This month the CDC released Interim Guidance designed to help agricultural workers and employers respond to the changing circumstances of COVID-19. The document is quite comprehensive so in addition to sharing the link with you, we have highlighted several items we feel are most relevant to New Hampshire Agriculture. We also provided additional links to resources that may be useful in training workers.
When to stay home: Perhaps the most basic piece of advice is to make sure your workers know to stay home when experiencing symptoms, and ensure, to the best of your ability, that your policies incentivize this positive behavior. Have a plan in place for what actions will be taken if someone does come to work and you suspect they are sick, or if a worker who lives on site gets sick.
Consider grouping workers into cohorts: As has been said many times before, COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person. Particularly, for larger groups of employees, dividing them into cohorts or smaller groups who always work together can help minimize the risk of spread. Cohorts could be formed based on housing arrangements; employees who live together could work together. For farms whose workers do not live on site, cohorts could be based on shifts or skill sets, or something else that makes sense on your farm.
Farm Vehicles: If it is not possible to have only one worker in a vehicle at a time, take steps to ensure each worker has as much space as possible. Encourage workers to wear face masks while they are in vehicles and keep the windows open or the AC on to increase ventilation. Transport one cohort at a time and have a mobile handwashing station or hand sanitizer in each vehicle. The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting vehicles a minimum of once a day.
Handwashing training video in English from New Mexico State University Extension (Subtitles can be selected and auto-translated into many different languages)
Handwashing Poster from the World Health Organization
Training Poster from Colorado State University Extension regarding best practices when using gloves
Breakrooms and other common spaces: The risk of transmission is lower outdoors, so if possible, utilize outdoor spaces for breaks and meetings and use social distancing. Do you have picnic tables and shade tents? Can employees bring their own lawn chairs?
Where outdoor breaks are not possible, if your workers are in cohorts, schedule their breaks so that only one cohort is in the common space at a time. Ensure the rooms have good airflow and are cleaned and disinfected routinely. If common cooking items such as microwaves and refrigerators are available, provide supplies for cleaning those items. Consider modifying common spaces to encourage social distancing by moving furniture or creating physical barriers such as plastic screens.
In shared housing situations, a head to toe sleeping arrangement with 6 feet between beds is recommended. Encourage workers to wear face coverings when they are in shared spaces or are unable to stay 6 feet apart.
Face coverings: As critical as face coverings are, please ensure your employees know how to use them properly. Masks are not needed if you can easily maintain a 6-foot distance between workers. Be aware that mask can increase the risks associated with heat stress. Consider steps you can take to minimize these risks including, but not limited to, additional breaks and deliberately scheduling tasks such that masks aren’t needed during the hottest times of the day. Also, be aware that masks need to be changed whenever they get soiled or sweaty.
Training and Other Resources:
How to Safely Wear and Take off a Cloth Face Covering CDC Factsheet
COVID-19 Face Coverings: Best Practices for Produce Growers Colorado State University Extension Factsheet
Face masks are available for $30 per box of 50 at NH State Liquor and Wine Outlets.
Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting of surfaces: Part One UNH Extension Blog
Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting of surfaces: Part Two UNH Extension Blog
Free Downloadable Posters about COVID-19 Precautions in Different Languages