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This is a busy time for tomato farms in eastern Tennessee. The farm is staffed with hundreds of workers, most of whom are Latino. Some people live locally. Others are farmers, who travel from farm to farm, chasing the summer growing season. Others have obtained temporary agricultural visas from Mexico or Central America to work on certain farms.
However, this year is the season of coronavirus worries, and for these agricultural workers, such worries are at home.
Ken Silver, an associate professor of environmental health at East Tennessee State University, said: “Almost all tomato picking processes need to be considered in light of COVID-19.” He studies the health of immigrant workers at a tomato farm in Tennessee.
After all, workers live in cramped places, sleep on bunk beds, and share bathrooms and kitchens. They go to the fields in crowded buses and often work in groups. Although farm workers are considered essential workers, they usually do not have medical insurance or paid sick leave.
The farm has reported outbreaks in hundreds of workers in California, Washington, Florida, and Michigan. However, the federal government has not yet established any enforceable rules to protect farm workers from the coronavirus, or instruct employers what to do when workers are sick. The migrant worker advocacy group says this allows farmers to take advantage of their workers and increase their exposure to the coronavirus, while farmers say they are doing everything they can to protect workers with limited resources while also harvesting crops.
Alexis Guild, director of health policy and planning for the advocacy group Farm Workers Justice, said the situation is clearly unclear.
Gilder said: “I do think that some employers are taking the necessary protective measures.” But she heard that after a positive test for COVID-19, workers still need to work or be repatriated to their home countries-this economic threat greatly stimulates Workers do not report mild symptoms. “I think it’s difficult to generalize. It really varies from employer to employer.”
Leave to the farm
In June, one of about 80 temporary workers at Jones & Church Farm in Unicoi County, Tennessee tested positive for the coronavirus. About 38 workers at another farm in that county tested positive.
Rene Jones Rogers, director of food safety at the farm, said: “This is the most terrible thing.”
According to media reports collected by the National Farm Workers Health Center, at least 3,600 farm workers nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19.
In addition, both farm owners and workers admit that even the most basic interventions to stop transmission (social isolation and wearing masks) are often not feasible, especially in high temperatures.
Saul, 52, is a temporary agricultural worker who has traveled from Mexico to Virginia to collect tobacco every year since 1996. He said in a WhatsApp message interview that the mask is uncomfortable at work because he works outdoors and writes in Spanish. “At work, it is very uncomfortable because we work outdoors.” (Kaiser Health News does not disclose Saul’s last name, so it will not be recognized by his employer.)
Sol said he is indeed worried about the coronavirus, but because he lives and works on a farm, he feels safe.
He said that when he arrived in the United States in April, the farm provided him with information about the pandemic, masks and hand sanitizer. No one takes body temperature, but he has only eight staff members and only lives with three other workers. No one on the farm has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
In Tennessee, Jones and Church Farm established their own worker safety procedures at the beginning of the season. These measures include increasing sanitary conditions, obtaining daily temperature readings, and grouping workers so that they can live and work with the same person.
After the 10 workers tested positive for COVID-19, the farm placed them all in the same housing unit and away from other workers-but those who had no symptoms continued to work in the field, even though they were able to keep their distance from others . Jones Rogers said.
Although the Department of Labor has not yet provided enforceable federal safety standards for COVID-19, it does publish a series of voluntary guidelines for agriculture in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These were released in June a few days after Jones and the church became aware of the outbreak on the farm.
However, most of the work done by Jones & Church is closely related to these recommendations, which also recommend that workers be screened for COVID-19 symptoms on a daily basis and that people who are ill should be provided with their own recovery space to separate them from others.
Other recommendations in the CDC and the Department of Labor Directive are more targeted at indoor food processing plants such as tomato packaging plants, including installing plastic protective covers, setting up hand washing stations, and providing personal services if the distance between workers cannot reach 6 feet . Protective equipment or cloth face shield.
Proponents say that these guiding principles are theoretically sound. Their obvious disadvantage is that they are voluntary.
“We do not believe that the health and safety of workers should be borne by employers in good faith,” said María Perales Sanchez, communications coordinator at Centro de Los Derechos del Migrante, an advocacy organization with offices in Mexico and the United States.
A spokesperson for the Labor Department put forward a different view. The spokesperson said: “Employers are responsible and will continue to provide workplaces with no known health and safety hazards.” He added that the pre-existing general safety standards and CDC guidelines of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were used to determine workplace violations Safe behavior. OSHA is an agency within the Department of Labor.
Farm industry organizations are worried about any increased federal regulations.
Allison Crittenden, Director of Congressional Relations of the U.S. Agricultural Service Federation, said: “I don’t think OSHA can make some kind of mandatory regulations that will not be detrimental to certain farmers. .”
She said that the farm has implemented many COVID-19 protection measures, and “if these measures are taken voluntarily, we don’t need to be mandatory.”
Difficulties in getting health care
Although migrant workers occupy an important link in the country’s food supply chain, they often do not receive workplace benefits such as health insurance or paid sick leave.
Sol, a Virginia tobacco farm worker, said he doesn’t believe he has any health insurance. If he is sick, he needs to tell his farm owner, and then he must send him to the doctor. The nearest city to the farm is 15 miles away. Who is responsible for these costs (worker or farm) depends on individual circumstances.
Many farms mainly employ Latino workers, and CDC data shows that Hispanics or Latinos are much more likely to be infected, hospitalized, or die from complications of COVID than whites. Experts also warned that because the COVID pandemic severely affects people of color, it may widen the pre-existing health gap.
In addition, for migrant workers, seeking medical care may be risky. Undocumented workers may worry about being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while workers with green cards may worry about the Trump administration’s “public fee rules.” This controversial rule weighs the relationship between immigrants’ use of public procedures (including health care) and their citizenship applications. However, the federal government stated that seeking treatment for COVID-19 will not be restricted by the rule.
Although contact tracking is important to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among migrant workers, many health departments do not have staff interpreters who can speak Spanish or native Central American languages. So far, there has been no outbreak of migrant workers nationwide. Systematic tracking is like an outbreak in a long-term care facility.
Therefore, “it is difficult to know exactly how many farm workers are testing positive,” said Guild and the Farm Workers Justice organization.
This may be a problem in tracking disease outbreaks, especially as the harvest season of certain crops increases and farm labor force increases.
Jones Rogers said that at the end of July, nearly 90 temporary workers came to Jones and Church Farms to help harvest tomatoes. Although 10 workers infected with COVID-19 have recovered, she said she is worried that if more people get the disease, there will be insufficient housing to separate the sick workers from other workers, or insufficient health. Workers come to harvest crops.
Jones Rogers said: “Tomatoes should not be harvested until everyone feels good.
Reporters Carmen Heredia Rodriguez and Katie Saviano provided Spanish translation assistance for this story.
Corning (Kaiser Health News) is a non-profit news service covering health issues. it is KFC (Kaiser Family Foundation) (not related to Kaiser Permanente).