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Southern Oregon Clinics Prep For Farmworker COVID Testing

Nurses from Klamath Health Partnership doing mobile COVID testing at J&W Walker Farms.
Klamath Health Partnership
Nurses from Klamath Health Partnership doing mobile COVID testing at J&W Walker Farms.

Clinics in Southern Oregon are preparing for temporary farmworkers to arrive this season while also trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But factors like limited handwashing stations, close working conditions, and shared living conditions all pose unique challenges to keep farmworkers healthy.

“The housing situation, it hasn’t been an issue previously and so farmers weren’t prepared for this,” says Amanda Blodgett, Chief Operating Officer with Klamath Health Partnership. “And then of course, the actual working conditions, they’re working very closely. It’s not an ideal situation in terms of preventing spread of the disease.”

Blodgett’s clinic recently started sending an ambulance to farms to do free, on-site COVID testing in Klamath County. She says the majority of farmworkers there will arrive to harvest hemp, alfalfa and potatoes, most of which will begin in September, although they’ve already started doing testing at farms.

Peach and pear harvest will soon be starting in the Rogue Valley. Health officials in Jackson County are developing a program with low-income health center, La Clinica to test employees arriving for work.

But that work could be hampered by delays in getting back test results. According to Julie Wurth, a spokesperson for La Clinica, test results currently take about a week to come back because they have to be sent to a lab offsite, which is currently experiencing testing delays.

They’re waiting to get a rapid “point-of-care” test that can provide results in minutes but, she says, getting the supplies for those tests has been difficult.

The Klamath Health Partnership's Amanda Blodgett says the group is using its on-site COVID testing operation as a way to do additional outreach with an already hard-to-reach community.

When farmworkers get tested for COVID, health care staff also give them the option of having a telehealth appointment with a bilingual doctor at the group's clinic in Klamath Falls.

“So we’re able to take care of pretty much any health issue that a worker may express that they have while we’re there,” Blodgett says.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.