Please support our programs

The Pandemic, Loss and Racial Inequity

Never miss a show! @ symbol icon Email Signup Spotify Logo Spotify RSS Feed Apple Podcasts

According to the CDC, Blacks and Latinos are 3 times as likely to die from COVID as their white counterparts. This disproportionate harm has sparked a response from community organizers and researchers alike. We turn our attention to those Americans who are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus fallout. You will hear from folks on the front lines to data experts looking to use pandemic related research to address racial and health disparities and to initiate progressive change.

Image Credit:       

Original artwork courtesy of Jorge Garza. Garza has created an Azteca pop series based on front line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow him @qetzaart on Instagram and Facebook. 

Special thanks:

Special thanks to Zuleth Lucero for language interpretation. English voice over, Susan Racho.


Like this program? Please click here and support our non-profit journalism. Thanks!


Samantha Artiga – Vice President and Director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy Program at KFF

Alice Goldfarb – Projects & Research Manager with The COVID Tracking Project

FREEdom Store –  Care Team Members Diego Augusto Rodriguez Zamora, JP Hailer

Luci Cruz – farm worker based in Southern CA

Jennifer Martinez – principal investigator, Oregon COVID-19 Farmworker Study

Lucas Zucker – Policy and Communications Director, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE)

Maria Barquin – Program Director, La Network Campesina

Bethany Alcauter – Manager of Evaluation and Special Projects, National Center for Farmworker Health


Host: Anita Johnson

Segment Producers: Monica Lopez and Anita Johnson

Making Contact Staff

Executive Director: Sonya Green

Director of Production Initiatives and Distribution: Lisa Rudman

Staff Producers: Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani, and Monica Lopez

Web Updates: Sabine Blaizin

Music Credits: 

Blue Dot Sessions, “Roadside Bunkhouse”

Siddharta, “Big Blessings”

Andy G. Cohen, “Our Young Guts”

Blue Dot Sessions, “Bedroll”

Blue Dot Sessions, “Arbic Tallow”

Blue Dot Sessions, “Svela Tal”


Anita Johnson Up next on Making Contact: The Pandemic, Loss and Racial Inequity. For this week’s episode, we turn our attention to those Americans who are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus fallout. According to the CDC, Blacks and Latinos are three times as likely to die from COVID as their white counterparts. This disproportionate harm has sparked a response from community organizers and researchers alike. 

We will hear from folks on the front lines, to data experts looking to use pandemic related research to address racial and health disparities and to initiate progressive change. 

(Voices in Spanish)

Woman’s voice It’s a blessing for you guys to be in our neighborhood. I live right around the corner, three houses down and I don’t have a car. I don’t drive anymore, but I do thank God for how you guys are blessing me. But I tell you one thing. I really enjoy hearing you guys pray before you start. That means it’s going to be a blessing to everyone, OK? Yes, it is. 

Man’s voice Well, we’re in it together. It’s been a hard pandemic, as you know. You know, I don’t got to tell you nothing, but we got it. We got to figure out how to take care of each other because nobody’s going to come to take care of us. 

Anita Johnson In East Oakland, California, residents pick up supplies at Homies Empowerment People’s Freedom Store, a former bookstore turned makeshift grocery store where those in need can grab a week’s worth of essentials. J.P. Hailer, a member of the Homies Freedom Store Care team, says that the pandemic has hit local families hard.

P. Hailer A lot of our folks are essential workers in the community and that very quickly impacted them because they lost their jobs. So within the first week, we saw a lot of folks with joblessness and housing issues and health crises in their homes. As we know, the Latino community has been impacted very disproportionately. And so that is a big portion of the folks coming through here. So right away we saw our community needing resources for food and dry goods and different things.  We very quickly went from one hundred and fifty people coming through to about four hundred and something folks coming through each week.

Anita Johnson The day I stopped by the community store, the line stretched for blocks. I was told that people start gathering around 8:00 a.m. in order to secure their spot in line. Mostly women, young and old, black and Latino, two groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19, health wise and economically. 

Diego Agusto Rodriguez Zamora Just this morning, I was talking to a family that says, you know, I got to get out of where I’m living by this hour. What can we do? 

Anita Johnson Diego Agusto Rodriguez Zamora, a member of the Homies Freedom Store. 

