Things That Matter

Farmworkers Are Testing Positive For Covid-19 At Record Numbers, So What Are Officials Doing To Help?

Every day, California farmworkers worry that the pandemic plowing through agricultural hubs will catch them and kill them. They also worry that not working will kill them. Now, there is further evidence that their worries are grounded in reality.

A recent survey – the Covid-19 Farmworker Study (COFS) – points out the grim reality this vulnerable community faces as they work to support the nation’s ongoing need for food services.

California’s farmworker community – now considered essential – is being hit hard by the Coronavirus.

California’s agricultural communities have been hit the hardest by the Coronavirus pandemic. From Imperial County along the U.S.-Mexico border to Fresno County in the Central Valley, these counties are also home to large migrant communities who are considered ‘essential workers’ as they work California’s farms and ranches.

As new details emerge, a grim picture of the virus among farmworkers is emerging. The Covid-19 Farmworker Study (COFS) reinforces the dire warnings that farmworker advocacy organizations made when the coronavirus lockdowns began: The least protected essential workers in the country, toiling under environmental conditions like excessive heat, pollution and dust, are being devastated by the coronavirus, directly and indirectly. 

Now, five months into the pandemic, infection rates are spiking. Fresno County is experiencing 435 cases for every 100,000 residents; in Tulare it’s 472 and in Merced it’s 564. The statewide average: 269.

Though county figures say about 31% of overall cases are in the Latino community, some on the front lines estimate that up to 70% of cases from the recent spike have hit in that demographic, in a region where they account for about 42% of the population, according to census figures. Experts agree that official case counts across the state may be low because of testing problems.

And experts agree that fighting Covid-19 in the Central Valley could be an uphill battle. Many farmworkers live in crowded, dorm-like buildings. And thanks to a hostile government, many migrants are fearful of seeking any sort of medical or legal or financial help. Many of the people most at risk do not speak English and are traditionally hard for government to reach. Therefore, packing plants have emerged as coronavirus clusters in parts of the state.

The state is struggling to get a hold on the outbreak but officials have launched a new program they hope will have an impact.

The recent spike in infection rates within the Central Valley has drawn national attention, and now seems to have the attention of Gov. Gavin Newsom. His administration is dispatching three of his Coronavirus ‘strike teams’ to the region to help local officials track cases of Covid-19, inspect workplaces, quarantine the sick, and ramp up testing within vulnerable groups.

Each team, consisting of about a dozen experts on health, housing, public outreach, agriculture and other fields, will try to contain an alarming spread through the region. Much of their work will focus on the San Joaquin Valley, where agricultural fields and crowded food-processing plants have become fertile ground for the virus.

“If you asked me today what our biggest area of concern in a state as large as ours, it is indeed the Central Valley,” Newsom said recently in announcing the deployment. “We need to do more for our agricultural and farmworkers.”

In addition to the strike team, the state is allocating $52 million in federal money to help improve testing and contact tracing within the valley. It’s also spending $6 million in private donations to buy food and other basics for low-income Valley residents whose livelihoods have been threatened by the pandemic.

But for many farmworkers, despite the risk, they have little choice but to continue to work.

Credit: Brent Stirton / Getty Images

California’s farmworkers have long been one of the state’s most vulnerable communities. Now that the pandemic has ravaged the state’s economy, migrant farmworkers are considered ‘essential workers’ and are exempt from many of the protective lockdown orders, forcing them to risk their health while at work.

Meanwhile, the collapse of food service (restaurants and institutions) has le to the shutdown of farms across the state and roughly 20% of farm jobs have been cut – that amounts to nearly 100,000 workers. Those who are still working have largely seen their hours cut. So for many, they have little choice but to return to a dangerous job or risk juggling bills and going hungry.

On the job, however, workers lack control of their own safety. Fewer than half of those surveyed said they had received masks from their employers. Even among those who had, they had received them once or a couple of times. (Farmworkers generally wear face coverings to protect themselves from pesticide dust, dirt and the sun. More than 95 percent of those surveyed said they are masked in the fields.) 

Social distancing is still an idea, not a reality, for many of those surveyed. In some cases, farmworkers who asked for better protections, such as more distancing in the fields, or hand sanitizer, have faced retaliation. Crew bosses have punished them by cutting their hours or days, advocates said. 

