Will new COVID-19 farmworker rules be effective?

Coronavirus

Outbreaks at Townsend Farms show the challenges

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The recent COVID-19 outbreaks at food processing facilities in Oregon and Washington prompted new rules to take effect to try and improve the working and living conditions for agriculture workers.

The outbreaks in both states are in both permanent and migrant workers in the fruit industry. One of the big issues is the close contact of workers in the farm fields and processing plants. Companies are under pressure to space employees from each other, and health inspectors are now taking a much closer look.

While healthcare has always been a challenge for those without health insurance, this year the pandemic has made it an even greater challenge.

Dr. Laura Byerly with the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center told KOIN 6 News they “retooled our whole migrant camp program to go weekly to the sites. Instead of focusing on primary care, we are focused on the testing.”

But testing is itself a challenge.

“When 200 people come in overnight, it’s a lot of work. We take 8 people out to the camp,” she said.

New COVID-19 outbreak reported at Townsend Farms
Inslee introduces new farmworker protections

Both Gov. Kate Brown and Gov. Jay Inslee announced new rules requiring workers be spaced out in the field, while being driven to and from work and masks are required. There’s also a requirement for more sanitation in the fields.

But a big problem is that they are housed in close quarters. Oregon is just one of a few states that will ban the use of top bunks in migrant housing quarters — unless they’re family members — to provide more space.

There are more than 29,000 migrant farmworkers in Oregon coming from Mexico and other countries, as well as from California and Washington.

Many temporary agricultural workers arrive here through a special visa program. They’re recruited by US companies and are required to leave afterwards.

The 2 outbreaks at Townsend Farms in Fairview were slightly different. In the first one a few months ago, permanent workers were affected. The other more recent outbreak came from migrant workers who were tested as they arrived in Oregon last weekend.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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