Things That Matter

More Than A Million Farmworkers Are Putting Themselves At Risk During The Coronavirus Pandemic And Here’s Why

Spring is peak farming season across the United States and it’s coming just as the Coronavirus is tearing its way across the country – impacting communities across all fifty states. With such a high demand for agricultural workers, thousands of foreign guest workers are descending on farm fields to join a labor force that has endured the hardships of crowded boarding houses, law enforcement raids, and indentured servitude for generations.

But now the workers who are critical to the nation’s food supply will face a nemesis they’ve never encountered.

Because of the Coronavirus, millions of people have been ordered to stay at home – but farmworkers are considered ‘essential workers’ and still have to work.

States like California have told residents to stay home because of the threat of COVID-19, but thousands of farmworkers are still showing up at work — while also worrying that their employers are not doing enough to protect or support them.

More than a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts are grown in California. Stay-at-home orders in California exempt farmworkers as essential employees. But many are undocumented, lack health insurance and don’t qualify for unemployment insurance or federal COVID-19 relief, placing the state’s estimated workforce of 420,000 in a vulnerable position.

So far, employers are doing little to protect or even inform their workers of precautions and protective measures.

Credit: @TomasOvalle / Twitter

According to a statement to NBC News from Armando Elenes, secretary treasurer at United Farm Workers, an overwhelming majority of farmworkers have not heard from their employers. “That’s really discouraging,” he said. “It’s not costing them anything except a little bit of care, a little bit of time.”

“We need to care about these workers that are doing that hard work, heavy work, dignified work, professional work,” said Elenes. “They’re the backbone of the food supply chain.”

The latest Economic Policy Institute report suggests growers “should also provide health insurance and paid sick days.”

Meanwhile, many farmworkers are already considered at high-risk for complications related to a Coronavirus infection.

Farm workers are an ageing labor force facing higher rates of respiratory disease and hypertension: all factors that would put them at greater risk for more deadly Covid-19 complications. And the masks that shield them from dust and pesticides, and that would also protect against the virus, are now in short supply for frontline workers across the world.

If they are unfortunate enough to fall ill with Covid-19, farm workers would qualify for the additional sick leave provided through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the national legislation that expanded paid leave amid the Covid-19 crisis, but most would probably struggle to pay the resulting healthcare costs. Many farm workers have no health insurance.

Organizations across the country are coming to defend farmworkers and demand protections.

The explosive growth of the novel coronavirus prompted one of the nation’s oldest farm labor organizations on Monday to push for new safety standards for thousands of the workers and demand that growers provide medical care during outbreaks.

“If it reaches the agricultural community, it will devastate them,” said Baldemar Velasquez, founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. “There won’t be a safety net,” he told Buzzfeed News.

Velasquez, who founded the advocacy group in 1967, said he is requesting that workers abide by social distancing rules, request isolation quarters if they get sick, and ensure their employers take them to hospitals.

If the growers refuse, Velasquez, who has led farm labor strikes, said his group is prepared to file lawsuits. “These are among the most vulnerable workers in the country,” he told Buzzfeed News. “It’s a national problem.”

The recent stimulus bill passed by Congress could offer some hope to a minority of farmworkers.

Credit: Ariana Drehlser / Getty

Lawmakers signed a $3 trillion stimulus package last week to combat the coronavirus. While the aid will help many families, it excludes many farmworkers.

At least 50 percent of all farmworkers are undocumented, according to United Farm Workers. Even though the government considers them essential workers, they will most likely be ineligible for the relief payment most U.S. households will receive.

The bill does provide that guest workers receive emergency sick pay — but it’s up to the farmers to provide protections, including social distancing and any facilities they build for quarantine.

If there’s any positive out of this, it’s that people may start caring more about farmworkers rights.

The coronavirus crisis prompted renewed attention to farmworkers’ critical role as residents often find empty supermarket shelves cleaned out by people stockpiling food supplies and sheltering in place.

These workers are essential today to the food supply — they’ve always been, but now there’s a new level of light shining on them. If people are fighting over toilet paper, imagine if they had to fight for food.

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Tourists To Mexico Are Getting COVID And Are Shocked They Can’t Return To U.S.

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Tourists To Mexico Are Getting COVID And Are Shocked They Can’t Return To U.S.

Since late-January, the United States has required a negative COVID test from anyone traveling to the U.S., including tourists returning from vacation in Mexico. So, what happens when you test positive while in a foreign country?

Well, many U.S. tourists are finding out the dark side of traveling during a global pandemic as those who test positive for the virus aren’t being allowed back into the country. And they are outraged.

U.S. tourists shocked they can’t return to the U.S. with a positive COVID test.

