At the height of the harvest season, COVID-19 is exacerbating pre-existing challenges in farm workers’ lives. The National Center for Farmworkers Health (NCFH) is supporting federally qualified health centers (FQHC) and migrant worker organizations that are trying to help workers stay safe and informed.
“It’s hard not to think about farm workers because there is no one that I know that does not eat every day,” Sylvia Partida, CEO of NCFH, tells Food Tank. “To me that is a reminder of who I should be thankful to for being able to have food on my table.”
To better protect the workers, NCFH is collaborating with Justice for Migrant Women on the #Masks4Farmworkers campaign. The two organizations distribute and create masks to workers at community health care centers.
Masks are important in the fields where social distancing is difficult to practice. But sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) is often lacking. Because PPE has been deemed a tool for the job, governments encourage employers to provide masks, but do not require them to do so, Partida explains.
As of mid-July, only 8 states have implemented mandatory special protections for farm workers to ensure they receive masks and other PPE. But most farm workers must still supply their own.
Masks not only help prevent the spread of COVID-19, they also help to limit pesticide exposure, which contributes to respiratory problems and other health conditions. These same health conditions make workers more vulnerable to COVID-19. But appropriate PPE can also exacerbate the risk of heat-related illnesses that farm workers already face.
NCFH is also hosting webinars for healthcare centers to help them effectively communicate with farm workers about safety practices and COVID-19 testing. Partida explains that many centers across the country are overwhelmed with patient care. As a result, they are struggling to conduct information and outreach sessions for workers.
While NCFH has found success reaching workers with apps like WhatsApp, those who lack access to WiFi, email, laptops, or other technology may not receive the resources they need, Partida tells Food Tank. NCFH hopes that these webinars will help health centers develop new ways to communicate with farm workers.
NCFH is also hoping to reach more farm workers with mobile sites to test workers for COVID-19. While FQHC and Community Migrant Health Centers are currently running drive-thru testing sites, Partida says that farm workers without access to a vehicle cannot use these services. NCFH is working with FQHCs to expand mobile testing sites in the hopes of reaching a greater percentage of rural populations.
There is increased coverage on the difficulties farm workers are facing, and Partida hopes that the messages advocates share are coming through to people.
“I would hope that people begin to look at our food supply and all of the people who are responsible for ensuring that we have food on our table, and that is what keeps us healthy,” Partida tells Food Tank. “Their health is in jeopardy, but yet their work makes us healthy.”
Photo courtesy of NCFH