COVID-19

Densely populated Massachusetts city sees high rates of COVID-19

Simón Ríos Jun 23, 2020
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Emergency medical workers check a patient who was in isolation experiencing worsening COVID-19 symptoms in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Scott Eisen/Getty Images
COVID-19

Densely populated Massachusetts city sees high rates of COVID-19

Simón Ríos Jun 23, 2020
Heard on:
Emergency medical workers check a patient who was in isolation experiencing worsening COVID-19 symptoms in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Scott Eisen/Getty Images
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Chelsea, Massachusetts, is home to some 40,000 people, according to the U.S. Census (though local officials say the real number could be significantly higher), and one of the most densely populated places in the state.

And according to the ACLU of Massachusetts, 4 out of every 5 workers in the city are considered essential.

“I really believe this is the perfect storm,” said community leader María Belén Power of the environmental justice nonprofit GreenRoots. “These are people who don’t speak English. The majority of workers in Chelsea work in services, in restaurants, in airports.”

When you say “essential employees,” she said, you’re talking about most of the city’s labor force.

One member of Chelsea’s essential labor force is auto mechanic Joaquin Lux, originally from Guatemala. In early April he was laid up in a hospital with COVID-19 when reached there by phone.

“I can’t breath,” Lux said, barely able to complete the sentence.

Eventually, Lux improved and was released to the home he shares with four other people. The apartment downstairs was vacant, and the landlord let the rest of his family move in so Lux could isolate himself.

That’s a luxury many don’t have in a city where housing prices have doubled over the last decade.

“I talked to one family that was 12 people in one apartment,” said U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who represents Chelsea. “Obviously, if anyone is presenting symptoms, they cannot physically distance.”

Pressley pushed for better demographic data in a bill recently signed by President Donald Trump to understand the impact of the outbreak on communities like Chelsea.

“It will direct more resources hand in glove with the the race data collection so that we can do things like that, provide alternative housing so family members can quarantine,” she said.

But Pressley said the government has failed to adequately report race data since her initiative passed. And she said better data is needed to address the disparities of this pandemic.  

Reporter Tibisay Zea of the Spanish-language newspaper El Planeta contributed reporting to this story. The Spanish version is here

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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