Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Farm and meatpacking workers at high risk for covid-19, says documentary that will follow up with online talk Thur.

Rural counties with many farmworkers are likely to have higher death rates from covid-19, according to a study from the University of California, San Diego. Those most at risk in such counties are those who don't speak English, farmworkers, and those living in poverty. That puts migrant farmworkers in the bullseye, Rosa Tuirán and Nick Roberts report for the PBS program "Frontline."

Though the Trump administration declared farm laborers as essential workers, there hasn't been much federal guidance on how to keep them from getting sick, leaving states and employers to figure it out. "The federal Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration has issued workplace guidance to protect employees from covid-19, including encouraging employees to stay home if they’re sick, promoting frequent hand washing, and implementing regular sanitation procedures. None of the guidance is mandatory," Tuirán and Roberts report. OSHA declined to speak with the journalists, but said in a statement that the voluntary guidelines were enough to protect workers from covid-19. However, covid-19 cases have been spiking among farmworkers and meatpacking workers.

The workers, who often live in crowded housing, say they work sick because they need the money; one said he was not told that he would still get paid if he went into quarantine. His employer didn't respond to multiple requests for interviews, but "a company update said it is following local, state and federal guidance to stem the spread of the virus, and that its worksites have always had gloves and hand washing stations available," Tuirán and Roberts report. Many workers who work for other agri-businesses reported that they were not given masks.

For more information about the pandemic's impact on farmworkers and PBS's work to uncover it, "Frontline" has a documentary called "Covid's Hidden Toll," and a podcast discussion about what the documentary reveals about the dangers to workers on farms and at meatpacking plants. On Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET, the filmmakers will have an online discussion; click here for more information.

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