Aug 15, 2020
NY Farm Bureau: Protections can safeguard employees and fall harvest

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Aug. 14 a series of new initiatives related to COVID-19 testing that will improve New York State’s ability to detect and control the virus in communities across the state.

According to a news release, the governor announced the launch of a pilot program to detect the presence of COVID-19 in wastewater, designed to establish an early indicator system to forecast virus spread in communities. $500,000 will support expanding initial wastewater sampling undertaken in Onondaga County and start sample collection in three additional communities, Albany, Newburgh and Buffalo.

In addition, after New York’s contact tracing program identified several new clusters at farms linked to seasonal workers who recently traveled to New York, the governor announced that the Department of Health and Department of Agriculture & Markets will dispatch mobile testing teams to farms in rural counties across the state, as well as assist with access to isolation housing where needed for workers who test positive.

The governor also announced that the State University of New York has been approved by the New York State Department of Health to undertake pooled surveillance testing for COVID-19 – an innovative method where numerous samples can be run as part of one test. SUNY’s pooled testing approach was developed and validated by SUNY Upstate Medical University’s laboratory, and will use saliva samples, pooled in batches as small as 10 and as large as 25 samples. SUNY Upstate will be able to conduct at least 12,000 more daily tests as a result of this innovative approach.

Mobile testing for seasonal farm workers 

According to the news release from Cuomo’s office, New York State has seen an increase in clusters associated with farms that employ seasonal workers who have traveled from out of state. These clusters have historically been due to the higher number of workers in close proximity since farms and food production facilities have remained open as essential businesses.

There are also congregate housing facilities that some farms provide for workers, which pose a higher risk for COVID transmission. Recognizing there are multiple factors that increase risk of COVID transmission present at farms across NYS, the State Department of Health and Department of Agriculture and Markets will deploy mobile testing teams to counties that have the highest influx of seasonal workers. The state will also support as needed with access to isolation housing for workers who test positive.

NY Farm Bureau statement on state’s testing plan for farmworkers during COVID-19 pandemic

New York Farm Bureau has advocated for interagency state coordination related to testing, medical treatment, and emergency housing for farmworkers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we support New York state’s latest response announced today by the governor as our farms approach the all-important fall harvest season.

More accessible testing and additional housing support for incoming guest workers will better protect farm employees who are already working on farms, as well as help to prevent the spread of the virus. An outbreak could dramatically impact a farm’s harvest. Not only would this be a health risk for the employees, but it could also mean less food production and a hit to the farm’s bottom-line if they do not have the labor or harvested product to sell.

Farmworkers are essential workers. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, 8,104 guest workers had H-2A visas last year to work on farms in this state. Many are now arriving on farms to assist in the harvest of fruits and vegetables, local food that feeds our communities. NYFB has conducted major outreach to the farming community about effective guidance and health protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. A recent NYFB survey found 84% of farms have safety plans in place to protect their employees. In addition, NYFB has worked with Cornell Cooperative Extension to conduct outreach to county health departments to assist and identify quarantine housing that may be needed.

As we have seen, no one and no place are immune from the virus. Farms are continuing to take this health crisis seriously, and this latest announcement from Gov, Cuomo will further this mission on our farms. NYFB thanks the hard work of the New York state agencies that are rolling out the plan, and we look forward to an ongoing partnership to protect agriculture’s valuable workforce. New York’s farms are still farming to meet our food security needs and this must continue.

To read the NYFB letter sent to the governor requesting assistance in April, click here.


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