Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers (MSAW) are one of the most underserved populations in the United States. MSAWs are exposed to potential health risks due to their working conditions, such as heat strokes, pesticides, chemicals, and work accidents leading to injury. Besides working conditions, MSAWs are at higher risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart health issues.1 The work of MSAWs is physically demanding as they are required to bend over for hours when picking produce leading to back problems and muscle pain. Among MSAWs, heatstroke is the leading cause of work-related death as they work under extreme heat conditions. MSAWs experience unique challenges that limit their healthcare access, such as isolated agricultural work environments, poor living conditions, language, cultural barriers, and immigration status. MSAWs are of low socioeconomic status and have poor healthcare access; these conditions have been heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic.2 “Pesticide exposures come on top of other widespread workplace problems, including intimidation, harassment and even wage theft. Farmworkers and their families often survive in extreme poverty punctuated by substandard housing and lack of access to clean water, adequate food, healthcare, and education.” Undocumented workers are less likely to report poisonings due to pesticides and seek medical care due to fear for their immigration status or lack of knowledge of resources in their area.3
MSAWs are experiencing challenging conditions in the spread and prevention of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) suggestions for sanitation and maintaining 6 feet apart is often difficult for MSAWs to follow as they live with other families in shared housing complexes and work in proximity of other agricultural workers when out in the fields. Due to their work, MSAWs travel from one farm to another, live in crowded housing, and share common areas with other families. MSAWs also share crowded transportation to and from work, such as shuttle vans or buses. MSAWs can contract COVID-19 due to their crowded housing and working conditions where they work long hours daily.
MSAWs work long hours to provide for their families and it is difficult to take time off work to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Doing so would mean less income for the family as they miss out on work hours in the field. MSAWs may lack computer access, may not have up-to-date information, and may fear getting the vaccine due to safety concerns. The vaccines currently require refrigeration for the first and second dose, making it difficult for clinics to administer the vaccine out in the fields due to the heat. Also, MSAWs travel for work, and if they do receive the first dose of the vaccine, they may not be around for when the second dose of the vaccine is due.4 As vaccines are becoming more readily available, there have been more opportunities to get a vaccine on the weekends or evening hours as well as health centers offering mobile or pop-up vaccine clinics to serve special populations such as Migrant and Seasonal Agriculture Workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed working and schooling for everyone around the world. Children who are not working in the fields are generally attending school virtually and caring for younger siblings at home. Unfortunately, this means children have less at-home support for virtual learning resources (i.e., technology access). Additionally, major consequences of the transition to online learning for children range from poor sleeping habits, unsafe learning environments, mental health, and the amount of time children spend on digital devices (i.e., too much screen time).5
A Community Health Worker (CHW) is a trusted member of the community they serve. CHWs work in both clinical and non-clinical settings and provide referrals to local organizations that assist with health and social services. CHWs meet participants where they are – at home, at work, or out in the community – to better reach participants and meet their unique needs. While their primary role is often linking vulnerable populations to the health system, they can assist in many different roles. Additional roles can include cultural mediation, culturally appropriate education, care coordination, case management, systems navigation, coaching and social support, advocacy, capacity building, and outreach. Due to their intimate understanding of and trust from the community they serve, CHWs have a unique ability to build strong relationships and effectively address challenges individuals face.6
The “Health Force” bill is currently being considered and would provide funding to create a public health workforce tailored to specific communities’ needs. This bill would utilize Community Health Workers to support a range of critical activities: contact tracing, health education campaigns, coronavirus testing, medicine, food deliveries, assistance for those who are sick or in quarantine, and, of course, vaccine administration.7 CHWs are currently performing some of the duties listed on the proposed Health Force bill. For example, CHWs with Migrant Clinicians Network provides resources to MSAWs, such as CDCs printed materials, World Health Organization communications, and COVID-19 materials from the Mexican government.8 CHWs are out in the fields where MSAWs work, providing them with information on workers’ rights related to their health and safety and protocols to follow if they were to fall ill from the COVID-19 virus.