Aug 20, 2020
Washington mandates broad COVID-19 testing for farms experiencing outbreaks

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Aug 19 issued an update to Proclamation 20-57, “Concerning the Health of Agricultural Workers.” The proclamation now requires agricultural employers to test their workforce broadly when health officials identify an outbreak that passes certain thresholds.

Since the governor first issued Proclamation 20-57 on May 28, the total number of cases in Washington has increased from 21,138 to 67,721, an average rate of more than 500 new cases per day. Many of these are appearing at farms and food-packing facilities, where employees often work, travel, and live together in close contact.

“There is no question that we need to escalate our response to this pandemic, and we know that additional focus must be placed on agricultural workplaces,” Inslee said. “From the data, we know that people of color have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, and while we have much work to do to address that, this is one step in the right direction.”

In addition to the governor’s proclamation, Sec. of Health John Wiesman concurrently directed an order to Gebbers Farms, following a significant outbreak among their operations and the subsequent deaths of three of their Okanogan employees. The order will require all Gebbers employees to be tested within the coming weeks, and the effort will be led by the Department of Health’s epidemiology team.

“Testing is one of the critical tools we have available to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Wiesman said. “With the large and disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on agricultural workers, it is important that we come together to quickly identify cases, including those who may be asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic, so we can ensure they have a safe work environment.”

Inslee’s proclamation furthers his commitment to ensure the health and welfare of Washington’s agricultural workers and follows his Aug. 10 announcement of two relief funds and a commitment to additional PPE distribution.

“Agricultural workers are some of the hardest-working people of our state. Their labor is integral to Washington’s economy, and they bring to our table the many nutritious foods that Washington has to offer,” Inslee said. “We call upon all agricultural employers to join us in proactively safeguarding against workplace outbreaks. When employers are unable to do so on their own, local health jurisdictions and state Department of Health will be ready to intervene.”

Read the full proclamation here.

Read the full order here.


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