With the help of stakeholders around the state, Wisconsin’s migrant and seasonal agricultural workers and employers are successfully meeting the challenges brought on by COVID-19 to ensure their health and safety, as well as that of the surrounding communities.
Family Health La Clinica Community Health Center, the only Migrant Health Center in the state of Wisconsin, in partnership with the Wisconsin Farmworkers’ Coalition, has extended a statewide education and outreach program targeted specifically to serve this important sector of the state’s economy. Through testing for COVID-19 and awareness on how to keep safe from contracting and spreading the virus, food producers who employ MSAWs across the state can ensure the secure continuation of our nation’s food supply.
Since it began two months ago, this rapid-response project has provided COVID-19 education, screening and testing to nearly 1,500 workers at farms, canneries, housing sites, and other agricultural worksites across Wisconsin. Out of the nearly 1,500 total tests only 12 returned positive for the virus, or a rate of less than 1%.
When a positive result is confirmed, the process is to follow the best available guidance for quarantine and isolation to ensure that the virus does not spread to others. After this period, once the risk has subsided, then they can safely return to work.
John Bauknecht of United Migrant Opportunity Services states it is important to note that, “it appears that these workers coming into Wisconsin from foreign countries and other states have much lower positive rates than the general population, upon arrival in Wisconsin. Thus, the risks of workers becoming infected by Wisconsin residents is greater than risks of the workers infecting Wisconsin residents.” This is reflected in the results obtained through this ongoing project.
The Education and Empowerment for Wisconsin Migrant Seasonal Agriculture Workers project began in April and will extend through the end of 2020. In addition to screening, testing, and education for MSAWs and their employers, eleven comprehensive worksite and housing assessments across the state have been provided to date.
Dr. Cheston Price, medical director for Mobile Migrant Health Services at Family Health La Clinica attests that, “these assessments provide a vehicle for employers to help ensure they are taking all measures possible to provide safe work and living environments for incoming workers. Employers naturally want what is best for their workers, and that includes applying the best available guidance to help ensure that all remain safe and healthy throughout the agricultural season and beyond.”
This project is funded by the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the State of Wisconsin. The Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment is a statewide health improvement philanthropy propelling promising work and ideas in health research, health care education, and community health initiatives to build a healthier Wisconsin for generations to come. The testing for COVID-19 component of the project is being supported by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and the National Guard is assisting with testing for larger worker groups. Other stakeholders such as county public health and additional organizations serving Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers around the state have come together to partner and provide additional assistance on this project to reach all in need of these services and resources.
For more information, to access educational and best practice resources, or to submit a request for assistance, visit famhealth.com/wi-msaw-covid-19 or call 920-787-9450. All assessments, education, and testing are provided free of charge to both workers and employers across the state of Wisconsin. Support during COVID-19 infections and outbreaks are also being provided to migrant and seasonal and agricultural workers and employers through the project.