Florida’s governor has a scapegoat for the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in his state: Hispanic workers.
“Public health experts and aid groups are challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis’ assertion this week that migrant farmworkers are driving Florida’s record surge in COVID-19 cases — noting that state help with testing, face masks and educational outreach has been late to reach agricultural communities.
After DeSantis said last week that ‘the No. 1 outbreak we’ve seen is in agricultural communities’ and followed up this week with statements that ‘overwhelmingly Hispanic’ farmworkers and day laborers were the leading source of new cases, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried fired back, noting that the majority of farmworkers left several weeks ago after harvests ended and that cases are spiking in non-agricultural areas.
But many farmworkers live in Florida year round, and public health experts who work with those communities say the state has only recently begun to ramp up testing and public health education campaigns in agricultural communities, where cramped working and living conditions can fuel an outbreak of COVID-19.
The state health department did not provide data or maps to the Miami Herald to document the incidence of COVID-19 by ZIP code in South Florida’s agricultural communities.
COVID-19 likely has been present in Miami-Dade’s agricultural communities of Homestead, Florida City and Naranja for months, but those cases have been missed by the state’s testing efforts, said Patria Rojas, a public health expert at Florida International University.
The first testing site in south Hillsborough opened this week in Wimauma, said Lourdes Villanueva, the director of Farmworker Advocacy for Redlands Christian Migrant Association. Many farms in that area already finished their harvest, she said.
‘From day one we asked for help for farm workers, none came,’ Lourdes said. ‘It’s always about blaming the less fortunate and the ones that cannot defend themselves.'”
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