How the coronavirus is affecting rural America and the agricultural industry

farm agricultural industry coronavirus
Photo via United Soybean Board/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Farm workers are often not well protected by employers 
  • Working conditions are ideal for spreading coronavirus
  • Farms have been closed as whole workforces test positive for coronavirus

Similar to meat processing plants, farms are facing significant challenges in dealing with the coronavirus. With barrack-style housing making social distancing unlikely if not impossible between 10-20 people and a lack of information being supplied by employers and other protections, the rate of infection among farm workers sits just shy of six times the average, at 35%, according to Politico.

There are some changes reportedly being made to combat too-close housing, but according to Politico and Modern Farmer, there is little else being done. Advocates for farm laborers, many of whom are undocumented (an estimated 50-70%), have gone to the federal government to seek appropriate protections for workers consistent with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and CDC guidelines. 

These measures would include preventative and controlling measures such as separating cohorts of workers to avoid spread and providing personal protective equipment, as well as basic infection prevention training in as many languages as needed. Without these protections and with a lack of federal action, entire workforces have become infected, causing farms to shut down.

The farm working environment is especially good for breeding coronavirus, as workers can’t socially distance. Access to adequate housing accommodations and clean water is also inconsistent. The situation is dire enough that Doctors Without Borders have set up a mobile clinic in Immokalee, Florida to test farm workers, distribute sanitation products, and “promote public health” practices, according to Politico. 

Marc Schenker, a University of California-Davis professor and founder of the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Society, told Politico that OSHA’s “hands-off” attitude makes regulating farms difficult. 

“Some farms are trying to implement safety and precautions, and that’s to be recognized, but the challenges are enormous,” Schenker said.

Sources: Politico, Modern Farmer, CDC

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