Keeping Farmworkers Safe From COVID-19

Ernie NeffCOVID-19, Labor


University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) experts are working with farmworkers to help keep them safe from COVID-19. The experts are connecting the farmworkers with COVID-19 free testing, safety information and training – a role they have been serving throughout the pandemic.

Extension agents are partnering with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), county health agencies and farmworker coalitions throughout the state.

 Extension agents statewide have led the efforts by:

  • Conducting scheduled mask distributions
  • Providing training for growers on social distancing, frequent handwashing and sanitizing of surfaces and how to avoid close-contact situations
  • Translating posters with COVID-19 safety instructions into Spanish and Haitian Creole to reach more community members

Gene McAvoy, associate director of stakeholder relations at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC) helps lead a program to teach farm-labor supervisors to keep ag workers safer. McAvoy approached the Farm Labor Supervisor Program team at SWFREC and proposed the development of a COVID-19 training program for farm-labor supervisors at no charge. 

“We quickly mobilized and offered the first remote training session in mid-August and have conducted several since that time in anticipation of workers returning to Florida for the fall season,” McAvoy said.

UF/IFAS, in partnership with the Southeastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, has provided resources and educational materials to agricultural employers and contractors. It has disseminated information on the availability, dates and times of testing in their communities. Extension agents have also worked with FDACS, local health departments and emergency management teams in getting the word out and advising on strategies for effectively reaching out to the ag community, McAvoy said.

Looking out for the health of agricultural workers through COVID testing also makes economic sense, said economist Kim Morgan. She leads the UF/IFAS effort at SWFREC to disseminate information about safe COVID-19 measures to farm-labor supervisors. “Widespread COVID-19 infections could cause disruptions in the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain as a result of the loss of health and, even more devastating, the loss of lives of the humans we depend upon during the production and harvesting seasons,” said Morgan. “So it is our goal to protect them.”

Craig Frey, director of UF/IFAS Extension Hendry County, said he and his staff have corresponded with more than 1,550 people across South Florida and provided them with information and access to training at SWFREC. Frey also serves as the multi-county commercial horticulture Extension agent for Hendry, Glades, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.

Learn more about free COVID-19 testing for farmworkers.

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