Farmers can take precautions to limit exposure to COVID-19, finding ways to reduce person-to-person contact and making use of all appropriate personal protective equipment.
The Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center is providing guidance on the prevention and spread of COVID-19 for farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers.
The center reminders workers to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on prevention of the coronavirus, as well as instructions/recommendations from state and local government officials, medical providers, extension resources and other trusted sources.
In order to remain healthy and able to do your work, follow these precautions:
Take extra care to avoid injuries
Since hospitals are overwhelmed with coronavirus patients and medical provider resources already are strained, farm and ranch workers should take extra precautions to avoid work-related injury or illness. Be aware of your surroundings and practice safety principles.
Create an emergency plan
Create a business plan that outlines how your operation will go forward in the event of someone becoming ill and unable to function in their job. Review the plan with everyone involved in daily operations to ensure that the plan could be implemented, if necessary.
Review your operation’s daily activities and seek ways to avoid person-to-person contact. Postpone tasks that require personal interaction but aren’t necessary to daily operations. When possible, complete work activities remotely rather than as a group or person-to-person, and take advantage of electronic communications.
Utilize the masks and respirators commonly used to deal with agricultural dust, gases, etc., to help combat the spread of coronavirus including N95/100 masks for dust and a half mask with cartridges for dust and gases, including pesticides.
N95/100 masks also protect against viruses. If these types of masks are not available, a tight-fitting surgical mask or home-made mask may provide some protection. Wearing a mask as you complete agricultural activities helps protect the wearer from both agricultural hazards (dust, gases) and from being exposed to or exposing others to coronavirus, if you are infected.
If your N95 mask has a valve, be aware that your exhaled breath escapes through the valve and is not filtered. If your mask features an exhale valve, tape it shut. This minimizes the spread of small particles and droplets that are breathed out.
In order to ensure that your mask is effective, do a seal check to make sure the mask fits closely around your nose and mouth.
After removing the mask, wash your hands. When working in dirty or high-dust environments, place a clean cloth/bandana over the mask to help protect it. Keep the mask clean and in good condition so it remains effective.
When not in use, store masks in a clean, dry location. Anytime you reuse a mask, assume it carries some contamination. Wash or sanitize your hands after putting it on and taking it off, or when cleaning, caring for and storing the mask.
Anyone who has been exposed to or infected with COVID-19 should wear a mask. Before putting the mask on, sanitize your hands and avoid adjusting or touching the mask while wearing it.
Hand hygiene on and off the farm
Everyone should wash their hands regularly. Basic handwashing steps include:
Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, apply soap.
Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds (hum “Happy Birthday” song twice).
Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
When working in the field or barn wash your hands regularly. When possible, use soap to wash your hands. If soap isn’t available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Wash/sanitize your hands often and avoid touching your face, mouth, eyes and nose.
Disinfect surfaces on and off the farm
Everyone comes in contact with a variety of surfaces throughout the day, including cell phones, touch screens at stores and businesses, ATMs, vehicle steering wheels and controls, tools, utensils, tables, chairs, doorknobs, light switches, tablets, remote controls, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets and sinks.
Touching contaminated surfaces has been shown to be a means to transmit coronavirus. To sanitize these surfaces, wear disposable gloves and use water in combination with cleaning and EPA-registered disinfecting agents or wipes. The active ingredient in bleach — sodium hypochlorite — is effective at killing the virus. Be sure to allow the bleach to work for a minimum of 10-15 minutes before wiping the surface with a clean cloth.
When to use disposable gloves
Wear gloves when handling or transporting any item/equipment that is or is suspected to be contaminated.
Wear gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are or are suspected to be contaminated.
Remove and discard gloves once cleaning or disinfecting is completed.
Do not wash or reuse the gloves.
Complete hand hygiene procedure after glove removal and disposal.
When you return home from work
To protect your family and your community after returning from work, leave personal protective equipment that has been used throughout the day at your worksite or in your truck. Wash your hands before leaving work and use disinfectant on your hands before entering your home. Remove your shoes and leave them outside or by the door. If possible, change your clothes and shower before contacting anyone in your household.
How can you get infected with coronavirus?
Currently, medical providers know that coronavirus can be spread through person-to-person contact or from touching a contaminated surface or object. Virus spreads in person-to-person contact:
Between people who are in close contact, less than 6 feet between them.
Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.
These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly can be inhaled into the lungs.
Some recent studies have suggested that coronavirus may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.
Maintaining good social distance (about 6 feet) is important in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
What if i am sick?
If you have a fever or cough, you may have COVID-19. Most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home.
Get immediate medical attention if you develop any of the following emergency warning signs:
g Trouble breathing
g Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
g New confusion or inability to arouse.
g Bluish lips or face.
If you call 911, inform the operator that you have or believe you might have COVID-19. If possible, put on a face mask before medical help arrives.