Jun 26, 2020
Report: Coronavirus outbreaks tied to migrant farm workers in Michigan

Coronavirus outbreaks among migrant workers are contributing to an uptick in cases in Michigan, which experts blame on short growing seasons, crowded housing, tenuous income and mistrust of government.

According to Bridge Magazine, in the past few weeks, health officials have identified outbreaks in Lapeer, Oceana and Branch counties among workers tending to farms. The outbreaks come as Michigan’s caseload is tracking upward, with more than 300 new cases in each of the past two days this week.

In Oceana County, along Michigan’s west coast, more than 183 cases since May 1 have been traced  to two agriculture outbreaks, with 102 of those cases in two farms alone, said Lynn Sutfin, a Michigan health spokesperson.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has attempted to address the problem with an executive order requiring migrant housing operators to separate worker beds by at least six feet when possible and encourage them to sleep head-to-toe. The order, which is set to expire next week, also requires isolation units for sick workers and other safeguards.

But the rules haven’t always been followed, and health officials have found that keeping sick workers off the job is far from easy, said Dr. Jennifer Morse, medical director for three health districts covering 19 counties in north and central Michigan.

“We’ve had to resign ourselves to bending the rules a bit … No matter what we say, they’re going to find work,” she said.

Bridge Magazine reports:

Migrant workers sometimes hide symptoms from employers – worried that they will lose the pay on which they and their families rely. Some may worry about deportation, Morse said.

They also live and socialize in tight quarters in Michigan’s largely rural stretches, she said.

Meanwhile, farm owners and employees are reluctant to force sick workers from their shifts or try to quarantine them in separate housing. They worry they’ll lose workers to competitor farms while their own produce in the fields and greenhouses goes to waste.

And if that happens, sick workers continue the outbreak at the other farms, Morse said.

They also live and socialize in tight quarters in Michigan’s largely rural stretches, she said.

Meanwhile, farm owners and employees are reluctant to force sick workers from their shifts or try to quarantine them in separate housing. They worry they’ll lose workers to competitor farms while their own produce in the fields and greenhouses goes to waste.

And if that happens, sick workers continue the outbreak at the other farms, Morse said.

For the entire Bridge Magazine story, visit here.


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