The price of being ‘essential’: Latino service workers bear brunt of coronavirus

The price of being ‘essential’: Latino service workers bear brunt of coronavirus


Certified nursing assistant Rosa Arenas has been home quarantining since May 2 after testing positive for COVID-19 at her apartment in Orange. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)



For Lupe Martinez, who does the laundry at a Riverside nursing home, each day presented an agonizing choice: Go to work and risk getting the novel coronavirus or lose the $13.58-an-hour paycheck her family relies upon.

Martinez went to work.

Even after the masks started running low. Even, she said, after a patient whose room she had entered without protective equipment fell ill and was put into isolation.

Martinez, 62, tested positive for COVID-19 last month, followed by her 60-year-old husband, who had to stop working after having a heart attack last year. Her adult son and daughter, who live with them, also tested positive.

“There were many times I didn’t want to go to work,” said Martinez, coughing heavily as she spoke. “I didn’t want to get sick. My husband said, ‘Don’t.’ I said we can’t live. We have these bills. … I had to push myself to go. I had a commitment to my family.”

For low-paid employees whose work is rarely if ever glorified — the people who clean the floors, do the laundry, serve fast food, pick the crops, work in the meat plants — having the jobs that keep America running has come with a heavy price. By the odd calculus wrought by the viral outbreak, they have been deemed “essential.” And that means being a target.

Rafael Saavedra is a truck driver whose pay has been cut.

Rafael Saavedra at his home in Alhambra. The truck driver, whose pay has been cut in half, fears infecting his daughters at home.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Along with blacks, Latinos have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic in California and other parts of the United States, becoming infected and dying at disproportionately high rates relative to their share of the population. Health experts say one of the main reasons Latinos are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 is because many work in low-paying jobs that require them to leave home and interact with the public.

Latinos comprise about 40% of California’s population but 53% of positive cases, according to state data. In San Francisco, Latinos comprise 15% of the population but make up 43% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Saturday.

UC San Francisco researchers tested thousands of people in the city’s Mission District for COVID-19. While Latinos made up 44% of the people tested, they accounted for more than 95% of the positive cases. About 90% of those who tested positive said they were unable to work from home.


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May 17, 2020, 6 AM Published at

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