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A Van Warns Farmworkers In Florida About The Coronavirus


The coronavirus pandemic is turning a spotlight on parts of America that often get ignored - the town of Immokalee, Fla., for example. It's home to one of the biggest communities of farmworkers on the East Coast - essential workers who also are vulnerable. NPR's Dan Charles reports.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Something new is cruising the flat, dusty streets of Immokalee these days - a white van with loudspeakers broadcasting warnings about the new coronavirus.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All our lives depend on you. This is your part in reducing the spread of coronavirus.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

CHARLES: At 5:30 in the morning, it stops by places where farm workers get into buses heading for work - the Azteca Supercenter, the Fiesta Food Market. It plays recorded messages in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and an indigenous language from Guatemala called Mam.



CHARLES: A Collier County sheriff's deputy drives the van. But the idea for it came from local farm worker activists, like Gerardo Reyes Chávez with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

GERARDO REYES CHÁVEZ: You know, people are accustomed to hear those loudspeakers in their communities.

CHARLES: That's how a lot of people in Immokalee may have heard important announcements where they grew up in Mexico or Guatemala or Haiti. They came here to work in the fields this time of year in Florida and a few months on farms farther north.

REYES CHÁVEZ: We are the main producer of fruits and vegetables in this side of the country for the rest of the country.

CHARLES: Chavez says he wants these workers to take the virus seriously because they are vulnerable. There's no hospital nearby. They live close together, take buses to work.

REYES CHÁVEZ: And in these buses, there's no social distancing going on.

CHARLES: The dilemma, he says, is these jobs are really important. People have to keep doing them or the country has no food. But they are still low-wage jobs.

REYES CHÁVEZ: Your job has been deemed essential, but you are treated as expendable.

CHARLES: These days, more people are realizing that agricultural workers are not expendable. That's one reason why the loudspeaker van is making its rounds.



CHARLES: In Immokalee, just a few people have come down with the virus so far. Chávez says everybody in the country who eats vegetables has a stake in their safety.

Dan Charles, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dan Charles is NPR's food and agriculture correspondent.