This summer, while many Californians went to work in their pajamas at their kitchen tables, Vicente Reyes went to work in the grape fields of the Central Valley.
“Other Americans have been able to shelter in place at home, we still keep working,” he said. “And without our work, there wouldn't be any food.”
California produce, meat and dairy gets shipped all over the country and the world. This is why Reyes believes agricultural workers should be next to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“If there would be a shortage of food, then there would be more chaos,” he said.
While doctors, nurses and other health care workers began to receive the new COVID-19 vaccine this week, the state is still actively debating which essential workers will be next in line. Officials are using a framework of risk, equity and societal impact to decide who should be prioritized — meat packers, teachers, those who manage wastewater or electrical supply — and based on discussions so far, they appear to be giving deep consideration to agricultural workers.
Studies show farmworkers are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus than the average population because they earn lower wages that force them to live in crowded conditions or drive to work sites in crowded trucks. There have been multiple outbreaks at Foster Farms’ poultry processing plants in the state. And when agricultural workers do get sick, Reyes says, they can’t afford to take time off work or go to the doctor.
“We try not to, because we would have to pay,” he says. “We just try to walk it out or try to find home remedies to get better.”