Latino workers largely affected by COVID-19 as essential jobs expose them to risk

Many Latinos work in construction or in the service industry, making them unable to work from home. Many Latinos must choose between risking illness or going without a paycheck.
8:48 | 07/23/20

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Transcript for Latino workers largely affected by COVID-19 as essential jobs expose them to risk
Tonight the disparity in cases of covid-19 in America. Soaring among the hispanic population, working some of the most underappreciated and vital jobs in this country. Here's Rachel Scott with her "Nightline" debut. Reporter: For years, this was the highlight of the day. Returning home from work to his wife and children, Caleb and carrying with him the daily pride of his job as an essential worker in the construction industry until everything changed, and he brought home something terrible. Reporter: First came the chills, then the loss of taste and smell. Like many in his industry, he says he contracted covid-19 in early June, but his fear was for his family and whether he'd given it to them and what that would mean for not just their health but their life. Reporter: It is a unique and terrible situation many essential workers across the country deal with every day. Those working quietly in the shadows, keeping our country running in the midst of a pandemic, while they are left exposed and vulnerable. Why are minorities and communities of color more vulnerable? The health care disparities that whether you're a small city or you're a large city are ubiquitous. And that has to do with people who are in vulnerable positions due to their low-wage jobs in which they don't have job security, they don't have trusted relationships with employers. There is the multi-generational household situation. Reporter: So many are forced to weigh the fears of once again contracting the virus while providing for their families or stay home and cease to earn a living. Reporter: Now over four months into the pandemic, at least 40 states are noting a surge in hospitalizations. A clear picture is emerging of the hardest hit, nationwide, hispanics accounting for nearly a third of all coronavirus cases. When we were all staying home, they continued to work every single day in construction, in the service industry, in chicken processing plants, meat processing plants. In the fields across the country. Reporter: In Texas, two-thirds of construction workers are Latino like him. He doesn't know if he got sick on the job, but he first felt the symptoms while at work. He came home and eventually passed it on to his wife, forcing the couple to keep distance from their own children. Reporter: He got so sick with coronavirus he ended up in the hospital. The Honduran native, undocumented and uninsured, feared his immigration status might impact his treatment. Reporter: He says he was sent home to recover and quarantine without sick pay. A hospital bill of $3500 would arrive days later. Reporter: For him, no work truly means no pay. Since he's undocumented, he's ineligible for a stimulus check or unemployment aid. When it comes to the construction industry, he says employers should care for their employees. Reporter: His story, just one of many, illustrating covid's disproportionate and growing grip on the Latino community. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the latest census shows Latinos making up 6% of the population, they now make up 40% of all positive cases. In one of the hardest-hit areas in the city, church parking lots have been turned into testing centers. From day one, when covid-19 came to Chattanooga, we knew that the latinx population would be hit. Because we knew that all of them or the majority of them were essential workers. Reporter: Stacy Johnson is the executive director at lapaz Chattanooga. We have had calls from the service industries, now that hotels and restaurants are starting to open back up. Reporter: Johnson says the city reopened too early and did so without prioritizing the growing outbreak in the community. It wasn't part of the strategy, it wasn't part of the plan. Reporter: Johnson's group has been focussed on providing needed information on covid in Spanish, something she says is lacking from city and state institutions. We feel like language is a huge barrier. We have a large Guatemalan community. When you have guidelines that have been predominantly in English, what message does that send to a community about whose health as a nation we are prioritizing? It sends the message, "You're not really here", that we are placing priority over certain languages, certain ethnicities in my opinion. We opened five years ago for the underserved community. Reporter: Dr. Arnold runs clinical medicos here. Many of the patients are uninsured and undocumented, meaning they won't get sick pay. When you are telling someone that they have tested positive for covid-19, the weight of that The weight of that moment is incredible. Am I going to be on a am I going to die? We're undocumented. What's going to happen? All of these pondering are pal pably present in the lives of our patients, and we see it every day, and there's a divide in this country. So those who don't live in those situations, they look at, you know, to be positive would be really unfortunate, because I might get really ill, however, the chips around me probably aren't going to fall. Reporter: Betty delgado feels lucky. She was able to get sick pay after coming down with coronavirus. Reporter: She cleans home for a living. Her mother works at a chicken processing plant, her father retired and now baby sits his grandkids. All it took was one person to get sick to stop them all from working. She says it started with her father, eventually it caught up to her. Reporter: All three have now recovered, but she says she is far from feeling safe. Reporter: Despite her fears, Betty is back to work. A risk, yes. But not a choice. For another employee essential to her family and our country.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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