Human Rights

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Blames Coronavirus Rise on ‘Overwhelmingly Hispanic’ Workers

Florida governor Ron DeSantis recently blamed migrant farmworkers for the state’s skyrocketing in COVID-19 cases and that’s angered public health officials and aid groups, who note the state has been tardy in providing testing, face masks and educational outreach to farming communities.

Of course, he doesn’t blame himself for the rise in cases, even though he reopened the state early on, encouraging people to flock to beaches and parks. No, instead he said this at a press conference Tuesday:

“We’re not shutting down. We’re gonna go forward, we’re gonna protect the most vulnerable.”

Shutting down, he claimed, would mean “the negative effects” of doing so would be much worse than “any gains you’re getting.”

“You have to have society to function, you have to be able to have a cohesive society, that’s the best way to be able to deal with the impacts of the virus,” he said. “But particularly when you have a virus that disproportionately impacts one segment of society, to suppress a lot of working-age people at this point I don’t think would likely be very effective.”

And he says this despite the fact that Florida broke another record day Tuesday, with 2,783 new cases of coronavirus being confirmed, the largest increase the state has suffered in a single day since the outbreak began. That means the state’s cumulative count has surged past 80,000.

But rather than blaming his own poor decision, he’s singling out migrant farmworkers, having said last week that “the Number one outbreak we’ve seen is in agricultural communities,” and following that up by saying that “overwhelmingly Hispanic” farmworkers and day laborers are the leading sources of new cases.

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Now Nikki Fried, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture has fired back, the Tampa Bay Times reports, noting most farmworkers left weeks ago when the harvests ended. But it’s not just that — cases are also spiking in non-agricultural areas, she added.

But many agricultural workers do live in the state year-round and public health officials who work within these communities say the state has only recently begun testing and public health campaigns to educate people in agricultural communities, where working and living conditions are often cramped and can spark an outbreak of COVID-19.

So doesn’t that also mean that DeSantis has dropped the ball here? If these are areas where the disease is likely to crop up, why has the state been slow to provide proper testing? It’s very likely COVID-19 has been prominent in most of the state’s agricultural areas for several months, but those cases have been missed by the state’s testing efforts.

That’s according to Patria Rojas, a public health expert at Florida International University. And when the first opened in Hillsborough, in the community of Wimauma, it was long after many of the area’s farms had completed their harvests, said Lourdes Villanueva, the director of Farmworker Advocacy for Redlands Christian Migrant Association.

“From day one we asked for help for farmworkers, none came,” she said. “It’s always about them blaming the less fortunate and the ones that cannot defend themselves.”

Well of course. DeSantis is merely following in Trump’s footsteps when it comes to that.

And many farmworkers don’t own cars and aren’t able to be tested at the state’s drive-thru sites, Rojas said. Instead they arrive at work in crowded buses, work before sunrise to sunset. And of course, thanks to “anti-immigrant” sentiment in the Miami-Dade area, many farmworkers keep a low profile.

“There’s a lot of under-testing because of that,” she said. “If it’s true that there is a lot of COVID-19 among the agricultural community, we don’t know.”

Instead of pointing that crooked finger at farmworkers, DeSantis needs to take up some of the blame for this. Farmworkers provide the sustenance millions of Americans need to survive and they rarely ever get credit for the valuable labor they provide. Seriously, it’s time for a change.

meet the author

Megan has lived in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida and she currently lives in Central America. Living in these places has informed her writing on politics, science, and history. She is currently owned by 15 cats and 3 dogs and regularly owns Trump supporters when she has the opportunity.

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