COVID-19

Densely populated Massachusetts city sees high rates of COVID-19

Simón Ríos Jun 23, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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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
Emergency medical workers check a patient who was in isolation experiencing worsening COVID-19 symptoms in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Scott Eisen/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

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

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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