Diego Agusto Rodriguez Zamora You know, they just told us, you know, for about a month they have to go. I’m sorry, this is just so difficult. For a month, this whole family had to go stay at a park. You know…You look at the kids in the line. You know, they’re still smiling, they’re still happy; that’s where a lot of our community, you know. I live in the zip code 94601. You know, that’s one of the highly impacted by COVID. You go walk the community. That’s all you have to do. Just walk in the community, go look and see it for yourself. You’ll see the people that are out there doing what they need to do to get by. 

Anita Johnson Diego’s zipcode, 94601, has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Oakland, 3,375 cases, to be exact. That’s a ratio of 6,287 per 100,000 residents, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department. Other areas of Oakland mostly affected by the pandemic, not surprisingly, are also mostly Latinx and Black, as well as low income. And what’s happening in Oakland isn’t unique. It’s pretty much the same across the country when it comes to black and brown communities and COVID-19. Many public health advocates and researchers say that the data highlights racial inequities. Samantha Artiga, Vice President and director of the racial equity and health policy program at Kaiser Family Foundation.

Samantha Artiga Broadly across states, we see that in most states, Black Americans are accounting for a disproportionate share of cases and deaths relative to their share of the population. Similarly broadly, across most states, we see that the Latino population is accounting for a disproportionate share of cases relative to their share of the population. There are some nuances and what those patterns look like across states. For example, there are some states where those disparities are particularly wide. For example, there are a number of states where the share of cases among Hispanic people is three times higher than their share of the population. Similarly, there are some states where their share of cases and deaths among Black people is two times higher than their share of the population. I think we also see in some states really stark disparities for the American Indian and Alaska native population. 

Anita Johnson In the U.S., the number of people infected with the virus has reached over 17 million confirmed cases and the mortality rate has surpassed 300,000, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Samantha Artiga says there are many factors that contribute to the high rates of infection among Black and Latinos as compared to the infection rate among whites. 

Samantha Artiga I think broadly what we’re seeing across people of color is a set of factors that place them at increased risk for exposure to the virus through employment and jobs that cannot be done remotely, but also through living conditions. For example, being more likely to live in larger households in densely populated areas. Increased reliance on public transportation also increases risk of exposure. 

So there are a whole set of circumstances that increase risk of exposure for certain populations. And then we also know that in particular, Black and American Indian and Alaska native people have higher rates of underlying health conditions that are associated with increased risk of serious illness if they contract the virus, which may be one factor that is contributing to some of the increased hospitalization and mortality rates that we’re seeing. 

But we also know, for example, that there are increased barriers to testing and treatment for people of color, in part due to higher uninsured rates and other barriers to health care, which may mean that they are not seeking care until they are in a more advanced stage of illness. We did one analysis, for example, that showed that among people who tested positive for coronavirus, people of color were more likely to require inpatient care and oxygen at the time that they tested positive. So that was suggestive that they potentially had delayed testing until they were in more serious condition. 

Anita Johnson The analysis of COVID data is uncovering pronounced long standing systemic racism and health inequities. Clearly, according to data, people of color are at a greater risk of dying from the virus. The pandemic has exacerbated challenges related to housing, employment and adequate health care, issues that low income families were already struggling to navigate. COVID-19 only helped to make a bad situation worse. 

Alice Goldfarb, team lead with the COVID Racial Data Tracker, a collaboration between the COVID Tracking Project and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research: 

Alice Goldfarb From my sense of the data, yes, absolutely all of the compounding problems are  apparent in exactly that, the people who are most reliant on public elementary schools being open so that they can go to work, the people who do need to work outside of the home or their current work is outside of the home.  The choices that were made about what to keep open and what to close, about whether to provide economic support so that people could stay home and stay safe, that was done without sufficient consideration for many communities and the way many people live. And, you know, also there are certainly people who were treated very differently when they did test positive or did try to go to a hospital. That is just like one more example of racist systems at the worst possible moment, sort of built one on top of one another. 

Anita Johnson It’s important to note that in my conversation with Alice Goldfarb, she stated that her remark was outside of her role for the COVID Racial Data Tracker. But she does bring attention to racism within systems that continue to perpetuate a damaging cycle of wealth, health and social inequities. And those inequities won’t disappear simply because there’s a vaccine. 

(Music and Spanish language)

Anita Johnson Back at the Homies Empowerment People’s Freedom Store, J.P. Hailer is admiring the resilience of the community, but at the same time wanting this pandemic to prompt transformative shifts in how the country addresses issues impacting disenfranchised communities. 

