Health and economic disparities continue to impact coronavirus hotspots


A few meters from Isabel Espinoza’s Langley Park apartment, this area shows the traces of labor in this working-class immigrant neighborhood. Story brick building, their jeans were stained with paint.

Then Espinoza pointed to the window.

“People were kicked out there,” said Espinoza, her right index finger pointing to the apartment complex across from her.

“She’s having lingering Covid-19 symptoms now,” she continued, moving her finger slightly to the left.

Her fingers moved up. “He contracted the virus and spent last Christmas and New Year hiding in the basement thinking he was going to die. He even called the kids to say goodbye,” she said.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit in March 2020, thousands of frontline workers like our neighbors in Espinoza became essential. Caring for the sick, cleaning schools, packing and delivering supplies, picking produce, and processing food that reaches the tables of millions of Americans. In many cases, as they worked in close proximity and without adequate personal protective equipment, the coronavirus spread, turning communities into deadly virus hotspots.

Nearly two and a half years later, hot spots like Langley Park in Prince George’s County and areas around poultry processing plants on the East Coast are still suffering from the economic and health impacts.

“The situation here is that we haven’t recovered,” said one diabetic who puts her at high risk of complications from the coronavirus, but has risked her health to care for her sick neighbor. 55-year-old Espinoza said.

During the first wave of coronavirus, zip code 20783, which includes the Langley Park neighborhood where Espinoza lived for more than 20 years, had the highest infection rate in the state, with 2,671 cases by August 2020.

Coronavirus remains a problem in the region — as of Thursday, there were 9,173 Maryland Department of Health data shows cases in ZIP Code 20783 — but cases may be undercounted because they have had coronavirus multiple times but have not sought medical care or testing . His 70% of the population in this zip code has received at least one dose of the coronavirus her vaccine, but some neighborhood residents are still hesitant or fearful of a second dose or booster. It says it does.

Families in these regions have long endured health and economic inequalities. That’s why advocates like Michelle LaRue, senior manager of health and science at CASA de Maryland, reached out directly to communities at the start of the pandemic to hit.Volunteer health promoters or networks of promoters, Led community outreach initiatives to provide information on coronavirus vaccines and food pantries, and assisted in applying for rental assistance and health benefits.

Despite these efforts, supporters and families said longstanding problems had worsened since the start of the pandemic. Many people are out of work or working less hours, and more are facing housing insecurity. access remains a challenge.

“The recovery phase of the pandemic will be the longest and slowest,” LaRue said. I think people would have weathered the storm much better if they had, and we didn’t have that luxury much in our community, and we still don’t.”

Strong coronavirus relief programs including direct cash payments, eviction protection, rising unemployment and sick leave It prevented many people from falling further into poverty, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank that analyzes the impact of federal and state budgetary policies. But those perks have expired or are about to expire as the pandemic plunges into his third year. And many families were unable to take advantage of these benefits because of their immigration status.

Such is the case with Nidia Navarro, who lost her job cleaning her house early in the pandemic.

First, she said, there were hardly any jobs until they were gone. Navarro wasn’t on paperwork, so she wasn’t eligible for unemployment benefits. Lost income also meant less money to buy food, clothing and school supplies for my three children, and less money to buy medicine to treat my diabetes.

“We stopped buying medicine to pay our electricity bill,” said Navarro, who has no insurance.

Since then, life for Navarro and her family has been a never-ending battle. Earlier this year, Navarro’s husband Carlos Gomez was diagnosed with kidney failure. Mr. Navarro is taking care of him. He was on his dialysis three times a week and passed out while climbing stairs. She has not yet been able to return to her job. Both are currently unemployed.

“I’m worried about paying rent this month,” Navarro said at the end of July. “How do you pay?”

Rep. Jocelyn A. Peña-Melnik (D-Prince George), chairman-elect of the state House of Representatives Health and Government Steering Committee, said in an interview that the solution to expanding health care for the uninsured He said he was working on finding it. Her 4% of Maryland residents she said are undocumented.

