COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. — You can’t miss Immokalee on Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard. It’s shaded red, leading the state in coronavirus cases with 1,355 as of Thursday.
The agricultural community is just one of many across Florida taking a beating from the virus. Something Governor Ron DeSantis (R) pointed out last week.
“They’re finding these are overwhelmingly Hispanic workers and day laborers,” said Gov. DeSantis. “You know, some of these guys, they go to work in a school bus, and they’re all just packed there like sardines going across like Palm Beach County and some of these other places. All these opportunities to have this transmission.”
Dr. Tom Felke, the social work department chair at Florida Gulf Coast University says the governor’s statement wasn’t groundbreaking.
“Individuals in that community, they knew. They’ve always been aware that they are working in these substandard conditions,” he said. “That’s why we saw a lot of early calls to get hand washing stations, and sanitizing stations.”
Felke says it’s the governor’s eference to ethnicity and his timing, coming after organizations asked the governor for help, that makes his comments a slap in the face to farmworkers.
“By using the language that he used and really kind of scapegoating these individuals who again in my opinion are providing an essential service,” said Felke.
The Migrant Service Providers, a coalition of South Florida organizations, shared these same sentiments in a public statement. They’re also calling for the governor to reinstate the Governor’s Advisory Council on Farmworker Affairs.
A partnership Felke says could benefit farmworkers, depending on who the governor allows on board.
“As long as they engage with organizations like the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, the Immokalee Grassroots Movement, and the farmworkers themselves,” he said.
He added it’s not too late to slow the spread of COVID-19 among farmers, but it’s going to take providing them with the proper resources to do it.