Farmworkers on the front lines of coronavirus and wildfires

The COVID-19 global pandemic, exacerbated by unprecedented wildfires in Oregon, has demonstrated that farmworkers deemed ‘essential’ are on the frontlines.

Few farmworkers in Oregon report getting tested for the coronavirus despite knowing infected people or being directly exposed to COVID-19, according to a survey of 200 workers across the state. The COVID-19 Farmworker Study said that when protective equipment is available, workers take necessary precautions and follow safety procedures at home and at work.

“The COVID-19 global pandemic, exacerbated by unprecedented wildfires in Oregon, has demonstrated that farmworkers deemed ‘essential,’ are on the climate crisis’s front lines,” said the study, released on Tuesday. The blazes were “worsening already hazardous working conditions” for field workers, it said.

There are an estimated 174,000 seasonal and migrant farmworkers in the state, many of them Latinx and from Mexico or Guatemala. As a group, they “have experienced disproportionately higher rates of COVID-19 than people from other ethnic backgrounds and work industries,” said the study.

“Over 34% of farmworkers reported they knew a coworker who was infected, and 20% reported someone in their household has been infected,” said the study. Although a quarter of the infected people were taken to the hospital, most stayed home or went into isolation. Only 37% of farmworkers said they were tested for COVID-19. “Cost and fear of losing a job are significant barriers to accessing testing and care.”

“Farmworkers worry greatly about family members outside the United States, and the pandemic has resulted in a significant reduction in remittances sent to families in Mexico and Guatemala who depend on them,” said the study. Some 40% of respondents said that because of lower income, they were no longer sending remittances.

The Oregon COVID-19 Farmworker Study is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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