He arrived home as usual, with dusty jeans and a handful of junk mail.
“Hola bambinos,” Marco said as he opened the door to the cluttered one-bedroom apartment in Langley Park, Md., he shares with his wife and two kids.
“Papi!” shouted his 9-year-old, Nataly, looking up from her Barbie kitchen play set. But instead of embracing the small girl with big eyes and a dark braid, Marco backed away.

The 55-year-old Honduran immigrant is one of the few in his apartment building to still have a job.
Yet with each day on his construction site came the risk of bringing the novel coronavirus home with him: home to his daughter with disabilities and a feeding tube in her stomach; home to a 7-year-old son with asthma; home to a wife without legal status and a household where the adults lack health insurance in a neighborhood packed with other vulnerable families.

As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, claiming the lives of thousands and crippling the economy, immigrant communities are likely to be among the hardest hit. The pandemic could be particularly devastating for Langley Park, a neighborhood just seven miles from the White House where 70 percent of adults are not U.S. citizens — one of the highest rates in the United States — and many are undocumented.
Here, countless cooks, construction workers and cleaners are suddenly out of a job without any chance of unemployment benefits or federal stimulus checks. Those who still work often do so in close quarters and at high risk of infection, even as their more affluent neighbors in Takoma Park or Silver Spring telework from the safety of single-family homes.
Maryland’s governor had issued a stay-at-home order. The normally bustling neighborhood was quiet save for the occasional chime of an ice cream truck. The sidewalks, usually occupied by people selling food or clothing, were largely empty. Only the parking lots were full: bumper to bumper with cars no longer taking hourly workers to blue-collar jobs.

People buy treats from an ice cream truck on the normally bustling streets of Langley Park.
People buy treats from an ice cream truck on the normally bustling streets of Langley Park. (Oliver Contreras for The Washington Post)
“We know this is an unprecedented time of uncertainty and anxiety for our residents,” began a note in Spanish on the entrance to Marco’s apartment building that recommended out-of-work renters apply for unemployment and expect federal stimulus checks, even though few were eligible.

Undocumented workers among those hit first by coronavirus shutdown
Another note informed residents that, although the coronavirus had closed the leasing office, it had not canceled rent payments, which should be dropped through a slot in a metal box.
It was the first of the month, yet Marco — who has temporary protected status but spoke on the condition that his last name not be used, to protect his wife, Maria — didn’t have the entire $1,270. He didn’t even have enough for his insulin, which he had run out of three weeks ago. So he kept working, even as the situation grew more dire.
“Today I heard some shocking news,” he told Maria, who is from Guatemala. “On the radio, they said there are groups of people who shut themselves inside and then started feeling sick but never went to a hospital. More than 20 people have died that way from this disease.”
“Encerrados?” she asked. Shut in?

“Encerrados,” he said, “because they didn’t have money, they didn’t have jobs, and they didn’t go to a clinic for a checkup.”

Maria gasped. This was what she feared most: that the same desperation that had driven her family to rent out their bedroom and sleep four to a bed in the living room would get them sick.

“And they all died?” she asked.