P. Hailer And it’s often moms and their children. We like to think of these moms and grandmothers as like the revolutionaries here, you know, that they find a way to get food and to find resources for their families. But I would say one of the things that’s hardest to learn is that there are layers upon layers of things that are happening for families: like losing housing, losing jobs, being impacted by COVID, being hungry. And there are so many resources that are needed. To me, the thing that I think hits hardest is there’s got to be a better way. There’s got to be a better way moving forward. Like how do we use this moment in time to find real support systems that will keep our folks basically well and fed and paid for good work when these things happen because these things are going to keep happening. 

Anita Johnson Hailey’s concern about finding real support may be supported in the data being compiled on COVID and the racial disparities impacting black and brown communities during the pandemic. Alice Goldfarb with the COVID Racial Data Tracker also believes that the data collected can be used to positively impact people’s lives moving forward. 

Alice Goldfarb If we are able to take this lens of looking at what’s going on and do something about it in between when it’s a national emergency, then we can build hopefully some of the systems that are needed to keep it from happening the next time. And then I also just think that having better data practices and more data literacy can help people at the beginning of something understand what information is trustworthy and how to how to make choices that work for an entire place and to understand what things need to be done for the sake of the whole state or the whole city.  I think there are some choices that have been made that work for certain segments of the population and not overall. 

Anita Johnson Alice Goldfarb emphasizes the importance of conducting health outreach in a way that addresses social concerns and resonates with multicultural populations. Now, with a vaccine developed for distribution, compounded with the deeply rooted mistrust of the medical industry within the Black community, clearly, there won’t be a one size fits all approach to eliminating the threat of COVID simply because there’s now a vaccine. 

Alice Goldfarb One of the things I really hope is especially, you know, we’re in this moment when the vaccine is starting to roll out and people keep saying, like, what can we do so that people will trust the vaccine? And I feel like that’s not the right question. The question should be, what can you do to be trustworthy so that people do trust you. There are reasons to be skeptical of health systems, of what doctors tell people for all sorts of very valid reasons. And I think, unfortunately, the framing is sometimes about why are Black people more skeptical about the vaccine? It’s because doctors have treated Black people worse, because if you go to the E.R. and get turned away with the same symptoms that somebody else would be admitted, that’s not a way to gain trust. And so it’s not an irrational reaction, but it also means that the people who are acting in those discriminatory ways or the systems that are acting in those discriminatory ways need to be fixed in order to make changes in the future more possible. 

Anita Johnson For Making Contact. I’m Anita Johnson reporting in Oakland, California. 

Nationally, 83 percent of all farm workers surveyed by the Department of Labor are Latinx. Public-facing employees like grocery delivery, food service and laundry workers, are putting themselves at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Many of these workers, specifically in California, are lower paid and also Latinx. To quote Kaiser Health News from December 18th, Latinos represent 39 percent of California’s population, but have accounted for nearly 57 percent of the state’s COVID cases and 48 percent of its COVID deaths. 

Making Contact producer Monica Lopez looks at the impact of the pandemic on West Coast farmworkers in 2020. 

Monica Lopez Luci Cruz lives on California’s central coast. 

She works in the strawberry fields as a farm worker and is a mother of four. Like many single moms, she does what she can to support her family. But when we spoke in April of 20/20, Cruz’s situation, along with everyone else’s, had changed. 

Luci Cruz (translated) In other years at this time, strawberries get good. There’s a lot of strawberries. And now with the virus, work is down a lot and we don’t earn very much because there are no more strawberries. You know, there is no more now because they no longer add a lot of chemicals, because the product stores are full because of the virus. 

Monica Lopez During the first few months of the pandemic, many growers slowed down crop production as the industry’s biggest customers, like restaurants and schools, transitioned to take out and distance learning. Time passed more slowly then. Some lost their jobs. Businesses closed and bills, rent, payroll and mortgage payments continued or piled up until assistance came. Others, like Luci Cruz, would get little to no government assistance. 

Luci Cruz (translated) The government says about the impact on us, no, no, you won’t be receiving any help. And it makes me feel very bad because we are the ones who work so hard risking our health with the coronavirus. And what they do with immigrants is really very, very unfair because they do not offer us any help. And we’re the ones who work the most, those who suffer, those who work in the rain, in the mud, working in the fields. And on the contrary, they give more help to those who were born here. 

