Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has mandated that all agricultural employers “broadly” test their workers in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak and comply with another round of stringent protocols, while state health authorities have mandated one large tree fruit employer test every single employee.
On Aug. 19, Inslee issued amendments to his proclamation requiring a number of steps to protect agricultural workers from contracting COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The updates require that employers test all their employees if local health authorities determine they have more than nine employees or 10 percent of the workforce test positive within 14 days. The amendments also prohibit workers who decline a test from returning to work.
Other new measures involve:
—Include instructions for filing for sick leave and workers compensation in training programs.
—For all symptomatic or positive workers in isolation, provide employer-paid medical exams twice daily, access to life-saving facilities within 20 minutes and an emergency room with ventilators within one hour. The Washington State Tree Fruit Association recommends growers who can’t meet that requirement move isolated employees off-site to state-funded or county-managed facilities.
Inslee’s office did not discuss the new round of mandates with the Tree Fruit Association or other agricultural organizations, said Jon DeVaney, association president, in a message to its members.
Meanwhile, John Wiesman, the Washington state health secretary, issued an order to Gebbers Farms of Brewster to test all of its estimated 4,500 employees and anyone living in the company’s housing facilities. Gebbers, one of the largest tree fruit growers in the country, has had a significant outbreak and three deaths of its Okanogan employees, the order said.
For a news release from the governor’s office, with links to the amended proclamation and Gebbers order, visit https://www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/inslee-issues-proclamation-requiring-agricultural-worker-testing.
—by Ross Courtney