Today as I enjoyed a wonderful meal and caught up on Netflix, I started to think about how privileged many of us are. Being able to stay at home, work from home, enjoy a warm meal, and sleep in the comfort of my bed are just some of the things I can be grateful for. Sometimes, we can take for granted how lucky we are to be able to live through this pandemic from home.
For the last two months we have seen how the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has impacted the world. The death toll and thousands of people getting infected is beyond imaginable. It seems like we are living a scene from a horror movie… particularly for essential workers who must risk exposure to the virus even while they themselves don’t have access to reliable medical care. Can you imagine coming down with COVID when you’re uninsured? Or fearing that you might have the virus, but being unable to get tested due to lack of proper transportation? Can you imagine being too scared to go to the hospital because you’re afraid you could be deported? Or could you visualize testing positive for COVID-19 and then not having someone to look after your children? These are just some of things I think about, as they are the things many farmworkers are facing every day.
Some of us are laying back waiting for the stimulus check to arrive, perhaps even complaining about staying at home, while many essential workers are giving it all for us. Unfortunately, farmworkers don’t have much choice other than to work in the fields to harvest the food we enjoy daily, since they have been designated as “essential workers” by the Department of Homeland Security.
Farmworkers are already exposed to dangerous chemicals that can trigger health problems, including respiratory aggravations that cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses. With limited PPE available for these workers (since more is being dedicated to hospitals these days), their chances of contracting the virus and dying from it are higher than ever before. The fact that farmworkers travel and live in crowded settings puts them and the food system at great risk.
In addition, farmworkers are already challenged by many other factors like immigration status, poverty, language barriers, and more. A vast number of farmworkers in the U.S. are undocumented. And, although considered “essential,” they will most likely be ineligible for the relief payments most U.S. households will receive.
In our recent #LiveThursday streamed on Children In the Fields Campaign Facebook page, we learned that agricultural employers around the country are making an effort to take sanitary precautions, give farmworkers basic coronavirus information, and implement health and safe practices to keep farmworkers from contracting COVID-19.
But, is this enough to protect workers and employers? What is the government doing to help growers protect and relieve agricultural workers? Although the CDC stated that the virus isn’t likely to be passed through the food supply chain, many initial assumptions about this virus have been proven wrong, so how sure are we that more outbreaks won’t be caused in this manner? These are just a few questions that I reflect on, on a daily basis. Regardless of immigration status, shouldn’t ALL “essential workers” be eligible to receive the relief from the stimulus package? After all, farmworkers are ones making sure we eat. Wouldn’t it be just the right thing to do?
While we look for the answers to all these questions, let’s make sure that we do our part by staying home and counting our blessings, because there are many on the front lines who wish they were in our position. Let’s not be that generation that was asked to do their part by doing nothing, and fails even at that. It is my responsibility and yours to heed the experts’ advice so everyone can have a better chance at staying safe and healthy.
From the bottom of our hearts, we thank all the first responders and every single person that is keeping our world moving, especially farmworkers.