While COVID-19 continues to spread and evolve, with new strains appearing in Texas over the past few months, data released by the Texas Department of State Health Services has revealed that some communities are being disproportionately affected by the virus. Hispanic Texans have been seeing a higher number of infections, as well as hospitalizations and fatalities. Many Hispanic Texans work on the front lines as essential workers and health care professionals. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to take preventative measures to keep all workers from contracting the coronavirus, many Hispanic workers are still falling ill and having to fight for their lives against COVID-19.
Hispanic Texans currently comprise 40 percent of the state’s population, but make up approximately 46 percent of the state’s 42,575 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. In the Houston area, data released by Harris County Public Health confirmed a disproportionate number of patients requiring hospital care – 65 percent of new hospitalizations – were Hispanic despite constituting only 44 percent of the Houston population. Memorial Hermann Health System, one of Houston’s largest health care providers, did an analysis of its emergency room visits in Houston and found that far more Hispanics between 20 to 50 years old came to the emergency room with COVID-19 when compared to other ethnicities.
Why Texas Hispanic Workers and Their Families are Suffering
Many Hispanic Texans work in the service, construction, health care, and oil and gas industries and live in traditional, multigenerational households. When multiple individuals in a household have to work to support their family, it is hard to control the potential for exposure to the virus. Social distancing can be incredibly difficult in a family home that has working parents, children attending school, and grandparents at home. The pandemic’s disproportionate effects can be seen in the many GoFundMe posts by Hispanic families in the Houston area pleading for help paying for COVID-19 medical treatment expenses or funeral costs. If multiple family members contract the virus after a working household member brings it home from work and are then hospitalized or unable to work for weeks or months at a time, that can leave an entire family without money to pay for bills or groceries.
The risk of exposure to COVID-19 at work depends on a variety of factors, including the nature of the work environment, preventative measures taken by the employer, and the extent of community transmission in the area. Working in industries that require close contact, meaning being within six feet of another person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, immediately puts workers at a much higher risk of contracting the coronavirus at work. COVID-19 does not always present with symptoms and asymptomatic carriers of the virus can quickly transmit it to others even if they feel perfectly healthy.
The Range of Risk in Workplace COVID-19 Exposure for Hispanic Workers
OSHA has developed a system of risk exposure levels by occupation that can help employers and workers stay aware of the risks faced while on the job. The system takes into account how closely workers come into contact with customers and coworkers, the work environment, what responsibilities workers have, and many more factors involved in virus transmission.
Occupations in which there is very little to no close human contact, including remote workers, office workers who do not have frequent contact with customers or coworkers, and telemedicine operators, are considered low exposure and have the least amount of risk when it comes to contracting COVID-19. Workers in industries that require frequent close contact or sustained close contact with other people in a community with high virus transmission, but are able to work in well-ventilated or outdoor areas, are considered to be at a medium exposure risk. These include jobs in the agriculture, construction, retail, service, law enforcement, transit, and education. Because the virus is less likely to be transmitted outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces where filtered air is consistently moving, the risk is not as high as in other industries. Occupations that have high potential for virus exposure – either from the nature of the work responsibilities or the requirement of working indoors without good ventilation – are considered high exposure risk. All in-person health care positions, mortuary workers, and workers who have frequent or sustained contact with coworkers or the general public are at high risk of virus exposure. This includes those in the medium exposure risk category without an outdoor workspace or good ventilation.
OSHA requires all employers to provide a hazard-free work environment. This means an employer must safeguard their employees against anything likely to cause serious physical harm or death, including COVID-19. To meet this requirement, employers should assess their risk of exposure to the virus and take all necessary precautions, including providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory protection to workers. Employers should consider the frequency with which their employees are required to be in close contact (within six feet) of coworkers or customers who may have the virus and be able to spread it without knowing it. Training is also important in mitigating the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Employers should, at a minimum, train workers on appropriate use of PPE and how to identify common signs and symptoms of the virus in order to prevent a worker from coming in while sick.
Houston Workplace Injury Attorneys
No employee should be worried about being injured or getting sick at work. Employers are required to take care of all workplace hazards and keep the work environment safe for everyone. If you have been injured or gotten sick while on the job, the legal team at Adame Garza LLP can guide you through the legal process to recover financial damages for your employer’s negligence. You have a limited amount of time to file a claim. Contact us today to learn more.