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The United States is confronting an outbreak of a novel coronavirus that causes serious respiratory disease. It may be deadly for older people and those with weakened immune systems. The World Health Organization is now calling the outbreak a global pandemic because it’s affecting countries all around the world.

People and organizations can still fight coronavirus by taking steps to prevent transmission of the disease. The whole point of widespread cancellation of events is to create “social distancing” to reduce the infection rate and prevent health-care systems from being overwhelmed. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides clear guidance about preventing infection in both English and Spanish. They also provide a number of printable factsheets and posters in English and Spanish suitable for use in the workplace. Visit www.cdc.gov for more information.

Employers need to take action steps

The farm workforce is not immune to the coronavirus. Begin taking steps to protect both producers and employees.

  • Talk with employees about coronavirus, how it spreads and how to prevent becoming infected.
  • Print the CDC factsheets and posters, and post in the workplace and employee-housing facilities.
  • Provide guidance to help employees clean and disinfect employer-provided housing. Follow up with employees and manage the process to be sure it happens. Schedule a regular weekly and daily schedule for cleaning. 
  • Clean and disinfect the workplace. The employee breakroom and bathroom are great places for the virus to be transmitted. Clean and disinfect any areas where employees congregate or routinely touch items such as doorknobs and computer keyboards. Schedule daily and weekly cleaning tasks.
  • Provide cleaning supplies such as cleaning solutions, buckets, mops, brushes, etc. for cleaning at work and for those living in employer-provided housing. 
  • Review the farm’s sick-leave policy. The first advice for people who are sick is to stay home except to get medical care. Does the farm provide paid sick leave for its employees? If not, will employees feel financially obligated to come to work even if they are sick?
  • Communicate with employees that they should stay home if they are sick. Employees sometimes come to work believing they will face punishment or firing if they miss work. Be sure employees understand that their health and that of their co-workers comes first. Communicate and make a plan to cover for sick employees. The CDC provides posters in English and Spanish covering symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
  • Prepare disaster-contingency plan. Consider what will happen if 50 percent of employees become sick and are unable to work. Are there neighboring farms who might be able to share resources in an emergency? Who will manage for a few weeks if the producer or another key manager is unable to leave the house or is hospitalized?

Cornell University provides the Extension Disaster Education Network to provide community-education resources across the entire disaster cycle of preparedness, response and recovery. Pennsylvania State University also provides farm-disaster-preparedness resources.

While there is currently no vaccine to prevent this virus, these simple steps can help stop the spread of this and other respiratory viruses.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Richard Stup is with Agricultural Workforce Development at Cornell University.