Farmworkers cause jump in U.S. COVID-19 cases; deaths hit new low from peak of 2,804

Day-labor farm workers recently demanded improved wages, fair representation, end to sexual harassment and access to clean water as they marched from Baja in a national caravan, “Fair Wages and Dignified Life.” They earn $9 an entire day in their home country and can earn that much in one hour in the U.S.

As Mexico enters a dangerous hike in coronavirus hospitalizations and fatalities, American media is promoting more lock-downs of entire U.S. states, arguing increased positive tests detected in Arizona, California, Utah, Nevada, Texas and Florida are caused by violating “social distancing.”

Mexico had 719 deaths Saturday, versus 612 in the U.S., and 602 deaths versus 285 in our country on Sunday. That 285 is the record LOW since April 19 peak of 2,804, even as the pundits tell you the world is ending.

Our southern neighbor – the most income unequal of nations – is a major source of virus cases coming here. Hospitals in that country are overflowing with COVID-19. People who need help go across the border.

Homeless in Los Angeles

Los Angeles (LA) accounted for half of all new positive test cases in California on Sunday – 2,523 – more than all but four U.S. states.

LA alone also suffered 20 of the 31 deaths statewide in California that day, and some blame its status as a sanctuary city that attracts the sick from beleaguered Mexico. Contributing to the infection hike are the health problems and poor sanitary conditions in the city’s susceptible homeless enclaves.

An even larger concern is the effect on farm states from the immigrant workers arriving here in recent weeks, spreading the virus due to corporate irresponsibility and government blindness. This has sparked fears within the agriculture industry that cases will continue to skyrocket as harvest season stretches into summer, and more and more crews will be sent into fields to pick, pack and ship crops.

Some 400,000 of the 2.5 million-person workforce follows the harvest, often traveling state to state, able to spread COVID-19 everywhere they go.

Lori Johnson, managing attorney of the Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina, warned:

It’s very concerning given that there have been several outbreaks at farm labor camps this early in the season in North Carolina.

The North Carolina hot spots have emerged in farm worker camps across the state, but not all positive cases are being reported, according to Anna Jensen, executive director of the North Carolina Farmworkers Project.

Jensen said the lack of access to comprehensive, clear test results is why she believes “things are going to get worse.”

Lupe Gonzalo, a longtime farm worker in Immokalee, Florida, agreed:

People are really scared, there are a lot of unknowns,

We’re still seeing many issues here in Immokalee where people still have to go to work, still have to provide for their families, and don’t have that access or ability to be able to socially distance from one another, not only in work, but also in their living situations.

By early May, Immokalee had 44 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Currently there are more than 1,000 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Jean Stowell

Doctors without Borders has established a mobile clinic in Immokalee to offer testing for migrant workers, and distribute sanitation products –  the first time the organization has worked in the U.S. It usually serves conflict zones.

In May, the clinic, which travels from farm to farm testing workers after shifts end, recorded a huge 35 percent positive rate, evidence that community spread was occurring, according to Jean Stowell. She heads the group’s U.S. Covid-19 effort. By comparison, the national positive rate is just six percent, some 1/7th that of farm workers.

Tomato season is wrapping up in Florida, and pickers are beginning to move north to follow harvests in other states. Stowell said.

Covid is here for the foreseeable future, so the issue of not having access to safe isolation will continue to be a problem for this community wherever they move, whether it’s Immokalee or Michigan

Like meatpacking plant employees, farm workers have been deemed essential workers, but the feds have not made safety rules mandatory, allowing farmers to decide if they will spend the money to enact any safety measures at all. The result: some workers have been protected and others died from the disease

One report noted:

Farm industry groups insist they are capable of keeping workers safe, noting that many farms have rebuilt workers’ housing to provide more separation among sleeping laborers. Many have also added hand-washing stations and mask requirements.

Meanwhile, farms in nearly every region see spikes in positive cases. More than 100 workers at two large produce operations in New Jersey contracted the virus in May. In North Carolina, a strawberry farm in Guilford County was closed after workers tested positive for the virus.

Fruit-packing workers in the Yakima Valley, Washington state, fought for personal protective equipment and other precautions after 500 of them were sickened by the virus. They finally pressured “What, me worry” Governor Jay Inslee to issue safety requirements. Testing might have revealed many more infections.

The CDC and OSHA, the nation’s public health and worker protection agencies, recently issued additional guidance for farm workers during the pandemic.

The joint guidance noted that “agriculture work sites, shared worker housing, and shared worker transportation vehicles, all present unique challenges for preventing and controlling the spread of Covid-19.” It recommended that farmers screen laborers for coronavirus risk, take temperatures and separate workers exhibiting symptoms when possible.

Marc Schenker, a public health professor at the University of California, Davis, and founder of the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, said:

All the characteristics of farm workers are risk factors, such as an inability to keep distance from coworkers, lack of readily available clean water and housing accommodations.

He said that OSHA has a long history of a “hands off attitude” that doesn’t adequately oversee the safety of agricultural workers:

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