Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Covid-19 outbreaks in farming areas spark harvest fears

Migrant farm workers and others in farming communities are at a particularly high risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus. Outbreaks of covid-19 in such areas could overwhelm rural health systems and threaten farmers' ability to harvest crops. "Across the U.S., rural communities have been largely spared the worst of the pandemic, but the influx of new people who live together in tight quarters where social distancing is difficult is raising fears of viral outbreaks," Reid Wilson reports for The Hill.

Okanogan County, Washington
(Wikipedia map)
Okanogan County, Washington, for example, is "one of the hardest-hit areas in the world," Wilson reports. "In the last two weeks, almost 1 percent of the county has tested positive for the virus." Many are migrant workers who come to the area each summer to harvest apples and other orchard fruits. Gebbers Farms, the county's largest employer, "has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars testing its workers, and it has set up a separate dorm space for workers who need to be quarantined."

As the PBS program "Frontline" noted in a recent package, the Trump administration declared farm laborers essential workers, but didn't provide much federal guidance on how to keep them from getting sick, leaving states and farms to figure it out. And, as Wilson notes, many rural public health departments don't have the funding or manpower to do adequate contact tracing or other pandemic prevention or containment measures.

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