SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Marshallese community is concerned about COVID-19, as many have seen death among their neighbors, family, and friends
There have been at least 15 Marshallese deaths, — more than 50 deaths are “undisclosed,” according to data compiled by KNWA/FOX24.
In Washington County, 93% of COVID-19 cases were in Springdale as of Thursday, June 11, according to the governor’s press conference. There were 143 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours, 133 were in Springdale.
As of Monday, June 15, there were more than 400 new cases state-wide, Washington County was 126 of the 400 cases.
Of 18 poultry businesses in Arkansas, there are 530 active COVID-19 cases. Tyson, on Berry Street in Springdale, has cases in triple-digits at 186, and the company also has three times as many cases as the second-highest poultry plant — George’s/Ozark Mtn. Poultry in Rogers/Benton — at 63.
Since the start of the pandemic in March, Washington County has had the most COVID-19 cases by people who work in the poultry business, 505 — 277 are still active.
Meet Albious Latior, 32, from Springdale. He came to the U.S. in 1997 with his parents; he was entering school back then. “I was nervous, scared, happy,” he said upon arriving at his new home.
Decades later, he’s going through a couple of the same emotions he had when he immigrated — nervous and scared — as a result of the pandemic.
His parents have since retired after working at Tyson and he lives in a household of eight.
“It’s my brother, his wife, his mother-in-law, their four children and me,” said Latior, who works with nonprofits. “We have all been healthy and free of COVID-19.”
His concern is for the entire Marshallese community and hoping everyone can overcome COVID-19.
It’s horrible that poultry businesses have not closed. “People go to work and get infected by COVID-19, it bothers me every day,” said Latior. “They [Marshallese] want to provide for their family, but how can they when there are positive cases? We see the cases go up and it’s as though our community is not important enough to take a moment to close and clean [the poultry businesses].”
It’s more than just getting sick from the place you work. Many poultry workers carpool, ride with friends or family. They bring their lunch to work and share their lunch with others, which means possible exposure to the new coronavirus.
From a Marshallese perspective, he said many people he knows in the community feel as though the governor sends a mixed message. “Cases are going up and we move to Phase 2. In turn, some in the community are thinking that the virus is under control when it’s not,” he said.
We have people who are fighting the virus, some are weak, some are scared to go to the hospital because they don’t know if they’ll leave.
Not everyone has insurance to cover medical costs and that is a concern for many Marshallese, said Latior. The test may be free, but hospitalization is not.
In our community, you know someone in the family who has the virus, and chances are you know the person who passed away.
“Look at our community, we have seen a lot of us passing away … we’re testing positive,” said Latior. Why should we take it seriously when the governor says the opposite?
“We miss gathering with family and friends, something we stopped doing in March because of the pandemic. Then, the governor lifts restrictions and said it’s alright to gather in small groups, we can go to church.”
Now, COVID-19 is skyrocketing.
“I know at least six of the people who have died in our community,” said Latior. “We can’t even mourn the way we like … they die and we take them from the funeral home straight to the cemetery.”
LATIOR’S SOLUTION TO MITIGATE POULTRY WORKER DEATHS
Enough with the masks, said Latior. He suggests if anything is going to be given let it be respect for poultry workers. He suggests for communities to write to the poultry businesses requesting the following:
- Shut down poultry plants for two weeks.
- During the two weeks, have employers sanitize all plants.
- This would allow families of poultry workers to COVID-19 checkups
- Pay the workers for the two weeks leave of absence.
ABOUT SPRINGDALE, ARKANSAS
Springdale straddles both Washington and Benton counties in the northwestern corridor of Arkansas. It’s the state’s fourth-largest city and has about 70,000 residents, according to U.S. Census data. It’s home to the most Marshall Islanders in the United States — about 12,000 Marshallese live in the Natural State and nearby. Marshallese makes up 30% of Tyson’s workforce in Springdale. The city’s top five employers, Tyson Foods, George’s, Springdale Public Schools, Cargill Meat Solutions and Northwest Medical Center-Springdale, has about 11,000 total employees, according to the Springdale Chamber of Commerce.