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
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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

Will the federal government extend the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s still unclear. Congress and President Donald Trump are deciding whether to extend the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits workers are getting because of the pandemic. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia believes the program should not be extended, and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the additional money is disincentivizing some workers from returning to their jobs. Democrats want to keep providing the money until January.

As states lift restrictions, are people going back to stores and restaurants?

States have relaxed their restrictions, and many of us have relaxed, too. Some people have started to make exceptions for visiting restaurants, if only for outdoor dining. Some are only going to places they trust are being extra cautious. But no one we’ve talked to has really gone back to normal. People just aren’t quite there yet.

Will surges in COVID-19 cases mean a return to lockdowns?

In many areas where businesses are reopening, cases of COVID-19 are trending upwards, causing some to ask if the lockdowns were lifted too soon, and if residents and businesses might have to go through it all again. So, how likely is another lockdown, of some sort? The answer depends on who you ask. Many local officials are now bullish about keeping businesses open to salvage their economies. Health experts, though, are concerned.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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