September 25, 2020 at 12:18 AM EDT
Virus’s unseen hot zone: The American farm
By Laura Reiley and Beth Reinhard
In Yakima County, Wash., some fruit orchard owners declined on-site testing of workers by health departments at the height of harvest season even as coronavirus infections spiked. In Monterey, Calif., workers at some farms claimed foremen asked them to hide positive diagnoses from other crew members. And in Collier County, Fla., health officials did not begin widespread testing of farmworkers until the end of harvest, at which point the workers had already migrated northward.
At the height of harvest season, growers supplying some of America’s biggest agricultural companies and grocery store chains flouted public health guidelines to limit testing and obscure coronavirus outbreaks, according to thousands of pages of state and local records reviewed by The Washington Post.
At the same time, state agencies and growers were slow to determine how and when to test workers, what protocols to adopt when workers tested positive, and how to institute contact tracing, advocates say. They say that there should have been mandatory personal protective equipment and clear guidance on worker safety at the federal and state levels.