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As The U.S. Expands Vaccine Eligibility Here’s What You Need To Know

Things That Matter

As The U.S. Expands Vaccine Eligibility Here’s What You Need To Know

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Starting today, everyone 16 and older can get in line for the Coronavirus vaccine. This is a huge milestone that has been months in the making after a very ambitious plan by the Biden administration.

But with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine still on pause, many have been wondering what the vaccine program will look like – especially since nearly everyone is now eligible to receive a shot in the arm.

As of Monday, anyone 16 and over is technically eligible to receive the Coronavirus vaccine.

On Monday, every state in the U.S. expanded its vaccine eligibility to include all adults over the age of 16, meeting President Biden’s deadline which he established two weeks ago.

The country is now administering 3.2 million doses a day on average, and half of all adults have now received at least one dose. Additionally, 84.3 million people have now been fully vaccinated against the disease. These are truly encouraging figures in the fight against the pandemic but a lot of uncertainty remains.

Ok but can I get a shot?

Technically, yes, anyone over the age of 16 is now eligible for the vaccine but your access to it really varies from state to state.

Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C., were the last to open up eligibility on Monday, after other states expanded access to the general public over the past month.

If the country’s present vaccination rate continues, 70% of the total U.S. population could be vaccinated by June 17 and 90% by July 25, the New York Times has projected. That timeline will likely depend on what happens with Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, however, as distribution is now paused following reports of blood clots, despite being statistically extremely rare.

So, what’s going on with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

On Sunday, the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci said that he believed the pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will likely be lifted on Friday. During interviews on talk shows, Fauci stated that he expected federal health officials to decide on the vaccine’s future by the end of the week and that he did not anticipate the vaccine being permanently banned.

One alternative to banning is to limit who is able to receive the one dose shot, perhaps limiting it to males over the age of 50. This is how Europe adjusted its strategy following similar blood clotting issues with the Astra Zeneca vaccine, which was created using similar methods.

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Selena Gomez and Jennifer Lopez Are Partnering With Global Citizen For ‘Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World’

Entertainment

Selena Gomez and Jennifer Lopez Are Partnering With Global Citizen For ‘Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World’

Photo via Getty Images

While the United States is as of publication, has vaccinated over 75 million people against COVID-19 since mid-December, the rest of the world is still catching up. Poorer countries, for example, are struggling to procure enough vaccines for essential workers–let alone their entire population.

Luckily, certain charitable business are making it their mission to get vaccines to the most needy. For example, anti-poverty organization Global Citizen has organized a charity concert with the aim of getting COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.

Selena Gomez will be hosting the concert, called “VAX Live: The Concert to Reunite the World”. And none other than Jennifer Lopez will be headlining.

Selena Gomez took to Twitter to announce her involvement in the exciting project. “I’m honored to be hosting ‘VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World,’ ” she wrote.

“This is a historic moment to encourage people around the world to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them, call on world leaders to share vaccine doses equitably and to bring people together for a night of music in a way that hasn’t felt possible in the past year. I can’t wait to be a part of it.”

Jennifer Lopez also took to Twitter to announce her involvement with VAX Live, saying that she is “calling for equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution for all”. That’s a statement we can get behind!

Jennifer Lopez isn’t the only superstar performing. Other acts will include J Balvin, H.E.R., and the Foo Fighters.

Global Citizen has one goal: to raise $22 billion for global vaccinations via corporate and philanthropic donors. They’re hoping VAX Live will bring awareness to their efforts.

“There are 27 million healthcare workers globally who don’t have access to the vaccine,” said Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans to the Associated Press. “I’m 38 years old, and it’s not ethical for me to have access to the vaccine before these heroic first responders and community health workers. So we need governments to start urgently donating those doses.”

Tom Hart, the executive director for another anti-poverty organization, The ONE Campaign, also reiterated the importance of getting vaccine doses into the hands of developing countries.

“Low-income countries not only need this welcome fundraising effort; they need access to COVID-19 vaccine doses,” Tom Hart said.

“The United States has secured over 550 million excess doses that could be used to help end the global pandemic faster.”

You can catch VAX LIVE on ABC, CBS, and iHeartMedia stations on 8:00 p.m. ET on May 8th. It will also be airing on Fox starting at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT the same day. You’ll also be able to catch an extended version on Global Citizen’s YouTube channel on May 8th as well.

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