UCLA researchers have found that that California's farmworkers are among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic because of their low wages and limited health insurance coverage.
California employs an estimated 800,000 farm workers, who earn an average annual income of less than $18,000. Due to the nature of their work, farm workers labor shoulder to shoulder, often without any personal protective equipment (PPE). If a farm worker becomes infected with COVID-19, the cost of a course of remdesivir treatment ($3,120) amounts to more than two whole months’ income for them.
Because they rarely have health insurance, in order to pay for such a course of treatment, a California farm worker would have to go entirely without meals, housing, and transportation for two months (60 days). Otherwise, that farm worker would be placed under a great financial burden by this crippling medical debt, which could trap their family in poverty.
“Agriculture and film are two of the top industries in California,” said David E. Hayes-Bautista, a professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health (FSPH) and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, who co-wrote the report. “While the public follows the travails of Hollywood stars dealing with COVID-19, their farm worker counterparts in the state’s economy labor in anonymous poverty, often without health insurance and with extremely limited access to care. They are important to few of us—that is, until we can’t find our favorite food product in the supermarket. We need to protect farm workers, the unsung backbone of California’s economy, whose efforts feed each and every one of us.”
Their work in supplying California’s food and in other essential jobs must be supported. They need to have adequate access to PPE, testing, and public health education, as well as to affordable health care services, regardless of their citizenship status.
“Though additional testing is needed on the efficacy of drugs such as Remdesivir, meant to help COVID-19 patients, such drugs are often not financially accessible to many, especially uninsured low-income populations,” said Paul Hsu, assistant professor of epidemiology at FSPH.