Fruit fields and processing plants are turning out to be a food industry hotspot for COVID-19, especially in the Pacific Northwest.
Washington state is seeing a big increase in COVID cases, especially in Yakima County, which has left growers and processors struggling to pick and package this year’s crop of apples, sweet cherries and other fruit. The county had 7,349 cases of coronavirus as of the end of June, with roughly one-fifth of them among agricultural workers, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Agricultural workers are especially at risk because they often are seasonal employees who live as well as work together, in dorms, motels and tents. Authorities have tried to impose safeguards, such as mandating that beds in shared housing be at least six feet apart, but some of them say the odds are against them.
“In congregate living facilities, there’s really not a lot you can do, which is why it’s so important to keep it out of there in the first place,” a spokesperson for the Yakima County health department told the Journal.
An executive with a fruit grower said that the work on his farm is two weeks behind because of the worker shortage: “Apples will be falling on the ground because we didn’t get to them in time.”