Feds investigating after H-2A worker died of Covid-19 complications at a Texas potato plant

Marco Antonio Galvan Gomez, a 48-year-old husband and father from Guanajuato, Mexico, had spent eight years as a seasonal guestworker at Larsen Farms, one of the biggest potato producers in the nation, when he died of complications related to Covid-19 on July 20. He had spent the previous 12 days struggling to keep working despite suffering from fever, aches and shortness of breath; Larsen officials denied his request to return home to Mexico, and Galvan got no medical treatment from local health officials, according to FERN’s latest story, written by Dana Ullman and published with The Texas Observer.

His wife, Silvia Garcia Rodriguez, spoke with him daily while he was sick. “I was very worried. He didn’t sound well at all,” she says. She told her husband to let a supervisor know how ill he was. “It’s not worth it,” he responded. “Let me tell you it will be in vain. They don’t give me a pill or anything.” Five days into his quarantine, on July 19, Galvan could hardly breathe or speak when Garcia called, but he was comforted by her voice. “Talk to me, talk to me,” he said. “I need to be listening to you because it gives me strength to continue fighting everything that I’m suffering here.”

“The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched an investigation into the death on August 7, but only after being contacted by the Observer for this story. The agency was apparently unaware of the death, despite the fact that employers must report a fatality within eight hours. A Larsen employee told the Observer he was fired for speaking with OSHA investigators.

“Across the country, H-2A workers live in isolated employer-controlled housing and depend on their employer for transportation to access basic needs such as healthcare and food. Long hours, with only Sundays off, make it difficult to access services during normal business hours. Neither the feds nor state officials have done much to protect agricultural workers before the virus came, or as Covid-19 tore through rural communities with limited resources. How many have to die before they do?”