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For Some Immigrant Families, COVID-19 Tests Are a Choice Between Health and a Paycheck

Rocky Mountain Public Media

For families like Paola's, who lives in Durango, a positive COVID-19 test would mean losing out on an entire paycheck.

After escaping violence in Colombia, Paola and her family moved to Durango where they’re now applying for asylum.

Their move couldn’t have come at a harder time. Alongside her husband and two daughters, Paola arrived in Durango just as the pandemic started.

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“Hubo un tiempo en que prácticamente todo mundo tuvo COVID donde yo vivo,” said Paola. “There was a time where practically everyone had COVID where I live.”

Due to the high level of exposure to COVID-19, Paola and her family had to get tested for the virus five times. Each time, the results were negative, but she says they’ve thought twice about going.

She said she’s afraid of what a positive COVID-19 test could mean not only for their family’s health but for their income and livelihood. As an immigrant, Paola said their jobs will only pay if they work. If they’re home sick, quarantined for 14 days, that’s a whole check, gone.

Beatriz Garcia is a Program Manager for Compañeros: Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center. Her organization has been instrumental to families like Paola’s during the pandemic. 

“I knew people didn’t want to test for it because they didn’t want to stop working,” said Garcia. Her organization set up mobile testing units in different communities throughout Durango. They noticed that the immigrant community shared Paola’s fear of testing, which made it difficult to convince people to show up.

“If they felt symptoms, they were just like ‘Oh it’s just a normal cold and nothing is happening,’ so I knew we were facing that barrier of having a real presence of COVID,” said Garcia.

While it may sound irresponsible not to get tested, for immigrants, testing can often be a choice between health and employment. This stark reality helps explain why Latinx communities have been so affected by COVID-19. 

According to the CDC, compared to white Americans, Latinos are twice as likely to get COVID-19, three times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus, and two times more likely to die from it. The risks are real; the fear is valid.

“It’s not the same for our families. There is a lot of struggling and mental health that needs to be addressed,” said Garcia.

At the end of the day, Paola knows she has a responsibility to test and take care of herself and her family, which is why they’ve continued to test. It is also why her and her husband chose to get vaccinated in March.

Still, she says there needs to be a little more effort from state and local health departments to meet families like Paola’s where they’re at.

“Aunque lo pueda perjudicar a uno, siempre hay que tratar de hacer las cosas bien,” said Paola. “Even if things are hard, we have to do the right thing.”

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This story is part of a series focused on the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on Latino families in Durango, Colorado. It is part of The Long Haul, a Rocky Mountain PBS project highlighting the long-term impacts of the pandemic. The first story in the series can be found here.

Mark Duggan provided online production of this story for KSUT.

This story was produced in partnership with Rocky Mountain Public Media, through a collaboration powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative — a nonprofit formed to strengthen local public-service journalism in Colorado. KSUT joined this historic collaboration with more than 40 news organizations to share in-depth local reporting to better serve Coloradans.