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Protecting Farmworkers from COVID-19

Over the next month, thousands of migrant and seasonal farmworkers will be returning to Florida, harvesting and packing the fall produce critical to our food supply. It’s critically important that when these workers arrive, they are met with safe working environments and the education they need to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and stay healthy.

Migrant and seasonal farmworkers are at heightened risk of contracting and transmitting the novel coronavirus for a number of reasons. They often work closely together in the field, rely on buses, vans or trucks for transportation, and often live in crowded temporary housing. Long hours of fieldwork make face coverings uncomfortable and frequent handwashing difficult. In addition, very few farm workers have access to health insurance or paid sick leave, so if they are symptomatic for COVID-19 or other illnesses, they may be reluctant to miss work. Undocumented workers may be especially hesitant to seek medical attention, for fear they may be detained or deported. Because a disproportionate number of farm workers are non-English speakers, there are language barriers to receiving health safety education.

An increase in cases of COVID-19 among farmworkers has the potential to shut down the fall harvest, and that has Florida’s agricultural producers concerned for their workers’ health and in need of clear guidelines, updated resources and comprehensive training.

In response, a working group consisting of the Southeastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (SCCAHS), UF/IFAS Extension, and Florida’s major producers and commodity groups has convened to address the educational needs of agricultural producers regarding COVID-19.

The focus of the working group has been on three main areas:

  1. Making rapid testing available for agricultural areas
  2. Tracking transportation of farmworker populations
  3. Coordinating safer shelter and work environments for seasonal agricultural workers

As part of this effort, UF/IFAS Extension is providing resources and training to agricultural producers in CDC guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 among farm workers.

Resources

Grower and Worker Education Resources are located on the Extension Administration website at https://extadmin.ifas.ufl.edu/resources/grower-and-worker-education/

For Extension agents, the SCCAHS has developed a PowerPoint presentation to share with ag producers and farm managers. The slides—in English and Spanish—explain Coronavirus risk factors for workers and discuss how to follow CDC guidelines on social distancing, PPE, handwashing, transportation and signage in an agricultural workplace.

The presentations are included in the SCCAHS’ COVID-19 Training Toolkit for Extension, which includes recorded Powerpoint presentations, videos, factsheets and signage—all of which are translated into Spanish, and in some cases Haitian Creole–to inform agricultural owners and workers about best practices to prevent COVID-19 in the field.

Also on the website is a new training presentation from the UF/IFAS Farm Labor Supervisor Training Program that agents can use to share what we know about COVID-19, stories from agricultural workers who have experienced—and in some cases, died from–the disease, and practical steps that supervisors and crew leaders can take to limit its spread in the workplace.

The website also includes multilingual posters and signage, as well as guidelines and fact sheets for agricultural operations, produce farms, packing houses, u-pick operations and farmers markets.

More resources will be available soon. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for Extension agents to talk with agricultural producers and farm workers about limiting the spread of COVID-19 in a consistent and convenient way.

Events

In addition to these resources, a number of webinars and training sessions are available:

August 13:

COVID-19 Training Toolkit for Extension in Agriculture

This webinar introduces available resources to inform agricultural producers, crew leaders, and farmworkers about COVID-19 protection guidelines. Dr. Ricky Telg presents some of the available resources from the Southeastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Health and Safety to help keep farm owners, operators, crew leaders, workers, and families safe during the current pandemic. Dr. Saqib Mukhtar provides insights on the role of Extension supporting their communities during the pandemic, and Cindy Prins provides health-related information on COVID-19. View here: https://vimeo.com/447806944

September 16-October 21

Farm Labor Supervisor COVID-19 Safety Training: How to Protect Your Farm Labor

The Southwest Florida REC is providing free training on how to protect workers, supervisors and essential personnel from contracting COVID-19. Since the program began in August, a total of 613 people have taken the training–481 in English and 132 in Spanish.

 

August 20:

COVID-19 Impacts on Extension

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Evaluation Program team at the Southeastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (SCCAHS) initiated a collaborative group of the 11 NIOSH Ag Centers across the country.  This group developed and distributed an online survey to identify the impacts that COVID-19 has had on the lives, health, and work of Extension professionals. Dr. Sebastian Galindo will provide an overview of the key findings from the survey and the initial steps taken in response to this evidence.

View recording here: https://vimeo.com/449829200

September 11 & 18:

State of the Science Meeting: Global Pandemics and the Agricultural Workforce: Research and Policy Implications

Hosted by the Southeastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (SCCAHS) the annual State of the Science Meeting combines esteemed speakers to present research relevant to occupational safety and health needs of people working in agriculture, fishing, and forestry in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

State of the Science 2020 will feature researchers and scientists from various fields from across the United States, who will present their findings on COVID-19 and its impact on agricultural workers and farmers and pave the way for future research collaborations that can address the long-lasting effects this pandemic will have on the industry.

For an agenda, visit http://www.sccahs.org/index.php/2020-sos-meeting/.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, Extension must be at the forefront of an all-out effort to protect the safety of agricultural workers, the integrity of our food systems, and the resiliency of Florida’s agriculture.

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