Sunday, 07 August 2022

Lake County farmers implement worker protection standards for COVID-19 during harvest

Lake County Bartlett pears in bins await their trip to the packing house. Photo by Diane Henderson.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – With pear harvest underway, the Lake County ag community has been working hard to develop and implement safety protocols for farmworkers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Since early June, an agricultural employer group has been meeting biweekly with Lake County Public Health Officer Dr. Gary Pace to develop these strategies, reduce the chance of outbreaks and keep the farmworker community safe.

“Developing safety protocols for farmworkers during Lake County harvest has been the number one priority of our Ag Employer Advisory group,” Lake County Executive Director Brenna Sullivan said. “In addition to discussing resources, safety standards and PPE distribution, we’ve also developed strategies for working with Lake County Public Health to test employees should there be a positive COVID case.”

Lake County Public Health has offered rooms free-of-charge to farmworkers who have tested positive for COVID-19 and need to quarantine.

The Lake County Department of Agriculture, which has also been an active participant in the Ag Employers Advisory group, has provided free face masks for ag employers and farmworkers.

The Lake County Farm Bureau has published resources for farmers and is working with Farm Bureaus in surrounding counties to develop distribution strategies for materials in Spanish.

At the Aug. 11 Board of Supervisors meeting, Dr. Pace acknowledged the ongoing efforts within the ag community to reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission among farmworkers.

“The ag community has been really engaged in trying to do everything possible to keep people safe … People are coming in from the Central Valley now to pick and the ag community is really working hard to keep this under control,” Pce said.

Mitigations in the field such as requiring face masks, eliminating or minimizing shared surfaces, sanitizing common areas twice daily and daily pre-work temperature checks have become common in pear orchards. In the fields, employees work separately; the nature of working on orchard ladders ensures social distancing.

Additional shade structures are also mandated by the state to create enough room for social distancing at breaks. In the packing sheds, many precautions have been taken including daily temperature checks, mandatory masking, sanitizing surfaces and maximizing ventilation.

One challenge has been the congregate living spaces in domestic harvest crews from the Central Valley and H2A workers. Strategies to mitigate risks have included creating smaller crews who live, work and travel together, putting up barriers in congregate housing, and creating social distancing at meals and break periods by moving dining areas outside and separating seating areas.

COVID-19 has not been the only challenge facing the ag community this season. Extreme heat and now smoke from wildfires has created additional difficulties in the fields.

In addition to cloth masks for COVID-19 prevention, the Lake County Ag Department now has N-95 particulate masks available for farmworkers. Cal OSHA requires that employees wear N-95 particulate masks when the Air Quality Index is 151 or greater (‘unhealthy’ air quality).

Ag employers are encouraged to contact the Lake County Ag Department at 707-263-0217 for more information.

As winegrape and walnut harvest gears up over the next couple months, efforts through the county, ag groups and individual employers will continue to keep workers safe.

For more resources on COVID-19 safety standards for farmworkers, contact the Lake County Farm Bureau office at 707-263-0911.

Upcoming Calendar

08.07.2022 2:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Aug. 7 cooking class
08.09.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
08.09.2022 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Rotary Club of Clear Lake
08.10.2022 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
PG&E regional wildfire safety webinar
08.11.2022 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
08.13.2022 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Old Time Machines
08.13.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile

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