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Omicron Takes Its Toll on Hispanic Essential Workers

By January 11, 2022COVID-19

Remember essential workers? Almost two years ago, we started to see signs posted on lawns and in windows lauding them; banging pots and pans in their honor became a pastime in New York and other cities. Pressure to do better on their behalf resulted in some wins for them, especially for those working in retail: Many scored higher wages, bonuses and even (finally) sick leave.

Fast forward to this month, and much of that praise has long dissipated, even as Omicron has proven to be relentless as it takes its toll. Society has pulled the rug out from under them as many Americans feel entitled to the time and labor essential workers have given to us. Companies have done the same, as shown by their actions – notice how those same stores and restaurants that once freely gave out masks, wipes and hand sanitizer now lack offering them at their entrances?

Across the U.S., Hispanics are among the communities that are disproportionately shouldering the burden as the pandemic refuses to give in.

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It doesn’t help that our leaders are singing a different tune now. New York City’s new mayor, Eric Adams, urged large businesses to return to their offices, saying that “unskilled” workers who lacked the “academic skills” to sit in any corner office. He walked back those comments, but as with the case of many gaffes, they reveal what many politicians believe to be the truth. Further, let’s remember that Adams didn’t mention any safeguards the city would deploy in order to ensure the safety of the city’s essential workers.

“As coronavirus case numbers continue to skyrocket around the country, as long testing lines return, and as the calls and text messages from friends and family confirming positive tests start rolling in like it’s 2020, it bears repeating that it is the Latinx community that will once again bear the brunt of the latest variant,” columnist Fidel Martinez recently wrote for the Los Angeles Times. “We saw this happen in spring 2020. Latinx workers were tasked with keeping the economy going, exposing themselves to the virus that has been so devastating and brutal.”

A recent UCLA study confirmed that among essential workers, fast-food workers – of which there are least 150,000 in Los Angeles County – are at a much higher risk of becoming ill from COVID-19 than the general population. UCLA’s research found that about one-quarter of them contracted COVID-19, and their employers only notified about half of them after a co-worker was exposed. Meanwhile, reported labor violations in such workplaces have increased during the pandemic.   

With many frontline healthcare workers in Los Angeles and beyond becoming infected, the data reveals another way in which Latino families are affected by the pandemic: Latinos total at least 2.2 million healthcare employees across the U.S. Latino health aides alone comprise more than 17 percent of this workforce.

“With Hispanics driving labor force growth in the U.S., this implies that a large percentage of the community is also on the front lines of the new wave of COVID-19 cases,” said the blog BELatina. “And public officials, fearing a new pandemic-related economic shutdown, are insisting that essential workers return to the workplace ‘to keep society running smoothly,’ as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top COVID-19 advisor, told CNN on Dec. 27. These strategies to address the pandemic imply that a large portion of Latino essential workers faces increased health risks during the pandemic.”

Even in areas with relatively impressive vaccination rates, such as San Diego County, the fact that Hispanics are disproportionately working in jobs that expose them to much of the public shows that their risk of becoming sick is still very high. And it’s not enough for their employers to “stand with” them – policies such as paid sick leave, time off to get vaccinated or boosted and products that help prevent transmission of the virus are still very much a matter of life and death.

Image credit: Adobe Stock

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