Monica Lopez On December 9th, 2020, the National Center for Farmworker Health released a fact sheet. It said that over 30 states reported to the CDC that Latinx workers made up a little more than a third of farm and food production workers, but Latinos made up 73 percent of lab confirmed COVID cases in those industries. 

Bethany Alcauter Our mission is really to make sure that all farm workers and all farmworker families in the US have access to good, high quality health care services. 

Monica Lopez Bethany Alcauter is the manager of evaluation at the National Center for Farmworker Health. She’s also a PhD candidate in occupational epidemiology at the University of Texas. 

Bethany Alcauter California farm workers have really gotten hammered by COVID, as has happened in many other states and especially in the West, where they’re suffering from all the wildfire smoke. COVID has exacerbated a lot of existing systemic problems experienced by farm workers throughout the country. 

Monica Lopez I asked Alcauter whether she had access to a demographic breakdown of COVID cases among farm workers. 

Bethany Alcauter No, not at all. There is really very poor tracking of that. You know, OSHA now, originally, they were not requiring employers to report COVID cases among their workforce, but now they are if the employer believes that the worker contracted COVID at work. So that data is now being collected. But I doubt that it will be very good just because it’s a little bit vague in terms of exactly what COVID case needs to be tracked and what doesn’t. So that data could potentially provide some information about, you know, which farmworkers were affected. But right now that that information doesn’t exist. 

Monica Lopez That’s a gap that the COVID-19 farm worker study is beginning to fill. Researchers and community based organizations in California, Washington and Oregon have been surveying farm workers since May 2020. Jennifer Martinez is the principal investigator of the Oregon survey. She’s also a PhD candidate at Portland State University. 

Jennifer Martinez The goal of the survey was to provide, first of all, data, right? We knew that we needed the data. We needed to know what was happening. We needed to hear it from farm workers directly. We needed to hear it from their own voices. So that was one of the goals. And so because we worked through community based organizations, we were able to hear directly through farm workers, through those trusted networks. And those trusted networks are really the magic in the survey. Without them, you know, questions about COVID-19, questions about health care, questions about, you know, mental health, that wouldn’t have been answered without those trusted networks. 

Monica Lopez Survey researchers published their preliminary results based on the responses of over 200 surveys. 

Jennifer Martinez And so what it’s telling us is that we need to do a little more to really reach farmworkers. A lot of them were not aware of the rights to sick leave and family leave. They were not aware of organized relief funds here in the state of Oregon. And a lot of that has to do because how we’re reaching folks, a lot of farmworkers don’t have access to Internet. And as our world is becoming more virtual, we’re seeing the need for that. 

Radio voice Kern County, this is a special update on COVID-19 for one hundred three point nine in collaboration with Kern Soul, news keeping you safe and informed….  (Spanish language voices)

Monica Lopez Maria Barquin is the program director of a network of radio stations that caters to multilingual farmworker communities. During times of physical distancing, radio and social media have played a critical role in getting out information. 

Maria Barquin Actually, this is part of our daily mission to serve and be the voice of the farmworker community. That’s why Radio Campesina was founded. 

Monica Lopez Radio Campesina is a network of seven radio stations in California, Arizona, Washington and Nevada. The Network Campesinos website says their target audiences are “newly arrived immigrants specifically originating from rural areas of Mexico and Central America between the ages of 25 and 49.” The stations, through the United Farm Workers Foundation, would stay in touch with farm worker communities. 

Maria Barquin We also go to the fields. We go in during lunch time and take burritos.  We take advantage of the opportunity of being in the field by educating them when we’re there and also gathering information of their concerns. 

Monica Lopez COVID changed that. 

Maria Barquin But we are still very connected through our WhatsApp social media. Actually, as they’re working, we have an app, not just terrestrial radio. We also have the different streaming platforms and they’re listening in their phones while they’re picking product. So we do know that they’re listening to us because they’re essential. Right now they’re working. And so whenever we ask them for feedback, we create service in our Facebook. They always engage with the station because they know that’s where they’re going to get the direction that they trust, resources for them. 

Monica Lopez Resources, whether it’s critical information in Spanish or Mixteco, food or financial assistance, has not primarily come from government sources even though everyone in the US directly benefits from farm worker labor. It’s actually food pantries, medical and legal clinics, community organizations like Cause and California’s Tri-counties and long standing institutions like the UFW Foundation and Undocufund projects that have sprung up in recent years that deliver real day to day assistance. 

