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Considerations for Agricultural Employers and Workers Related to COVID-19

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (“the novel coronavirus”). Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and may appear 2-14 days after exposure. While the majority of COVID-19 illnesses are mild, it can result in severe and fatal illness, particularly in the elderly and among those with severe underlying health conditions. Federal and State agencies are working hard to better understand the virus, how to control its spread, and how to treat those infected. One of the key things we can all do is to limit and slow the spread of COVID-19 to provide time for this understanding to develop and to not overwhelm the medical system. Below you will find some considerations for agricultural employers and their workers, with full details available on CDC's guidance page for agricultural workers and employers.

  • Employers Should Plan for Change - Do you have a plan for if you become severely ill? How do things change if half your workforce is out sick? If you have not already done so, now is the time to sit down. Farm owners, managers and key staff should consider developing an Infectious Disease Prevention and Management Plan to ensure continuity of operations in the event of an outbreak. Healthcare agencies serving MSFWs can be of great assistance in this regard, such is the assistance attainable through the Connecticut River Valley Farmworker Health Program.

  • Stay Away from Produce if Sick - If someone is sick, they should be nowhere near fruit and vegetables that others are going to eat. This is likely already part of your farm’s food safety plan and policies, but this is a good reminder to emphasize and enforce the policy. Make sure employees stay home if they feel sick and send them home if they develop symptoms at work. Consider posting signs asking customers not to shop at your farm stand if they have symptoms.

  • Personal Protective Equipment - Provide your workers with masks, gloves, and face shields as needed, as well as training them on how to use the PPE, such as when PPE is necessary, how to properly put on and remove, proper disposal (or proper care if reusable), reminders to change PPE when torn/dirty/damaged, and recommending to wash or sanitize hands after removing PPE. Be aware that certain filtering facepiece respirators may increase the risk of heat-related illness, for which owners and operators can compensate by increasing the availability of water and frequency of breaks as appropriate.

  • Cloth Face Coverings - CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings as a protective measure in addition to social distancing (i.e., staying at least 6 feet away from others). Cloth face coverings may be especially important when social distancing is not possible or feasible based on working conditions. A cloth face covering may reduce the amount of large respiratory droplets that a person spreads when talking, sneezing, or coughing. Cloth face coverings may prevent people who do not know they have the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading it to others. Cloth face coverings are intended to protect other people—not the wearer. Cloth face coverings are not PPE however. They are not appropriate substitutes for PPE such as respirators (like N95 respirators) or medical facemasks (like surgical masks) in workplaces where respirators or facemasks are recommended or required to protect the wearer.

  • Wash Your Hands - Despite being required by regulations, we cannot emphasize enough our recommendation of having additional hand-washing facilities within close proximity of the workers with soap/water or alcohol-based (containing at least 60% alcohol) hand sanitizer. Reinforce the importance of washing hands well when arriving at work, when changing tasks (e.g. moving from office work to wash/pack), before and after eating, after using the bathroom, before putting on gloves when working with produce, and after contact with animals. Soap + water + 20 seconds or more are needed to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers thoroughly, then dispose of paper towels in a covered container.

  • Promote Social Distancing - By putting a bit more space between you and others you can reduce your chances of getting ill. This might mean limiting or prohibiting farm visitors or reducing the number of off-farm meetings you attend in person. Avoid shaking hands and other physical contact. This also reduces the risk of your produce coming into contact with someone who is ill before it heads to market. To the extent possible, plan work crew activity to ensure proper distancing, such as staggering break times, adjusting number of workers on the line or in the fields, providing adequate time and space for workers to clock in and out of their shifts.

  • H-2A and Migrant Workers - If hires from other states and countries are expected, you can further safeguard your workforce by keeping these groups of workers separate from each other, and from the local seasonal workforce if applicable, for at least 14 days, including in the living quarters. If possible, plan for a quarantine area for workers showing symptoms of COVID-19.

  • Shared Housing - Farmworkers may have limited control over their environment in some employer furnished housing. Owners/operators should provide basic guidance about COVID-19 and steps being taken to prevent transmission in housing areas in language(s) the farmworkers understand. Owners/operators should also provide a dedicated and segregated space for sleeping quarters, kitchens, and restrooms for farmworkers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 to recuperate without infecting others.

    Gloves, soap, household cleaners should be provided to help residents and staff implement personal preventive measures. Developing a sanitation/cleaning plan that addresses frequency of sanitation, cleaning, and identifies responsible person(s) and/or entities will improve the efficacy of these measures.

  • Shared Housing - Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, or eating utensils. Ensure rooms have good air flow with air conditioner(s) or open windows if possible, making sure to clean the air conditioners and changing/cleaning filters according to the manufacturer’s directions. Clean common areas routinely following CDC cleaning and disinfection guidelines. Support social distancing in different areas of the housing facility. Consider adding physical barriers such as plastic flexible screens between bathroom sinks. Modify common areas to encourage social distancing, including furniture removal or spacing. Consider modifications to bed configurations to maximize social distancing in sleeping quarters, such as avoiding the use of bunk beds and adding physical barriers, like plastic flexible screens, when beds cannot be 6 feet apart. Encourage residents to wear cloth face coverings in shared spaces. When possible, conduct meetings and conversations outdoors to minimize congregating in close quarters.  

  • Transportation - Reduce the number of workers transported per vehicles to/from fields, and to/from grocery/shopping/banking runs, to maintain social distancing. Group workers in the same crews and/or those sharing living quarters together when transporting. Increase the number of vehicles and the frequency of trips to limit the number of people in a vehicle. Make hand hygiene (hand washing/hand sanitizer) available and encourage riders to use hand hygiene before entering the vehicle and when arriving at destination. Encourage all passengers and drivers to wear cloth face coverings when in vehicles. 

  • Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Drying – Viruses can be relatively long-lasting in the environment and have the potential to be transferred via food or food contact surfaces. In this early stage, there is no indication that this virus has spread via food of any type. However, there’s no better time than the present to review, improve, and reinforce your standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, and drying any food contact surfaces, food handling equipment, bins, and tools. Remember, cleaning means using soap and water, sanitizing is using a product labeled for sanitizing, and drying means allowing the surfaces to dry completely before use.  


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