East Coachella Valley farmworkers get COVID, flu vaccines from new van – Desert Sun

Hidden among grape vines and citrus trees in Mecca, the Desert Healthcare District’s newest mobile medical van made its way out to the east valley last week to provide COVID-19 and flu shots to farmworkers.
Approximately 300 COVID-19 and 100 flu vaccines were set aside for vaccination sites at Tudor Ranch Inc. and Headstart Nursery on Thursday. Those who got a shot in the arm also received a $20 gift card for groceries or gas. Basic check-ups and consultations were available in the “clinic on wheels.”
During the first hour of health offerings at Tudor Ranch, more than 30 farmworkers rolled up their sleeves to get their shots. Gabriel Landeros, of Coachella, received his fourth COVID-19 shot on Thursday. He’s kept up with regular vaccinations “as a precautionary measure” to protect himself as much as he can if he were to get infected with COVID-19.
“I’m happy to do it,” he said, speaking in Spanish through a translator. Landeros added that he has seen the benefit of vaccinations in his community as “people are not getting as sick as they used to.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Desert Healthcare District has partnered with agricultural companies to set up vaccination sites at their facilities and bring services directly to farmworkers. Many face barriers when it comes to seeking medical care, such as lack of transportation or internet access or the inability to leave work to go to an appointment, so by meeting people where they’re at, they’ve been able to keep up with shots and other medical needs.
Martin Ruiz, of Coachella, has been a farmworker for more than 40 years — 28 of them at Tudor Ranch — and said he has never seen a program quite like the one available to him Thursday and throughout the pandemic. He received four COVID-19 vaccines previously and was in line to get a flu shot.
“It’s a great advantage because I don’t have to travel anywhere,” Ruiz said. “All the people here are very joyful to have these types of programs.”
He also praised George Tudor, president and CEO of Tudor Ranch Inc., for having the program available early on during the pandemic. Ruiz said he and his colleagues were among the first frontline workers to receive COVID-19 vaccines once they became available.
The district unveiled the “clinic on wheels” in December, with the intent to deliver medical services, such as check-ups, vaccinations and procedures, to the Coachella Valley’s most underserved populations and hard-to-reach communities. The mobile van includes two exam rooms with beds, a refrigerator to store vaccines and a restroom.
Those who providing services include a multidisciplinary team of physicians from various specialties, resident physicians, medical students, clinic pharmacists, pharmacy residents, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, nursing students and social workers.
Dr. Gemma Kim, Desert Physicians Medical Group Health chief academic officer and one of the lead physicians of the mobile van, said the mobile clinic has been visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe in Palm Springs and working with the homeless population. She and her medical residents have visited the site every other week through a backpack medicine program, and many patients have returned frequently. They have also worked with farmworkers, refugees and other communities.
By meeting people where they’re at, Kim said she and her team, especially those just beginning their health careers, have been able to better understand community needs. It also gain more “empathy and compassion” when they see where patients are coming from.
“It’s much more than a prescription, it’s much more than just seeing the patient where you’re at, whether that be at the clinic or the hospital,” Kim said. “Going out to where they are is so important and it will help them understand exactly who they’re treating and what they need to address.”
Continuing to bring badly needed health care to underserved populations is becoming even more important as the state is preparing to close several of its COVID-19 testing and treatment sites before the end of the state of emergency in February, according to a CalMatters article. Sites that are operating under 50% capacity are scheduled to close before the end of this month, which includes 44 OptumServe sites this week and 48 mobile van units in two weeks, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Kim is hoping to set up a weekly van schedule that will list specific locations the van will be located to address certain populations’ needs. To learn more about the mobile unit, call 760-561-7337.
The nine Coachella Valley cities added 243 new COVID-19 cases in the week ending Thursday. That is a 23% decrease from the previous week, when there were 316 cases reported between Jan. 5 and 12.
Here is a full breakdown of confirmed total cases and deaths by city since the start of the pandemic as of Thursday (with week-over-week changes shown in parentheses):
There were also 34 COVID-19 cases reported in unincorporated communities in the two weeks ending Thursday:
In Riverside County, there were 1,589 new COVID-19 cases reported in the week ending Thursday. That is down nearly 35% compared to the 2,320 COVID-19 cases that were reported between Jan. 5 and 12.
COVID-19-related patient numbers continued to decrease. As of Thursday, there were 165 patients hospitalized in the county, down by 35 from Jan. 12. That number includes 18 people in intensive care.
While other metrics saw a downward trend, COVID-19-related deaths in Riverside County increased significantly. There were 27 new deaths reported in the week ending Thursday, bringing the total to 6,788 since the beginning of the pandemic.
In Riverside County, 60.1% of residents ages 6 months and older have completed their primary vaccine series, which includes both shots of the Pfizer, both shots of the Moderna vaccines or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. About 30.2% of the eligible population has been boosted.
Ema Sasic covers entertainment and health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at ema.sasic@desertsun.com or on Twitter @ema_sasic.