Maria Barquin We also have another entity, our education fund, where we help students after school with their homework. The feedback that we’ve been getting from our listeners is that the parents are working and now that some of the schools are closed, those kids are at home. So who’s doing the home schooling at home with them? What kind of resources do they have? They may not have Internet, they may not have a computer for their kids to do their homework. So that’s one of the biggest concerns right now that they have, the ones that have kids. How I do homeschooling. 

Monica Lopez When it comes to farm work and immigration status, there’s another important worker classification, it’s called H2A. The group Farmworker Justice defines the H2A program as a “guest worker program that allows agricultural employers to hire workers from other countries on temporary work permits for jobs that last 10 months or less.” Bethany Alcauter:

Bethany Alcauter Workers with a guest worker visa have been especially vulnerable to outbreaks. And we think that’s because the federal agency is involved in regulating the H2A program have not put together strong enough recommendations or enforceable guidelines to make sure that when workers are brought from Mexico and other countries to the US and all brought together from different parts, that they haven’t had strong enough quarantine procedures or requirements for COVID testing. And all those workers get put together in the same shared housing, in the same shared transportation. And so they’ve been – they’ve just been really vulnerable to the outbreaks. 

Monica Lopez She recalls the death of Marco Antonio Galván Gomez, who was in the U.S. on a guest worker visa. 

Bethany Alcauter He worked on a potato farm and the farm that he worked at had two other workers die as well from COVID.  His story was he got here. He got sick within a week or two of arriving to the US. He got put in a trailer by himself to quarantine. But he was left really without any food. There was no one checking on him. And he was only in communication with his wife. And this was on a pretty remote farm there, about 30 minutes by car from town. And this worker didn’t have a car. And so he was communicating with his wife in Mexico that he was feeling very sick and didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know what to do because obviously they’re unfamiliar with the US health care system and how things work. And he ended up dying really in a lot of pain alone in his trailer. 

Monica Lopez Immigration status plays out in other ways as well. 

Lucas Zucker Farm work is certainly a difficult and backbreaking job, the majority of farm workers are undocumented, often deal with wage theft issues. 

Monica Lopez That’s Lucas Zucker. He’s the policy director for CAUSE, the Central Coast Alliance for United and Sustainable Economy in California. 

Lucas Zucker For folks who are undocumented, they’re less likely to want to report if there are labor violations in the fields. There’s a greater level of fear of authorities. There’s also the element of the lack of safety that the people have, right? If you’re undocumented, you are not eligible for Medi-cal, the state’s public health care program. You’re not eligible for unemployment insurance after you’re not working. You’re not eligible for subsidized housing. And so a lot of undocumented low-wage immigrant workers are really living paycheck to paycheck right on the edge. And so the incentive to work, even in a dangerous situation, is pretty strong when you really don’t have much of a safety net if you’re not working. 

Monica Lopez Working and raising a family or just living your life with little to no safety net adds stressors that can weigh heavily on people. That’s why researcher Jennifer Martinez and her colleagues asked context questions to widen the scope of the Oregon survey. 

Jennifer Martinez What we wanted to add was a little more context on farmworkers as a whole person, right? We often like to research farmworkers in the workplace, but it’s important to remember that farm workers have a community. And so we had a lot of questions about mental health as well that I think are really important, and that’s something that was different from some of the other surveys. 

Monica Lopez They asked about tensions in the home with their partner or neighbors. But these more taboo subjects mostly went unanswered. 

Jennifer Martinez But they were really willing to talk to us about difficulties trying to get their kids engaged in school, especially for their older children. We need to do something to support farmworkers, not only in the workplace, but we need to think of them as full families and communities. And so we also need to figure out how to support farmworker children and that next generation to ensure that we’re not really creating a gap here, and an underclass of farmworker communities. 

Monica Lopez In early December, California lawmakers introduced a state bill that would prioritize medical treatment and vaccination against COVID-19 for food industry workers. That includes grocery store workers and farm workers. 

For Making Contact. I ‘m Monica Lopez in Los Angeles. 

Anita Johnson You’ve been listening to The Pandemic, Loss and Racial Inequity at Making Contact. For other shows and more information about this episode, visit radio project dot org. I’m Anita Johnson. Thanks for listening to Making Contact. 


Author: Radio Project

Share This Post On