Covid-19 spreading among Florida farmworkers

In the last several weeks, health workers in Immokalee, Florida, the nation’s tomato-growing capital, have detected an alarming spike in Covid-19 cases: an average of 24 new positives a day, reports Elizabeth Royte in FERN’s latest story. In April, the town of roughly 30,000 — most of whom work in agriculture and many of whom are undocumented — saw a total of 42 positive cases. Since then, that number leaped twelve-fold.

“These upticks mark a new front in Covid-19’s march through the food system, beyond the meatpacking plants that have been ravaged by the disease,” Royte writes. “But why was the leap in positive cases so sudden in Immokalee? Because, advocates say, the virus testing got off to a slow start in this poverty-stricken town, as it has in other agricultural areas.”

This flurry of testing “has shown the real vulnerabilities of this community,” said Oscar Otzoy, a farmworker turned organizer for the CIW, through a Spanish translator. “We are unprotected from this virus because it’s not easy to do social distancing.” Most workers rent mobile homes, with up to four people crammed into a single room, and ride to farm fields in buses crowded with 40 to 60 people, the story says.

In a worrisome development, many of these same farmworkers are getting ready to migrate to other states to follow the harvest. The potential for transporting the virus anew to those areas is real, but officials can take actions to limit the potential for spreading the disease, Otzoy said.