Even though the government has made it very clear that anyone traveling to the U.S. will require a negative COVID-19 test (at least anyone over the age of 2), many U.S. tourists abroad are shocked they’re not able to return to their home country once they’ve caught the virus.

Korey Mudd, who was on vacation in Cancun when he tested positive, told USA Today, he couldn’t believe this was happening. “It would have been better just to stay home, for sure, unfortunately,” he said.

The hotel initially told him he had to stay until he tested negative, which freaked Mudd out since people who get the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can test positive long after they’ve recovered from the virus. The resort they stayed at, which covers the cost of the extended stay for travelers stranded by COVID-19, eventually settled on 10 days after his first test if he had no symptoms.

The U.S. implemented the testing requirement shortly after President Biden took office.

Since late January, anyone traveling to the United States is required to provide a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination or recovery from the virus. However, this new requirement hasn’t stemmed the flow of tourists from the U.S. traveling to Mexico amid the pandemic, hoping to escape the tighter lockdowns that exist in some parts of the U.S.

But if you’re abroad and test positive, you can’t fly home until you are cleared by a doctor or provide proof of a negative test. Hotel and airline interpretations of the CDC rules vary, but travelers who’ve been stuck say they were told between 10 and 14 days in isolation.

When the requirement was announced on Jan. 12, travelers rushed to cancel plans or shift their vacation plans to U.S. vacation spots that don’t require COVID-19 tests. But the bookings rebounded as some hotels announced free testing and a free quarantine stay if they tested positive and vaccination rates have increased.

Do you need a test to fly?

Travelers don’t need a COVID-19 test to fly to Mexico, but they can’t board a flight back to the United States from the country or any international destination without showing a negative test taken no more than three days before departure or proof of recovery from COVID-19.

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From COVID To Elections, Here’s Why Misinformation Targets Latinos

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From COVID To Elections, Here’s Why Misinformation Targets Latinos

Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

One of the big surprises of the 2020 election was how even though most Latino voters across the U.S. voted for Joe Biden, in some counties of competitive states like Florida and Texas, a higher-than-expected percentage of Latinos supported Donald Trump. One factor that many believe played a role: online misinformation about the Democratic candidate.

Another important subject that’s been victim of a massive misinformation campaign is the Coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing vaccination program. But why does #fakenews so heavily target the Latino community?

Since the 2020 campaign, a large misinformation campaign has target Latinos.

Although fake news is nothing new, in the campaign leading up to the 2020 elections it morphed into something more sinister – a campaign to influence Latino voters with false information. The largely undetected movement helped depress turnout and spread disinformation about Democrat Joe Biden.

The effort showed how social media and other technology can be leveraged to spread misinformation so quickly that those trying to stop it cannot keep up. There were signs that it worked as Donald Trump swung large numbers of Latino votes in the 2020 presidential race in some areas that had been Democratic strongholds.

Videos and pictures were doctored. Quotes were taken out of context. Conspiracy theories were fanned, including that voting by mail was rigged, that the Black Lives Matter movement had ties to witchcraft and that Biden was beholden to a cabal of socialists.

That flow of misinformation has only intensified since Election Day, researchers and political analysts say, stoking Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen and false narratives around the mob that overran the Capitol. More recently, it has morphed into efforts to undermine vaccination efforts against the coronavirus.

The misinformation campaign could have major impacts on our politics.

Several misinformation researchers say there is an alarming amount of misinformation about voter fraud and Democratic leaders being shared in Latino social media communities. Biden is a popular target, with misinformation ranging from exaggerated claims that he embraces Fidel Castro-style socialism to more patently false and outlandish ones, for instance that the president-elect supports abortion minutes before a child’s birth or that he orchestrated a caravan of Cuban immigrants to infiltrate the US Southern border and disrupt the election process.

Democratic strategists looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections are concerned about how this might sway Latino voters in the future. They acknowledge that conservatives in traditional media and the political establishment have pushed false narratives as well, but say that social media misinformation deserves special attention: It appears to be a growing problem, and it can be hard to track and understand.

Some believe that Latinos may be more likely to believe a message shared by friends, family members, or people from their cultural community in a WhatsApp or Telegram group rather than an arbitrary mainstream US news outlet; research has found that people believe news articles more when they’re shared by people they trust.

Fake news is also impacting our community’s response to the pandemic.

Vaccination programs work best when as many people as possible get vaccinated, but Latinos in the United States are getting inoculated at lower rates.

In Florida, for example, Latinos are 27% of the population but they’ve made up only about 17% of COVID-19 vaccinations so far, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And Latinos are relying on social media and word-of-mouth for information on vaccines — even when it’s wrong. There’s myths circulating around the vaccine, whether you can trust it and the possible the long-term effects.

And it’s not just obstacles to getting information in Spanish, but also in many of the native Mayan indigenous languages that farmworkers speak in South Florida.

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