The coronavirus has impacted everyone in different ways and three public health professors are examining specifically how rural, Latinx communities in California have been affected in a new study funded by the University of California Office of the President.
California deemed agriculture an essential business amid the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning many farmworkers have worked during the harvest season under unusual and stressful conditions. These workers tend to be Latinx immigrants who lack certain workplace protections, further increasing their vulnerability.
“Latinx immigrant families in rural areas pay a triple toll during the pandemic: a higher risk of COVID-19 infection, severe financial insecurity due to out-of-pocket expenses on protective measures, and resulting food insecurity and mental health risks — all with very limited access to safety-net assistance,” principal investigator Professor Maria-Elena Young said. “California deems rural, Latinx immigrant labor essential; however, it does not provide the structural support or relief to preserve their health. Their capacity to provide essential labor does not preclude risk to COVID-19, financial distress or mental health impacts.”
Through in-depth, semi-structured interviews, the researchers spoke with immigrants in Merced, Tulare and Imperial counties about how the pandemic has shaped their financial circumstances, employment conditions, access to health care and other basic needs.
All interviews were conducted virtually in Spanish by Fabiola Perez-Lua, a Tulare County native and public health doctoral student, then transcribed for analysis. To identify individuals with whom they could speak, the researchers sought out community-based organizations working on a range of issues, from farmworker rights to immigrant legal protections.
The study finds that pre-existing socioeconomic vulnerabilities in rural, Latinx immigrant communities have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic as a direct result of workers continuing to provide essential goods and services while simultaneously attempting to adhere to public health safety guidelines.
Young said much of the research conducted so far on the impact of COVID-19 on Latinx or immigrants has focused primarily on urban communities or on Latinx immigrants’ COVID-19 knowledge, prevention behaviors and access to information. This overlooks the potential of broad economic, physical and mental health impacts they may be suffering.
“We hope that these findings will catalyze the expansion of workplace protections and economic relief for rural Latinx immigrants,” Young said. “Additionally, we plan to provide policy suggestions that will, if implemented, improve the health and wellbeing of rural Latinx immigrant families as the COVID19 pandemic continues.”
The research findings will be shared with immigrant-serving organizations in rural California in order to further inform their strategies during the ongoing pandemic.