The Omicron wave, the height of which was seen in January and February of 2022, had a pronounced effect on all COVID-19 metrics within Colorado: patients in hospitals and reported deaths were at their highest rates since December of 2020, new cases peaked in mid-January with an average of 16,223 per day. The Network was understandably hard at work in both assisting this surge and with the total statewide team at 59 regional directors, promotores, and neighborhood organizers, were poised to help agricultural workers, regional organizations, and rural communities. These months were particularly challenging as each region had team members who became sick with the virus, necessitating a shift in operations and activities to control the spread. Thankfully, health and safety were rightly prioritized, allowing other team members to step up and deliver needed assistance to those communities continually struck by the pandemic and its effects.
With over a year of experience under difficult circumstances, and despite staffing changes due to health and wellness, promotores were able to hold 9,323 conversations in January and February, 5,684 of these with agricultural workers, for an average of 158 and 96 conversations per team member, respectively. Though the number of conversations was lower than in previous two-month periods, the average number of outreach that each team member held was roughly the same. This shows that regional teams were hosting less large-attendance events in an effort to discourage large gatherings and prevent transmission between community members. The steady rate of entered events per promotora also implies that healthy team members stepped up to replace the work of those promotores stricken with COVID-19, allowing recovery as well as preventing contact with the region’s team. The resilience shown by the regions helped to slow the spread of COVID-19 through this continued assistance to community members and through preventing exposure to or from promotores themselves.
In order to keep safe, promotores greatly increased their capacity for electronic or no-contact methods of outreach. Conversations through texting, email, or social media represented 33% of all conversations, more than double the average rate in previous two-month periods. With nutritional assistance being such a pivotal realm of outreach across the state, team members had to be creative in continuing central food delivery efforts. In a similar fashion, regions doubled the rate of no-contact deliveries and promotores consistently reported on social distancing and mask enforcement in those food distribution events that were still centrally organized. These efforts allowed continued nutritional assistance and saw the distribution of 2,290 food boxes to community members across Colorado.
Throughout January and February, promotores reported striking numbers of individuals experiencing or quarantined by COVID-19. Of the 9,323 total conversations, 849 (9%) of them were with such affected community members - the highest reported in a year. Those served by the Network are uniquely challenged by the pandemic: financial stress; transportation and issues with living remotely are all barriers reported on by promotores. However, during January and February another trend began to show: of those individuals experiencing quarantine or COVID-19, 47% of them had not received any medical attention at the time of reporting. Promotores’ data shows that these individuals often requested or received COVID testing at that time, and would likely be without diagnosis or support if not for their assistance. Team members occasionally encountered a fear of the effects of COVID-19 and/or the vaccine that forced a multi-focused approach which involved: alleviating hesitations; connecting the individual to resources; and offering or assisting with any non-pandemic support needed. It is clear that these individuals represented a particularly vulnerable group which the Network was in a unique position to assist.
In all regions, team members showed a heightened response to community member’s needs, drawing from a vast pool of experience, connections, and trust from the community to deliver notable results. Even with smaller teams, promotores provided 6,677 face masks, utilizing regional connections to find and distribute them to ag workers and ensuring that any centrally localized events ran safely. The statewide team also provided 783 physical COVID-19 tests, which are in addition to any testing services the promotores connected individuals with. Both of these metrics were highly increased from the previous two months, showing an 84% and 45% increase, respectively. Promotores adapted to the surge in cases from the omicron variant by furthering regional partnerships that provided resources needed by the community and through these, were capable of providing a face mask to 70% of those contacted. Promotores also provided 1,132 bottles of hand sanitizer and 621 health kits during this time, continuing their focus on the wellbeing of those they assist.
Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 through vaccination also continued throughout January and February. From previous organizing, team members have many options available for those they assist to get vaccinated or boosted. These include mobile sites, those ran by partnered organizations, or events hosted by the regions themselves. This flexibility works well against the barriers promoters often report on. Ag workers with long hours or insufficient transportation are connected to vaccination efforts through the promotores, who are trusted by the workers and know of appropriate sites or organizations. These connections were shown through the 1,567 conversations concerning vaccination access - representing 18% of the total. This rate is less than in previous two-month periods and follows the trend for vaccination in Colorado, with new doses administered in the state having steadily fallen through January and February.
Despite the absolute number of conversations that involved the vaccine lowering, one large increase in these months was the proportion of vaccine conversations that involved ag workers. Previously, around 50% of those conversations involving the vaccine were with ag workers, in January and February, however, this amount was 76%. Network data suggests that many of these conversations are with H2A workers who are arranging to return to Colorado or ag workers looking to have their booster vaccinations. That returning H2A workers are contacting team members prior to their arrival to secure a booster shot proves that the methods used for contact and trust building are having a long-term effect. Ag workers trust that promotores will be able to hastily provide assistance to them, whether it relates to the pandemic or other issues. Through overcoming the numerous challenges presented in January and February, promotores strengthened that trust while working to fill the considerable gaps of care that these individuals face, all while preparing for the future months when agricultural work continues in earnest. Though difficult, the work already done has greatly increased the resilience of these communities and will hopefully allow quick recovery from the long months of the pandemic.
This past year was difficult for all, but in times of strife frontline workers maintain, persevere, and fight. These efforts are never easy, but the light of community gives many the energy and power to keep moving. To effectively support agricultural workers across Colorado, team members need to not only provide the requested material items, but also give sustenance against fear and cultural nurishment. This report highlights the ways the Project Protect Promotora Network (the Network) supported both sets of needs and built community through celebration and events as 2021 drew to a close.
