The Haitian immigrant community, the majority workforce in Delaware and Maryland’s poultry industry, has been heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic amid an order by the US President to return to work in meat packing plants essential workers.
Coronavirus cases have recently spiked in the poultry farms and plants like Perdue’s, which employs many Haitians who can’t afford to miss work for fear of losing their jobs and a paycheck.
Among them is Tina, a 27-year-old mother works shifts at the Perdue packing plant in Georgetown, Delaware. She told AFP that she says a little prayer every time she heads to work at the Delaware poultry plant, but feels she has little choice but to clock in for her shifts, despite the risk to her and her family.
“I want to go home, I have three kids at home, a baby, but I can’t do that,” she told AFP, speaking behind a mask. “I have no choice; bills are coming from left to right.”
The number of coronavirus infections has recently soared in the Delmarva peninsula, which reaches south out of Delaware to eastern Maryland and the northeast of Virginia. Small Delaware towns – like Seaford and Georgetown – are now reporting some of the highest numbers of cases statewide, poising Sussex to push past more urban and populated New Castle County for the most confirmed cases. The Haitian community makes up about 8% of Seaford’s population.
The small town of Salisbury, the historic base of Perdue, is home to a community of some 5,000 Haitians, at least 40 percent of whom are infected, according to Habacuc Petion, the owner of Oasis radio, which broadcasts in Creole to an estimated 20,000 listeners in the Delmarva area. Many work for Perdue, and are refusing to stay home for fear of being sacked.
“Even if they have fever, they take a pill and go to work,” Petion told AFP.
Haitian-born nurse practitioner Emanie Dorival told AFP that back in April, a Haitian immigrant, who works in a chicken processing plant and lives in the Seaford area – had tested positive for the coronavirus, adding to the almost two dozen patients of those she has confirmed with the virus. She added that all of her COVID-19 positive patients work at a chicken processing plant.
“I am really worried,” Dorival, whose practice primarily serves the Haitian community in Seaford, was quoted as saying. “I am really worried for the Haitian and Hispanic community, and I don’t feel like there are protections in place.
“I am feeling helpless.”
Perdue Farms in a statement, meanwhile, said it remains “… focused on the health and safety of our associates, farmers, customers, consumers, communities, and business partners, as well as ensuring the continuity of our supply chain during the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
They added that they have “enacted numerous proactive measures to protect our associates during this uncharted time.” These, according to the company’s statement includes practicing social distancing not only in common areas, such as break rooms and cafeterias, but also on the production lines where possible and temperature checking at all production facilities.