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How Pregnant Essential Workers Got Overlooked During The Pandemic

by Grace Weinberg

On Monday, June 15, Vox published an article describing the experiences and concerns of pregnant essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there have been discussions about the threat the virus might pose for pregnant folks and essential workers, what about the essential workers who are pregnant?

Although the research and data about the impact coronavirus might have on pregnancy is scarce, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that pregnant people are no more susceptible to contracting the virus than those who are not. However, the immune system is weakened during pregnancy in order to accept a foreign body (paternal DNA), meaning that there is a higher risk of developing a severe respiratory illness. And for individuals that develop pregnancy-related conditions such as hypertension and gestational diabetes, the risk is even higher. Additionally, these conditions are more prominent among Black and Latinx women, who make up a disproportionate share of low-income essential workers.

Karigme Alpizar, a cashier at a Wendys in Los Angeles and expecting mother of twins, spoke with Vox about her experience during the pandemic. According to Alpizar, the management team has failed to implement guidelines to protect works from contracting COVID-19, such as enforcing hand washing protocols, providing workers with masks and gloves, or making sure everyone remains 6 feet apart. Only after Alpizar filed a complaint with the Los Angeles County Public Health Department and staged a strike with two other coworkers did management start providing hand sanitizer and put up a plastic barrier between workers and customers.

The other faction of pregnant essential workers are those that work in healthcare. Women comprise 77% of the healthcare industry. Despite the number of women working in the healthcare field and the lack of knowledge about the virus and pregnancy, the CDC hasn’t provided any guidelines for pregnant workers and their employers. Many hospitals are interpreting this lack of guidance as encouragement to continue business as usual.

ProPublica provided several testaments from pregnant healthcare workers confirming that even after requesting accommodations such as offering more effective personal protective equipment (PPE) and limiting interactions with patients who might have been exposed to the virus, they were denied. Healthcare workers are even met with more roadblocks in interactions with their doctors. The article includes the testament of an East Coast nurse who says “My OB refuses to write me a note to require my employer to provide additional protection for me.” Knowledge about COVID-19 itself, in addition to its effects on pregnancy, is developing in real time, which means individual doctors are at liberty to determine whether or not pregnant individuals should be provided with additional accommodations.

In terms of legislation, 29 states have pregnant worker fairness acts which require employers to make accommodations to ensure the safety of their pregnant workers. Such arrangements might include assigning tasks that limit interaction with the public or working from home. But for some jobs, there is only so much one can do to limit their interactions with others, as in Karigme Alpizar’s case. For Sophia Lopez, a pregnant McDonald’s worker whom Vox spoke with, going to work was never really a choice. “I decided to go because I need to get paid, I need to survive.”


Header image courtesy of Hush Naidoo via Unsplash

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