COVID-19 Farmers Update 04/28/2020

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COVID-19 Farmers Update 04/28/2020

News Today:

What if someone has COVID-19 on a farm? Guidelines for Farmers, Workers, and Consumers

Article written by Mark Hoffmann (mark.hoffmann@ncsu.edu) and Chip Simmons (odsimmon@ncsu.edu); NC State University 

  • COVID-19 is a reportable disease and when there is a case on a farm, the farm needs to contact and cooperate with the NC Department of Health and Human Services. COVID-19 is generally thought to be transmitted through person-to-person contact and from contaminated surfaces.
  • It is important to note that COVID-19 is not a food-borne disease, therefore, eating fresh produce is not harmful, as Dr. Ben Chapman explains in this video.

For farmers

(according to NCDOL and N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services guidelines)

NC Department of Labor (NCDOL) urges employers and employees to be aware of their role in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Employers should follow the guidelines to: (1) Prepare; (2) Educate; (3) Prevent; (4) Isolate; (5) Communicate.  Additionally, the NC State Fresh Produce Food Safety Team has prepared a guide on how to prepare and prevent on a small produce farm.

The following describes actions a grower should take if there is a positive COVID-19 case is on the farm:

Preparation and Prevention: Please click here for the full checklist

Be Prepared and have a plan

  •         Have an emergency plan for how you will (1) care and (2) isolate COVID-19 infected workers.
  •         Identify the nearest healthcare facility that provides free or low-cost care to uninsured people.

Promote Social Distancing, Protection, and Hygiene

  • Educate yourself and workers about hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and emergency responses (Spanish and English)
  • Social distancing between farmworkers can encompass differences in work flow as well as potentially impacting worker responsibilities. All of this information should be captured in an emergency plan. To protect your work force as well as yourself, the implementation of social distancing and other safety measures is highly recommended.
  • Provide weekly supplies to each farmworker to fight COVID-19, such as alcohol-based hand sanitizer (if available), disinfectants, and lined trash cans. Hand washing is a key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and growers should always provide adequate hand wash facilities, stocked with soap and disposable towels for hand drying

Active Prevention

If a worker has symptoms or is confirmed COVID-19

  •         This worker should stop working immediately
  •         If there is an onsite room designated for ill workers, suspect COVID-19 cases should be directed to that room at the time of symptom onset until appropriate isolation plans can be carried out.
  •         Contact your local health department as required by OSHA.
  •         Arrange for ill workers to be evaluated by a medical provider
  •         Make sure every worker has enough food and water as they will be quarantined and unable to leave the farm
  •         Frequently check on the ill worker in isolation to monitor for worsening symptoms. About 20% of infected people will develop severe respiratory symptoms that may require hospitalization
  •         Instruct workers who have had close contact with a COVID-19 patient to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, or shortness of breath) for 14 days. Those exposed should be separated from non-exposed workers for 14 days (e.g. sleep in a separate room, work in a separate area, use a separate bathroom and cooking facility). Workers can continue to work unless they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are exhibiting any symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, etc.) according to the FDA – see these guidelines. If they develop symptoms of COVID-19, they should immediately be quarantined and you should contact your local health department.

Additional steps such as deep cleaning of facilities or complete closure of the business are not mandatory, but can be taken if the business owner believes it is safer for all workers and customers.

  • Failure to provide separate housing for infected workers could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious harm to the uninfected workers, which violates the Migrant Housing Act of North Carolina that requires housing providers to immediately provide safe housing.
  • It is unlawful for employers and migrant housing providers to retaliate/take any adverse employment action against any worker who files a complaint or otherwise asserts their right to safe working and/or migrant housing conditions in NC under the NC Retaliation Employment Discrimination Act.

Please find all information on the Strawberry website.

Useful Resources:

For workers

(according to NCDA&CS guidelines)

  •         Take your temperature every day before work
  •         Wear a face mask at all times when working
  •         Practice social distancing if possible
  •         Don’t come to work if you feel sick
  •         Don’t share objects (like headsets) that are used near the face
  •         Don’t congregate in groups – try to maintain 6 feet of distance from others
  •         No infected or exposed farmworker should be allowed or forced to return home prior to being cleared by the health department for travel. This would present a public health risk and could be subject to prosecution pursuant to North Carolina’s laws governing communicable disease control (G.S. 130A-25).
  •         If workers would like to make a CONFIDENTIAL complaint about unsafe working or migrant labor camp living conditions in English or Spanish, they can contact the NC Department of Labor at 1‐ 800‐NC‐LABOR.

Useful Resources:

For consumers

(according to NC State Food Safety Resources)

 According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 is not a food-borne disease, and spreads mainly from person to person via droplets and aerosols. There is currently no evidence that the virus is transmitted through fresh produce.

Eating fresh strawberries is not harmful, as Dr. Ben Chapman explains in this video. Even if a farmworker has tested positive for COVID-19, as long as the business and the consumer practices recommended distancing, hygiene and protection measures, it is absolutely safe to buy and consume fresh strawberries on a farm, in a grocery store or elsewhere.

Daily COVID-19 Update as of 4/28/2020:

  • North Carolina (11:01 a.m. EST): 9,568 confirmed positive/ 342 deaths
  • USA: (8:32 p.m. EST): 1,012,399 positive/ 58,348 deaths
  • World (8:32 p.m. EST): 3,114,659 positive/ 216,989 deaths

Newsletter

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Other Helpful Resources:

COVID-19: Farming Resources, NC State Extension

Food Safety, NC State Extension

COVID-19 Resources and Information, NC State Extension

CEFS COVID-19 Resources

NCDA&CS COVID-19 Resources and important Documents

This post was created by Emma Volk and Mark Hoffmann