By Christopher Valadez
As the 2021 harvest begins in our region, many programs and systems are in place to help limit the spread of COVID-19 among farm workers and the community. Specific to the Grower Shipper Association of Central California, mass vaccination clinics for farm workers will continue through the summer, but additional programs will provide necessary resources as we battle through this pandemic.
As we reflect back, we remember the phrase, “we are all in this together” as lockdowns began. And, that has proven true ━ we have all faced and endured this historic and tragic pandemic as a community. And, we have seen health care professionals, elected officials, government officials, community leaders, labor groups and agriculture work jointly and diligently to develop innovative worker protection programs that have been modeled in other regions. This significant effort underscores that “we are all in this together” is more than just a phrase.
So where are we today? Over 24,000 vaccinations have been administered to farm employees in our region through the Grower Shipper Association and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas mass vaccination clinics. By June, we hope that 35,000 essential ag workers will be fully vaccinated through these clinics.
Quarantined housing through Grower Shipper Association is available to farm workers who may have been exposed to the virus, have tested positive or have symptoms. This housing includes daily deliveries of meals and other necessities as well as welfare checks by health professionals from Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.
Prevention practices to limit the spread of the virus on farms and in ag facilities, including social distancing, face mask requirements and employee training, will continue. Further, California has implemented COVID-specific regulations for employers mandating training, prevention practices and paid sick leave.
What more can be done? Employee education about the importance of receiving vaccinations will be an important effort among ag employers, health care workers and community leaders. Further, we must stay vigilant about other worker safety protections, including heat prevention and wildfire smoke mitigation.
Finally, we must continually assess and evolve programs as the virus evolves. What worked well, what could be improved and what practices should become permanent to successfully prevent the spread of any virus among our workforce.
As we move forward, the new partnerships and relationships built over the last year will be key as we tackle existing issues as well as face future challenges in our region. The pandemic has shown us that we are better when we work together to find solutions. We need each other and we must lean on each other. If there is a silver lining to this tragic pandemic, it is that we have learned the true meaning and tangible results of “we are all in this together.”
Christopher Valadez is the president of the Grower-Shipper Assn. of Central California.