While social distancing can be implemented quite easily in the case of those who harvest fruits and vegetables in the fields, working outdoors, the products are packaged in totally different working conditions. Employees work “side by side”, both literally and figuratively. By the end of May, there were more than 600 cases of coronavirus among farm workers in Yakima, Washington. Of these, 62% were workers in the apple industry and other packaging operations or warehouses, according to the results of a Reuters analysis.
Employees at six fruit packing centers in Yakima went on strike in May over fears of infection with the new coronavirus and a lack of protective equipment. The situation is also difficult in Monterey, California, known as the “salad bowl of the world” for its many vegetable farms. The Department of Health reported that 247 agricultural workers tested positive for coronavirus as of June 5, accounting for 39 percent of all cases in the district.
On May 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration said the government could support the fruit and vegetable industry. The law, as amended, would give producers some protection over liability if workers become ill with coronavirus.
Lupe Gonzalo, a farm worker at Immokalee, said many of his colleagues could not afford to be absent from work, which means that there may be undetected cases among employees. “Many hide their symptoms or lie that it’s just a cold. If they have a fever, I just say it’s too hot outside, “Gonzalo added.