The Washington Post reports that "the agricultural community of Immokalee is quickly becoming an epicenter of coronavirus cases in Florida, with the state health department’s dashboard showing a large cluster of cases with nearly 900 recorded since April. And as workers move north to work the summer fields in other parts of the country, advocacy groups worry they will take the virus with them."
According to the story, "As of Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection reported 899 positive cases out of roughly 2,500 tests conducted in the Immokalee Zip code. That is a 36 percent positive rate, far higher than the 5.58 percent positive rate for those tested in Florida overall and much higher than wealthier areas of Collier County."
Part of the problem, the Post writes, is that it is "unclear how many farmworkers have had the coronavirus, or how many have died of it: In Orange County, where Orlando is, the medical examiner releases name, age, occupation and where the deceased lived; in Collier County, the medical examiner releases only where a person died. And because Immokalee doesn’t have its own hospital, very sick farmworkers are hospitalized in Naples or neighboring communities. The state also does not report data on how many people have recovered from the disease."
At the same time, Reuters reports:
"From apple packing houses in Washington state to farm workers in Florida and a California county known as 'the world’s salad bowl,' outbreaks of the novel coronavirus are emerging at U.S. fruit and vegetable farms and packing plants.
"A rising number of sick farm and packing house workers comes after thousands of meat plant employees contracted the virus and could lead to more labor shortages and a fresh wave of disruption to U.S. food production … While social distancing can be more easily implemented for workers harvesting fruits and vegetables in fields and working outside may reduce some risks for virus spread, plants that package foods such as apples and carrots resemble the elbow-to-elbow conditions that contributed to outbreaks at U.S. meat packing plants."
Regardless of concerns, Reuters writes, "The Trump administration said last month it may extend an executive order to keep meat plants operating to fruit and vegetable producers as well, a sign it is concerned fresh produce could be the next sector hit."
- KC's View:
I think this is the kind of stuff that businesses have to take very, very seriously … doing the kind of testing necessary to assure that agricultural workers are not infected may take time and money, but probably not as much as if the pandemic shuts down many of these businesses because everybody is sick. Vigilance is all.