Farms, ranches, and other agricultural worksites are essential to America’s food supply chain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has introduced interim guidance for agricultural workers and employers to facilitate preparation, prevention, and management measures to help reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in agricultural settings. In alignment with CDC guidelines, the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (WCAHS) at UC Davis offers COVID-19-related materials and resources to aid agricultural workers and employers during these unprecedented times.
Agricultural worksites face unique challenges amidst the spread of COVID-19. Close and frequent contact with coworkers in fields and packing houses often makes physical distancing, a cornerstone of COVID-19 prevention, difficult to implement. Shortages in essential supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators, have added to the challenge of addressing the crisis in agriculture. Kent Pinkerton, professor of pediatrics in the school of medicine and WCAHS director said, “I am pleased the CDC has developed workplace guidelines specifically for agriculture. Clear instructions and recommendations are urgently needed to ensure safe and healthy working conditions as agriculture enters into a time of heightened activity and production”.
“I am pleased the CDC has developed workplace guidelines specifically for agriculture. Clear instructions and recommendations are urgently needed to ensure safe and healthy working conditions as agriculture enters into a time of heightened activity and production."
— Kent Pinkerton, PhD
The guidance provides strategies to identify at-risk practices and to implement appropriate worker screening, proper cleaning and disinfection, and physical distancing of 6 feet between workers. It also outlines the proper use of PPE and the role of cloth face coverings at the workplace. The guidance emphasizes that workers should always be provided the appropriate PPE required by the specific job task, which may include half- or full-face respirators or a two-strap, disposable respirator (e.g., N95). For general work duties, the CDC advises the use of simple cloth face coverings. Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for maintaining physical distance or using proper handwashing technique. “Bandanas and cloth face coverings can protect those around you if you are infected, but they do not protect the wearer,” Pinkerton notes.
Many farmworkers reside in shared housing and travel to and from work with others. The new CDC guidance provides recommendations for employer-provided housing and transportation that are relevant in community settings.
“We have developed a number of topic-specific articles and resources for western agriculture to make the technical guidelines accessible for growers and employers on-the-ground. We have also created a user-friendly employer checklist and a training guide, both of which have been updated to align with the new CDC guidance,” Pinkerton added.