“If there is a major outbreak among farmworker communities, it can spread very, very quickly,” said Lucas Zucker, director of policy and communications for the Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSA), which advocates immigrants, indigenous and undocumented communities in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

“I am really concerned about what will happen when the strawberry peak season coincides with this peak Covid-19 outbreak,” he added. “You can’t pick strawberries on Zoom.”

That collision will be a severe blow to a segment of the population that greatly lacks not only medical care, but also sometimes even the information on how to better protect themselves before or after exposure.

Advocates have been encouraging producers to take “significant steps” to protect farm workers from coronavirus exposure by promoting workplace practices that prioritize worker health and safety, but say many companies do not. they are responding.

The United Farm Workers union surveyed farmworkers through social media to determine if employers are providing information related to the coronavirus. The union found that few are doing so, according to Armando Elenes, the organization’s secretary-treasurer.

Certain employers operating under union contracts have issued new guidelines, such as selection practices that require social distancing. But across the industry, the UFW says it has learned from its members that companies are not applying these best practices. In its March 30 letter to agricultural employers, the UFW requested long-term sick leave, easy access to medical services, as well as screenings, tests and treatment for non-union farm workers who lack medical care.

Among farmworkers that CAUSE has surveyed, workers report that employers are providing reports of safety measures at the start of work shifts and are staggering people in the ranks of the field. But even with these measures in place, Zucker noted that the nature of the job makes it difficult for workers to comply. For example, during the peak season, employers pay workers per box, creating a strong incentive for farmworkers to skip breaks.

“Things like taking 20 seconds to wash your hands, it seems like not that long. But when you’re washing your hands, it’s a long time, especially when you feel like you have to go out to earn a dollar to survive, “said Zucker.

Beate Ritz, an expert in occupational epidemiology at the University of California School of Public Health in Los Angeles, said the coronavirus is highly likely to spread to working-class farming communities, based on existing transmission patterns.

The impact of the coronavirus will be determined by the seriousness with which the agricultural industry takes this threat to health, if they apply security measures and what resources are allocated to address problems such as access to medical care.

“It can have a big outbreak and the whole system breaks down or, as we are trying to do now by what they call the ‘leveling the curve’, so it doesn’t peak, it can have spread over time, ”said Ritz.

The Institute for Economic Policy also warns that the peak in agricultural employment, which increases from spring to July, will overlap with the peak of the coronavirus. The nonpartisan panel of experts, which conducts economic investigations, concluded that employers should provide health insurance, paid sick days and adequate safety equipment. The expert group argues that producers should also implement social distancing measures, even if some of these security measures reduce productivity.

“Farm workers already work under what can sometimes be dangerous and unhealthy conditions, and now Covid-19 presents an additional challenge,” the report said.

Many of the areas that employ farmworkers tend to be rural and lack the health care and other infrastructure to respond to a potential outbreak. In the state of Washington and California, the UFW Foundation is concerned that farmworkers do not seek medical care even if they have symptoms, because they lack health insurance or fear deportation. Some have never been treated by a doctor.

Originally published at: https://newsdio.com/farm-workers-cant-pick-strawberries-with-zoom/89787/

Photo by Nathan Wells