From changes in the regions’ staffing throughout the Fall, the Network stabilized at 65 team members who held 15,721 conversations in November and December, and 8,583 during this time with agricultural workers. As most seasonal and migrant agricultural workers had already left Colorado, the dedicated leaders in the Network focused on agricultural families that live in-state year round. Promotores routinely dealt with dwindling work hours, cold weather, and remote rural living while assisting these community members. The issues facing agricultural workers who permanently live in Colorado are often different in scope and focus - and with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences every member of each region was working hard throughout both months.
COVID-19 cases, propelled by the Omicron variant, have recentered pandemic support throughout Colorado. Team members across all regions have been responding to this dire situation by providing vaccine and booster access and testing to those they serve. Pandemic related conversations represented 44% of the Network’s contact with communities, but vaccination appointments and testing kits were not the only support given. Throughout November and December, there was concrete help offered to those sickened by the virus and without proper support for isolation. Specifically, regional teams assisted 421 individuals known to be experiencing COVID-19 or quarantined due to a family member who was sick - delivering food boxes, personal items, and other support. In many situations, entire households of multiple families were quarantined, both without income or ability to acquire basic needs. Promotores reported constant gratitude for their actions, but community members were especially grateful for holiday events that included these quarantined or sickened individuals and families.
Through the thousands of quotes collected throughout the months, it is clear that those affected by COVID-19 are isolated from more than resources. It is a culturally draining experience that prevents the celebration usually reserved for these months. Promotores, through their organization around four community holidays, helped to provide this celebration - and needed rest from the experience of the pandemic.
Access to COVID home tests
During January and February, team members across the state found gaps in knowledge about free COVID tests, how to order them, and how to properly use them. In North 3, the team reported that many people they spoke with were self-quarantining because they were ill but did not have COVID tests to check whether they were positive or not. Our network responded by providing the link to order free home tests for those who were unaware of how to access this resource, and often traveled with extras in their car for immediate needs.
Ana Schultz and her colleagues from from the North region 2 recorded a YouTube video with Spanish instruction on how to use and order home COVID tests. She said that the community needed reminders and information about “where to order COVID home testing kits and step by step video [instruction] in Spanish on how to use it.” [February 2, 2022, 14395]
Sandra Gonzalez from the Southeast region often delivered home COVID tests on front door steps in order to keep herself safe when helping families. After the delivery, she would call them to walk the family through the testing process. Sandra noted that she often helped the same families they had helped in the past with vaccinations. [February 20, 2022, 14857]
Fear pervades in some areas
Promotores across the state still report that fear of COVID remains present in the community. For example, Flor Chavez from the Western Slope explains there is a link between COVID spread and economic and health access. She reported that “many people are scared to go out to get checked for COVID even if they are extremely sick because they do not have health insurance and are not eligible to receive health insurance.” She goes on to say that even when a home test shows positive, sometimes there are still difficulties in getting the individual medical care “because they don't have extra money to pay for anything other than the actual appointment.” [February 13, 2022, 14848]
Andrea Montes from North region 3 still encountered fear about the vaccine, but the workers were always willing to listen and receive more information from her. When delivering food to workers in the region people expressed their gratitude for the groceries and she was able to continue conversations about COVID tests, vaccines and COVID safety. Overall, it seems that fear of the vaccine has been ebbing as many regions report that the community is looking to vaccines to protect themselves from getting sick. Koralia De Lara from the Southeast region reports that many community members are afraid of becoming sick with COVID and therefore are seeking promotores' help with vaccine appointments. Through her outreach she has been scheduling many families for second doses or booster shots.
Vaccination work and 3rd doses
Many workers in Colorado reached out to promotores in January and February inquiring about how to relieve their second and third vaccine doses. Claudia Chaves form North region 1 provided an example of what this conversation looked like,
“Llamó un trabajador solicitando donde se podían poner la tercera dosis de la vacuna el y sus compañeros que ahorita están sin trabajo y las primeras dosis las recibieron en la feria de vacunas del Consulado Mexicno que apoyó a Project Protect.” [January 17, 2022, 14188]
While most are willing and eager to maintain their safety through vaccination, there are still challenges the network faces. Maria Kelly Perez from North region 1 reports that “Los trabajadores H2A estaban muy preocupados porque les pusieron el refuerzo de la vacuna contra el Covid y estaban muy mal tenían muy fuertes los síntomas y no pudieron ir a trabajar.” [February 10, 2022, 14580]. Promotores are always navigating these difficulties in protecting workers’ rights to safety whether it is recuperating from vaccine side effects or handling anti-vaccine protesters at their events [February 18, 2022, 15374].
As spring and the early farm activities are fast approaching, the network is preparing to receive many new seasonal, migrant, and H-2A visa workers in the coming months. While much of the public thinks of the farming season as the height of summer, there is a lot of land and crop care that has to be completed much earlier in the year. Waves of workers are expected in March, April, May and June across various regions of the state. The network is preparing by assessing the resources and inventories at their disposal. As COVID cases continue to drop in the state, we are offered a small reprieve to heal and prepare for what comes next - be it a new COVID wave, summer wildfires, or tracking adherence to the new workers’ rights law.
This report was prepared by Mark Ludke and Kassandra Neiss. Contributions from Ana Schultz, Sandra Gonzalez, Flor Chavez, Andrea Montes, Koralia De Lara, Claudia Chaves, Maria Kelly Perez, and Cecilia Castro.
March 18, 2021
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Data Activist and Systems Manager | Frontline Farming