If farmworkers suffer a coronavirus outbreak, the nation’s food supply is at risk

In the coming weeks and months, tens of thousands of migrant farmworkers will arrive in agricultural centers across the nation, from Washington’s Yakima Valley to the coastal plains of North Carolina and Georgia, where they will live and work in conditions that are prime for a coronavirus outbreak.

Yet despite the fact that these are the men and women Americans depend on to plant, tend, and harvest their food, “these workers and their advocates say that many of the farmers who employ them have provided virtually no information on how they can protect themselves, their co-workers, and their families from the coronavirus — creating the potential for a massive public-health and food-security crisis,” as Liza Gross and Esther Honig explain in FERN’s latest story, published with HuffPost.

“Workers are petrified,” said Armando Elenes, secretary treasurer of the United Farm Workers, the nation’s largest farmworkers union. “The majority of them don’t have healthcare, have little or no sick pay, and don’t have a safety net.”

“The precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are virtually impossible to carry out on many farms,” Gross and Honig write. “Fields and orchards provide plenty of space for social distancing, but labor camps and transportation tend to be unsanitary and crowded. Depending on the size of the farm, a single housing unit can hold 200 workers or more. There are no federal guidelines governing what a farmer should do if they don’t have space to quarantine sick workers or how those who may have the virus can access healthcare services.”