Sunday, July 26, 2020

Many "essential" workers are getting sick, but not all

I seem to be going to Andy Slavitt's twitter threads (@ASlavitt) about once a month for my COVID updates. Slavitt was the techie brought in to fix the Obamacare website in 2013. He stayed in that administration to become a health policy wonk. He's a smart guy who thinks the humans should be able to fix things in the societies we create -- even in a pandemic.

This thread grabbed my heart. I did, after all, work for and with California migrant farmworkers for years. Listen up:

If you don’t know many people who have Coronavirus, its because you don’t know the people who pick the food you eat.

Yes many of the people getting sick are working for us.

... The virus is becoming more predictable. At least until it gets inside the human body.

It goes to big cities where it finds clusters [of vulnerable hosts] until people get their act together. Then it goes to smaller cities. It preys on locations where people are forced together indoors.

Since it will spread anywhere people congregate (faster with poor ventilation without good masks), many who can avoid those places will.

After stops & starts more, bars will close. More masks will be required. People will stay home.

But this is only true for those who can [stay home].

Are migrant farm workers in 114 degree Yuma, AZ picking the beautiful melons we eat wearing masks? One third are.

[Think five workerss] in a Ford F-150 up at 6am to earn & send money home.

Then to Imperial County, to Salinas, to Fresno, to Wachata, WA. Picking strawberries, lettuce, grapes & apples.

In these migrant camps, high percentages are sick. And then they travel from farm to farm. Across Florida, Arizona, Texas, California.

Agriculture may seem a million miles from how you live (or I) & it may not be the first thing you think of when you think of California, say.

But during the “Stay Home” orders, 60% of Californians were forced to go to work. [Many] in agriculture or in related service areas.

Even without agriculture, large portions of the workforce never stopped.

To everyone who complained about the stay-at-home orders, for a large chunk of the [working] country, they would have felt lucky.

Any grocery worker, trucker driver, or day laborer now sick with COVID didn’t have the choice.

... The lack of a humane & national approach means people on the margins suffer first and most.

What to do?

  • Prioritize testing in farm & rural communities
  • Airlift cases from rural areas to bigger hospitals
  • Give resources to OSHA & farms, meatpacking plants, distro centers, trucking
  • Reconsider which services are essential
Nothing works without reduction in cases & more testing. That may require a serious conversation about a harder lockdown.

This is also why there’s no such thing as innocent, harmless cases. Given the rate of spread, we eventually harm others without as much choice.

Often the very people who feed us. /end

It didn't have to be this way. There are examples of companies which have weathered the pandemic, whose executives figured out how to prosper amid disrupted supply lines, whose workers have never stopped working, and nobody has caught the coronavirus.

At the Vitamix facility, a low-slung, tan building common to many suburban industrial parks in Ohio, the long hallway off the parking lot is lined with entries in a poster contest, on coronavirus prevention themes, for the children of employees. “If you get kids involved, parents look at things differently,” said Beryl Blaylock, the manufacturing manager. “When the kid comes home and says, ‘Daddy, why don’t you have your mask on?’ then it hits home.”

Until the coronavirus struck and shut down restaurants, Vitamix focused on commercial blenders, a favorite of professional chefs. For its health-conscious following, the blender held rock star status for its ability to do everything from whipping up smoothies to grinding nuts.

[Jodi Berg, the president and CEO,] is the fourth generation of her family to head the privately owned firm, headquartered in Olmsted Township, Ohio. It has more than 800 employees, including 300 at its Strongsville plant.

During the pandemic, with people cooking more at home, sales for the consumer line have increased, Berg said. The company is hiring additional workers to meet demand.

... Ohio manufacturers with operations in China had been sharing with colleagues how masks had stopped the spread of coronavirus, even at facilities with thousands of workers. But there were shortages of industrially made masks, as well as cloth masks.

So [Charlie Gallagher, vice president of supply chain and operations,] asked a neighbor, who has a small sewing business, if she could make masks for the plant. She could make 300 at $7 each. There was one issue. The only way she could fill the order was by using green-and-white material with a 4-H emblem.

“I said, ‘I don’t care what they look like as long as they keep people safe,’” Gallagher said. And so by the end of March, the plant was fully masked up. About a month later, the company was able to buy commercially made masks.

The plant, which has remained open throughout the pandemic, has had no recorded cases of coronavirus infection occurring at the facility, the company said.

This was preventable.

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