Jun 18, 2020
Ag workers responsible for COVID-19 case hikes in Florida?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 16 again echoed his recent sentiments from about COVID-19 spread among Florida farmworkers as the state reported the highest increase in new coronavirus cases Tuesday, however, the Florida Department of Agriculture says the governor is mistaken.

During a news conference June 16, DeSantis said an increase in testing and spread among certain communities, including long-term care facilities, prisons and migrant farmworkers were to blame for the new cases. The governor said he has no plans to roll back the current phase two reopening stage Florida started last week.

DeSantis again mentioned a watermelon farm saying the farm, which he did not name, was tied to 90 cases. He blamed poor working conditions and close quarters.

“You have very risky working conditions, particularly in these farm camps or with some of these construction workers, you know some of these guys, they go to work in a school bus, and they’re like sardines going across like Palm Beach County or some of these other places, and you know just all these opportunities to have transmission,” DeSantis said.

On June 16 in response to the governor’s remarks regarding farmworkers, agriculture, and COVID-19, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesman Franco Ripple offered the following statement:

The governor is mistaken regarding agriculture being a primary driver of COVID-19 in Florida. Commissioner Fried has been in close, regular communication with Florida’s leading agricultural associations throughout COVID-19. There is evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in areas where farms are located, but the vast majority of farmworkers left agricultural communities several weeks ago, as harvests have ended.

As the governor continues to prematurely reopen Florida, we’re seeing increases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and positivity in recent weeks, including the state’s highest-ever single-day number of cases just yesterday. Many areas where cases are spiking are in non-agricultural counties, such as Broward, Duval and Hillsborough, which have seen their highest positive case days in over a month.

The Florida Department of Health has not communicated to our department any specific concerns about agriculture and COVID-19. Commissioner Fried’s 10-page report to the governor’s re-opening task force included recommending that all farmworkers have adequate PPE, access to adequate healthcare and COVID-19 testing, and are able to practice social distancing on farms and food processing facilities. With her encouragement, many agricultural producers are following these recommendations. Commissioner Fried recommended that the governor work with her to ensure that PPE, healthcare, and COVID-19 testing for farmworkers be provided, but has not received any response.”


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