times.

Johnson found the directness attractive, and upped his game. Later that night, in September 2019, they shared a kiss.

This month, they got married.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: ___ Mahal (3 letters).

Mariel Wamsley and Shelby Knowles contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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