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Jackson County Distributes PPE For Farmworkers

Brian McGowan

Health officials in Jackson County will begin giving out personal protective equipment for agricultural workers starting Wednesday in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during harvest season.

Farm employers will be able to pick up masks, gloves and hand sanitizer donated by the state for their migrant farmworkers arriving in the Rogue Valley to harvest peaches, pears and other crops.

“We have a pretty high concern that as folks come from around the country and Mexico, and maybe they’ve been working in areas that have a little higher case rates, that there’s the possibility that they might bring COVID with them,” says Steve Lambert, with the Jackson County emergency operations center.

A large portion of Southern Oregon’s farm workers are Hispanic. Demographic data from the Oregon Health Authority shows a dramatic disparity among the state’s Hispanic population for those affected by the virus: while only about 13% of Oregonians identify as Hispanic, 38% of the COVID-19 cases are Hispanic people.

Farmworkers face a variety of living and working conditions that put them at greater risk for contracting COVID-19.

“The biggest concern that we have is folks working in close contact with each other, folks living in fairly crowded settings, and folks not being able to socially distance,” Lambert says.

Other factors that contribute to increased risk of COVID-19 among farmworkers include limited hand-washing access while working, employees who don’t have relationships to a health care provider to get tested and the fact that migrant workers’ employment is inherently transient.

The personal protective equipment will be distributed at the Jackson County Expo in Central Point to employers for their workers. Voluntary pre-employment testing for employees arriving in the area is also available at La Clinica, the low-income health center in Medford.

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.