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COVID-19 takes heavy toll on Filipino health care workers

The coronavirus continues to take a toll on the first responders and health care workers who remain on the front lines across the U.S. Among those affected are Filipino-Americans, who in states like California and New York make up at least 20 percent of the nursing workforce. ProPublica reporter Nina Martin joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on Filipino health care workers.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on the first responders and health care workers who remain on the front lines across the country.

    Among those impacted are Filipino-Americans, who in states like California and New York make up at least 20 percent of the nursing workforce.

    I recently spoke with ProPublica Reporter Nina Martin who says the toll of COVID-19 on Filipino health care workers has left many in the community reeling.

    Nina Martin, thanks for joining us.

    First, I want to start by giving give us a scale of how it is affecting the Filipino communities, how integral they are in American health care.

  • Nina Martin:

    The Filipino health care community is an incredibly important part of the infrastructure of the health care system in the US. It has been especially the nursing community, going back for decades. But Filipinos are a really important part of the larger health care system to their doctors that are in their occupational therapists, physical therapists. They work in health care settings, in hospitals and nursing homes around the US.

    We did an analysis of ProPublica, of recent census data, and found that one in four of adults, Filipinos in the New York, New Jersey area are in the health care industry in some aspect of the health care industry, which is a staggering number if you think about it. Nurses, Filipinos are more like four, four times as likely to be nurses as any other immigrants in the US.

    And so what you have is an immigrant community that was recruited, trained and recruited to come to the US to fill nursing shortages at different times in our history. They settled here. They had immigrated and brought family members in. And those family members very often have become health care workers themselves.

    So all of these reasons kind of explain why Filipino families in particular have become so deeply rooted in the health care industry in the U.S. and why in a place like New York that's, you know, the epicenter of the covid epidemic. It turns out they're also at extreme risk of being exposed to the virus and getting sick and dying at high rates.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What about the ripple effects to all of the people that they live with, their family members? Is there any way to get an idea of how this is spreading in that community?

  • Nina Martin:

    I think it's hard. As we know, one of the one of the really one of the shortcomings of the data collection at the moment is that we just don't have very good data about health care workers who are dying.

    We don't have very good data about racial disparities amongst people who are dying still, in many places. Asian tend to be lumped together into the group of Asian as opposed to Filipino versus chinese versus Korean versus south Asian. So the numbers aren't great.

    But what we know anecdotally is that there's just huge amounts of ripple effects throughout the communities. And so even when people themselves are not getting sick and and dying, their family members very often are.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This story, one of the intriguing parts of your story was that these people are going through this and feeling the effects of it while xenophobia is on the rise.

  • Nina Martin:

    I think that as we know, Asians in many parts of the country have been scapegoated by the Trump administration and supporters have been calling the virus the coronavirus, the Chinese virus.

    And there been a lot of there's been a big uptick in hate incidents against Asians in general. And Filipino Americans have been targeted along with everyone else at the same time, even before covid obviously, there was a big uptick in anti-immigration rhetoric by the Trump administration. You know, sort of saber rattling around de naturalizing people, for example.

    And so that creates a problem as well, because the nurses and the doctors and the workers that we're talking about are doing the most they're in the most vulnerable settings. They're doing critical care. They're at the bedside. They are unable to social distance. And and they're often been doing it without adequate PPE, without adequate protections in place. And they they are perhaps feeling unable to protest because of fear.

    There are a lot of Filipinos who are immigration visas in process, who are in a great fear of speaking out and hurting the chances of other of other people in the family to immigrate.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Nina Martin of ProPublica, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Nina Martin:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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