CALEXICO — Representatives from nine of the at least 16 different entities who make up the Health Without Borders/Salud Sin Fronteras coalition came together at the Calexico Port of Entry to provide Healthy Routes for Essential Workers.
The Healthy Routes for Essential Workers initiative joined together binational government officials from California, local governments, and Mexicali to help agricultural workers and other essential workers who cross the US-Mexico border daily for work by providing them with masks to help fight COVID-19, according to a press release.
The project aims to protect essential workers, including farmworkers, by distributing one million masks to them as they cross the border to work as part of “ongoing efforts to foster greater binational cooperation to improve public health and economic justice while highlighting the important role community-based organizations play in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” according to the release.
Representatives from the California Legislative Assembly, the Baja California Senate of Mexico, the County of Imperial, County Public Health Department, the mayor of Mexicali, City of Calexico, and various local non-profits gathered together for the launch of providing one million masks to border-crossing workers.
“The great thing about this is that they're (aiding) workers on both sides of the border that are working on both sides of the border in the fields,” Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) said.
Garcia said the group’s one million masks complements the one million masks initiative already donated by the County of Imperial “with some of the same folks in Mexicali; so we’re talking about two million masks for people both in Mexicali and Imperial County to ensure that they have protections as they’re out doing essential wok for us here and in Mexicali.”
“All essential workers and farmworkers were in a very high-risk situation knowing that social distancing was something nearly impossible to occur at the border crossing from and to the essential jobs,” Luis Olmedo, Comité Cívico del Valle executive director, said.
“We know that even today there are no sanitary facilities for essential workers and farmworkers crossing the border,” Olmedo said, “so Assemblymember Garcia joined forces with us, first connecting us with different agencies, such as Office of Emergency Services and State Department of Public Health, to just try to understand how we can play a role.”
Olmedo said the Health without Borders collaboration was able to identify “that it would be more effective to give them masks as they start making line (to cross the border) versus after they’ve already gone through the high-risk area.”
He said non-profits got together to garner donations of the masks to help the situation since many farmworkers and other essential workers were being underserved, with some still either not having new masks available in the workplace or using them incorrectly — reusing one-use masks.
Olmedo said, though wearing a mask is a requirement to cross the border — many farmworkers didn’t understand the importance of wearing a mask “especially when they are carpooling and getting on buses, and it didn’t seem like there was very strict oversight on that.”
Since the start of the Healthy Routes initiative, thousands of masks have come in from Fundación don Rubén Fernádez y Familia of Mexicali, local vegetable growers, the Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner Office, and local group Auntie Sewing Squad among others, including many donors who wished to remain anonymous, he said.
“We want to be part of the solution but also don’t want to be duplicate efforts,” he said. “We feel we're not duplicating but we're complementing each other in our ability to get boots on the ground to get these masks to the workers.”
Olmedo said the COVID pandemic has given incentive to non-local coalitions to work together with local organizations.
“I'm very optimistic for the future but we first need to tackle these challenges that we had and we're ready,” he said. “I feel like we picked up many new partners, non-traditional partners, and I think we're learning to work with one another.”
Another positive aspect, Olmedo said, is the local businesses of Calexico are supporting the effort, as they are able to turn away less clientele who would show up to shop without personal protective equipment such as masks.
“If these essential workers get a mask at work and it tears or breaks, a lot of times they don't have a backup mask,” he said, “so having them there readily available is also going to be very important for local business.”
“It’s definitely a workforce we can’t ignore,” said County Chairman of the Board and District 2 Supervisor Luis A. Plancarte.
“It definitely brings us all together in recognizing on both sides of the border that we are one community and that we need to help both sides of the coin,” Plancarte said.