In a ruling on April 21, a Yakima County judge struck down a few emergency requirements dealing with medical monitoring and proximity to health services that Washington regulators imposed on agricultural employers farming through the coronavirus pandemic.

Yakima County Superior Court Judge Blaine Gibson issued a stay against the state Department of Labor and Industries enforcing some portions of emergency rules intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among farmworkers.

The ruling stemmed from a legal challenge filed in February by wafla and the Washington Farm Bureau to the emergency regulations, first imposed in the spring of 2020 and renewed several times as the pandemic wore on. 

“After a year of asking the state to work with the farm community to make science-based adjustments to the COVID-19 emergency regulations, we’re very pleased with this common-sense ruling,” John Stuhlmiller, chief executive officer of the Washington Farm Bureau, said in a news release. 

Gibson’s stay applies to the following:

—Requiring twice-daily medical visits to farmworkers isolating with COVID-19 or symptoms.

—Requiring 20-minute access to emergency services and one-hour access to an emergency room with a ventilator.

—Requiring growers to allow open access to farms by community workers.

However, the ruling leaves intact several other items challenged by wafla and the Washington Farm Bureau, including the prohibition of bunk bed use in housing except for cohorts of 15 or fewer people and requiring social distancing on worker transportation.

“The most important pieces for protecting workers were upheld by this decision,” said Tim Church, a spokesman for the Department of Labor and Industries. 

In fact, Labor and Industries and the state Department of Health both agreed that regulations about monitoring and proximity to health services were unworkable in some remote, rural areas of the state’s farming industry, and both departments submitted declarations in the lawsuit stating that.

The emergency regulations next expire on May 8. Authorities most likely will renew them with changes, Church said. High on the agricultural employers’ wish list is an exemption for workers who have been vaccinated.

—by Ross Courtney