Gonzalez, a cancer survivor who is diabetic, said that she religiously wears masks and gloves on the bus, at work and on the way home. She takes off her clothes as she walks through the door and cleans her phone and keys with alcohol.
“I follow all the rules,” said Gonzalez. Staying at home is not an option for her or her colleagues, she said. “If we don’t come to work, nobody pays us. The government sent us $ 1,200, but that is not enough. “
“And they also need us,” she said of her hospital. “If we don’t come to work, who will do the work?” “
The pork butchers
Hard work was part of Saul Sanchez’s culture, said daughter Beatriz Rangel. This is why his father continued to work as a meat conditioner at the JBS plant in Greeley, Colorado, even after his 78th birthday. He had worked there for over 30 years. Last month, he was one of six factory workers who died from COVID-19 – the highest number of any meat and poultry facility in the country, the CDC reported.
Like many factories across the country, the Greeley facility is powered by immigrants. Data shows that over 80% of the workers who perform the difficult and messy work of butchering, processing and packaging meat in the United States are black or Latino. More than half of them are immigrants, compared to only 17% of all American workers.
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The facilities have proven to be breeding grounds for the coronavirus. Employees work side by side in sealed sections of the factory on lines that move quickly, gloved hands touching the same pieces of meat one after the other. Social distancing is almost impossible.
Nearly 5,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19, temporarily closing several facilities, including the recently reopened JBS facility in Greeley. Last week, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to keep them open to protect the food chain.
The order ignores a key fact, said Kim Cordova, president of Local 7 of the United Food and Commercial Workers in Colorado. “The critical part of the food supply chain is the worker,” she said.
JBS said it screens all Greeley employees for fevers when they arrive at work and provides tests for those who show symptoms. “The health and safety of our team members is our number one priority,” a spokesperson for NBC News said in an email. “We are doing our best to provide food safely to the country during a difficult time.”
Cordova said JBS is not doing enough. The company still hasn’t tested all workers and said it needs to retrain employees on how to work safely in the COVID-19 era.
“They signed up for a job to work for a company and make ends meet,” said Cordova. “These workers did not register to die. “
At the height of the New York pandemic, sirens roared across the city. Ambulances made more than 6,500 calls. Almost everyone seemed to be a suspected COVID-19 case, said Anthony Almojera, a paramedic at the New York Fire Department.
At one point, about half of the 4,200 EMS employees were ill. According to the FDNY, at least four workers died from COVID-19.
“Then we see our colleagues falling, and the fear is real. You take it home, “said Almojera, vice-president of Local 3621 of the FDNY Emergency Medical Officers’ Union.
More than half of the workers and paramedics at EMS New York are not white and about a quarter are women. They are the lowest paid among the city’s first responders. They make about $ 50,000 in base salary after five years, depending on the city. Some have a second job. The turnover is high.
This financial stress can add to what is already a punishing job, said Almojera, especially during a pandemic, when many choose to be away from their families to keep themselves safe.
“I have members who sleep in their cars because they don’t want to go home,” said Almojera. The FDNY told NBC News that the city has seen a 25% increase in the number of workers seeking help through its counseling unit in recent weeks.
The separation wreaked havoc for the FDNY rescue paramedic, Joshua Rodriguez. At the height of the epidemic, he could not spend time with his friends and family talking about what he saw on COVID-19-related calls.
“I spend a lot of time alone when I get home,” he said. Rodriguez wanted to keep his mind out of the way, so he did what he knows best. He took over more than a quarter.
Farm workers “check live,” Armando Elenes, secretary-treasurer of the United Farm Workers, told NBC News. “They don’t have the safety net like the others. And this cannot be done from home. “They can’t choose an apple digitally. “
Occupational health experts worry about agricultural workers because of not only the job but also the conditions. Workers often live in collective dwellings, sit near vans and buses to get to the fields, and have limited access to health care. Half of them are undocumented, according to union estimates, which makes them ineligible for unemployment or stimulus programs. Many others are in the United States on temporary work visas and may feel less able to speak or request sick leave, experts said.
This could threaten not only individual workers, but also the country’s food chain.
“These punitive policies are putting people in the dark,” said Suzanne Teran, associate director of the occupational health program at the University of California at Berkeley. “It will not get the country back on its feet. “
Nowhere in the country is the virus spreading faster than behind bars. Last week, more than 1,200 staff and prisoners from a Tennessee prison tested positive. More than half of inmates at a California facility have tested positive, with at least 10 staff members infected. In Ohio, more than 2,000 inmates and 175 staff from Marion Correctional Institution contracted COVID-19.
As difficult as it may be to practice social distancing in a prison, it is particularly difficult in institutions as crowded as in Ohio, said Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which represents officers penitentiaries.
“You have 2,000 inmates in an institution built for 1,500. Where do you put them? Asked Mabe. “We cannot just transfer them all and infect other institutions. “
Although the majority of correctional officers in the country are white, the spread in prisons can still have a disproportionate racial impact. Black Americans, who make up about 13% of the American population, make up almost 25% of the country’s correctional officers.
In New York, where around 1,000 police officers have tested positive, nearly 90% of uniformed police officers in the city’s correctional service are not white and 40% are women, according to 2017 statistics. A spokesperson for prisons City officials said that masks are now mandatory for staff and inmates in all public spaces and that common spaces are cleaned and disinfected daily.
The virus has taken a particularly heavy toll on black Americans, who have died at disproportionately high rates in at least 17 states, according to initial data. Experts worry that the jobs people hold mean that racial and economic inequality will only increase as the country reopens.
“Those who can’t work from home include more low-income workers, more women and more people of color,” said Marissa Baker, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the School. of Public Health at the University of Washington. “We are just creating a gap in our society. “