Local News

UNC doctor, nonprofits work to limit coronavirus spread among migrant workers

Posted October 9, 2020 4:09 p.m. EDT
Updated October 9, 2020 8:39 p.m. EDT

— The Latino community has been hit hard by coronavirus, so a UNC Health physician is trying to help migrant farmworkers get basic care and testing during the pandemic.

"What we’ve been trying to do is bring the services to the people," said Dr. Michael Herce, an infectious disease specialist.

Throughout the pandemic, Herce has worked with several Triangle organizations to care for essential workers in the Latino community.

“There’s a lot of barriers to access care, not just for testing for COVID but basic care, and I think those are multiple levels that happens because of mistrust with the health care system,” he said.

Mobile health units have been used to so Latino residents and migrant workers can seek free health care, no questions asked, allowing doctors to break some of those barriers.

“I think many of the patients have anxiety about the testing process, but once they see most of us are Spanish-speaking providers and we work with groups that know them – they’re getting services through trusted outlets – I think it lowers the anxiety and makes the services acceptable," Herce said.

Still, some migrant workers remain reluctant.

“The problem is that they don’t know all their rights when they come work in the United States,” said Juan Allen, Latino community coordinator for Access East, a Greenville nonprofit that helps eastern North Carolina residents navigate medical and other essential services.

"Everyone was in fear because they think, if they have COVID-19, they’re going to be terminated,” Allen said.

Early on during the pandemic, few resources existed for migrant workers, he said, but his organization and others have been able to provide the workers with essential needs.

“We were able to educate them and give them masks, tell them to wash their hands, give them sanitizer and all of that,” Allen said.

Both Allen and Herce said they believe the mobile testing sites are crucial to help stop the spread of the virus in one of the hardest-hit communities.

“COVID doesn’t care who you are, and we want to make sure that people have access to health care, regardless of their background and health care status, because that is a fundamental right," Herce said.

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