During this year’s legislative session, Peña Melnik introduced a bill to expand Medicaid for immigrants regardless of immigration status, but the bill never left the commission. Another bill she wrote, which would allow undocumented pregnant women to access Medicaid, was successful.

“I had to decide which one to prioritize,” Peña Melnik said. “We will try again next year.”

In Prince George’s County, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, designed to help families with rent arrears, has not been accepting new applications since December. County officials said they closed the application portal to address the backloged applications they received.

“If additional funding is provided by state and federal partners, we will evaluate whether the portal can be reopened to new applicants,” Jose C. Souza, assistant secretary for economic development, said in an email. I was.

As of May, an estimated 14% of Maryland renters are behind on their rent. Half of them are unemployed, 82% He is on a low income, according to a Maryland Food Bank report released last month.

On a recent Saturday morning at Princess Anne of County Somerset, a coalition of community organizations, volunteers and local health officials came together to help a particularly vulnerable population living in the most remote areas of the East and Lower Coasts: food processing workers. supported.

“Is it difficult to schedule or book vaccinations?” Ricardo Ortiz, an activist for migrant rights group Centro de los derechos del Migrante (CDM), said poultry workers I asked

Of the options presented, Rosalva Rojas, from Guerrero, Mexico, who works on a chicken farm at Mountaineer Farms, said, “I totally agree.”

Meat processing workers have become vital in preventing disruptions to the food supply chain during the worst of the pandemic. They were doing meat, crab chopping, deboning and packing.

In May 2020, Governor Larry Hogan (R) announced poultry workers for Maryland’s Eastern Shore. With 279 registered cases, Salisbury on the east coast is on the national list of coronavirus hotspots. Group work, lack of protective equipment and inadequate workplace ventilation were key factors in the spread of the virus endangering these workers, advocates say.

Community Organizations, Volunteers and Local Health Departments Are Coming Together, we will form the Lower Shore Vulnerable Populations Task Force to address health disparities and connect residents to critical services in their communities. The coalition holds events three weekends a month in Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset counties to help low-income residents, including poultry and farm workers, who are mostly foreign, to collect health data, vaccines, and vaccines. We provide coronavirus testing, rental assistance, food, and translation services.Born and speak a language other than English.

Richard Hutson, bilingual program and outreach coordinator for Tri Community Mediation, a non-profit organization part of the task force, said:

Advocates said they were concerned about the lack of up-to-date health regulations at work and the lack of policies guaranteeing paid sick leave for those who continue to contract the coronavirus. The Food and Farm Workers Protection Coalition called on the Hogan administration to properly track coronavirus case data in seasonal food and farm workers in the poultry industry and migrant workers.

“Current data collection masks transmission in the meat and poultry processing industry, a hotspot for covid-19 nationally,” says community outreach for Maryland CATA’s Farm Workers Assistance Committee. Organizer Lay Laborero Cruze said.

A study evaluating poultry, seafood, and meat workers during the pandemic, released in December in Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware, found that about 1 in 6 workers surveyed will have It was shown that they reported having been diagnosed with or suspected of having coronavirus during the first week of infection from March. May 2021. Immigrants and immigrant workers were eight times more likely than U.S.-born workers to be diagnosed with or suspected of contracting the virus during that time. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of employees reported that he was working within six feet of others.

Community efforts have proven successful, but community health care initiatives always face financial uncertainty, proponents said. The CDM, part of the task force, has his five-year cooperation agreement with the CDC to assess workplace risks and concerns during the pandemic in this area, but funding is not necessarily guaranteed. said CDM’s girlfriend Julia Coburn. Director of Health Initiatives.

“There was an influx of covid funding during the pandemic, but much of it is starting to run out,” Cobain said. “We are in a great position to continue this work for the long term, but we cannot do so without funding.”

Fully vaccinated rates are below statewide rates in these three counties, and coronavirus infections remain high in early August. hasn’t left us,” said Amy Liebman, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Immigration Clinician Network.

“We have an increasing rate of domestic violence, STDs and an immunization gap between children and adults. Denise Smith, executive director of Community Health Workers said, “This is the perfect storm and the community is going to suffer.”

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