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With COVID case concerns in key southeast industries, Department of Health, UF/IFAS Extension amplify workplace safety outreach

A concern for the agribusinesses, pest management and lawn care industries in southeast Florida is the motive behind a bolstered safety initiative led by the collaboration between UF/IFAS and the Department of Health in four counties.

UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension offices across Broward, Miami-Dade, St. Lucie and Martin counties are amplifying outreach strategies on COVID-19 workplace safety with multi-lingual visuals, training, webinars, mask giveaways with the Department of Health (DOH).

According to the DOH, Florida has 223,783confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of July 8, 2020. The numbers continue to steadily rise in the four counties. One thing is clear, as businesses open doors, more employees head to work, the growing trend of confirmed cases show no signs of slowing down. Here is a look at what is happening in each county in response.

UF/IFAS Extension Martin County

In Martin County, where there is a 12 percent COVID positivity rate, the focus is to reach out to growers and horticultural businesses known as agribusinesses.

“My agribusiness advisory council comprised of green industry, nursery and farm stakeholders  came to us for resources on how to keep their employees safe,” said Yvette Goodiel, an agent at UF/IFAS Extension Martin County . “Because these employees are classified as essential workers throughout the pandemic, it has put them at greater risk. With increasing cases of COVID-19 in our area, safety precautions, including cloth face coverings, and training are vital. It’s more than raising awareness.”

“We noticed an uptick of cases in Indiantown,” said Renay Rouse, public information officer for DOH Martin County. “We started to see the number of folks who were traveling in crowded busses and what we learned is it wasn’t just Indiantown, it was all of Martin county, We learned that everyone is dealing with the same scenario in certain industries.”

As part of the outreach efforts and to meet the need for protective face coverings, Extension is promoting DOH’s resource offerings of free cloth face coverings to agribusiness employers for distribution to their workforce.  To arrange for pick-up of face coverings for your company, please contact Renay Rouse at renay.rouse@flhealth.gov or 772-221-4004.

Extension and licensed DOH personnel are available to offer online trainings in English and/or Spanish for agribusinesses and their employees on best practices, including trainings for agribusiness owners/managers in developing a workplace safety plan and safety trainings for employees. To request a training for your company, please contact UF/IFAS Extension Martin County (goodiel@ufl.edu ) or the DOH-Martin (Marybeth.Pena@flhealth.gov ).

UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade

Starting on June 29, agents and staff at UF IFAS Extension Miami-Dade County were mandated by the Miami-Dade County administration to participate in the Strategic Unified Response to Guideline Education (SURGE) Outreach Team’s efforts to educate the owners and managers of agricultural businesses about the importance of the COVID-19 safety precautions for agricultural workers. Extension staff members are visiting farms, ornamental nurseries and packing houses on a daily basis to deliver safety kits provided by the County along with fact sheets. The fact sheets include information about the importance of handwashing and sanitizing, maintaining social distancing, and wearing masks. These were developed in English, Spanish, and Creole specifically for the agricultural workers by Commercial Ornamentals Extension Agent Vanessa Campoverde.

 

Additionally, on Friday July 3, UF IFAS Extension Miami-Dade County Director Teresa Olczyk, in collaboration with the Coalition of Florida Farmworker Organizations, Inc., (COFFO), Dade County Farm Bureau and Miami-Dade County administration, co-organized and conducted a drive-thru distribution of a large number of the reusable/washable masks for agricultural operations This event took place at the parking lot of UF IFAS Extension Miami-Dade county office in Homestead. COFFO obtained 8,000 masks for the agricultural workers from the Florida Department of Health

“Our commercial agriculture Extension agents are currently working on developing specific webinars, presentations, videos in English and Spanish to educate ag businesses owners and managers of farms, tropical fruit groves packing houses and nurseries,” said Teresa Olczyk, UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade director. On July 3, over 8,000 masks were distributed to the targeted businesses and their employees.

UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie

The UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County is partnering with the Florida Department of Health in St. Lucie County to engage with agricultural, nursery and landscape workers on COVID-19 virus prevention safety outreach education. The goal is to increase knowledge about the use of masks and social distancing to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the agricultural sectors of the community. Informational flyers on use and care of the masks are available in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. Managers of citrus, vegetable production, landscaping or other agricultural commodities can request masks, information, and resources. For more information, contact the Extension office at (772) 462-1660.

 

UF/IFAS Extension Broward

After being consulted by the DOH in Broward, since June 3rd, UF/IFAS Extension Broward County Agent, Brenda Marty-Jimenez has been targeting her collaboration to the landscape companies. By offering information through a variety of communication channels, the focus has been on how to ensure employees maintain social distance, knowing the symptoms of COVID-19, the importance of wearing face coverings, and pop-up locations set by the DOH. The information has been developed with help from the Centers for Disease Control consultant and the county’s DOH. For more information check out her blogs Staying Well During COVID-19: Importance of Wearing a Face Covering for Landscape Maintenance Personnel, Growers, and Pest Management Professionals and http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/browardco/2020/06/05/broward-landscape-maintenance-personnel-growers-and-pest-management-professionals-staying-healthy-during-covid-19-symptoms-and-testing-sites/. Additionally, Marty-Jimenez has helped publicize two pop-up COVID-19 testing sites that were set up in collaboration with the DOH along with helping to develop a promotional flyer printed in English, Spanish and Creole that is geared towards this diverse population.

 

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By: Lourdes Rodriguez, 954-577-6363 office, rodriguezl@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS

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