UF/IFAS Extension worked with FDACS, local county health departments and the Florida Division of Emergency Management to coordinate testing efforts.

UF/IFAS Extension experts are working with agricultural workers to connect them with COVID-19-free testing, safety information and training, a role they have been serving throughout the pandemic.

“UF/IFAS Extension worked with FDACS and local county health departments and FL Emergency Management to coordinate testing efforts and identify populations of at-risk farmworkers around the state and site-testing in areas accessible to those populations,” said Gene McAvoy, associate director for stakeholder relations at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center. “We also used our knowledge of those populations and access to farmworker communities and agriculture operations around the state to help advertise the testing program and educate farmers, labor contractors and workers about COVID-19, CDC recommendations and the importance of testing.”

Extension agents statewide have led the grassroots effort by conducting scheduled mask distributions, provided training for growers on social distancing, frequent handwashing and sanitizing of surfaces and instructions on how to avoid close-contact situations. They have also translated posters with COVID-19 safety instructions into Spanish and Haitian Creole to reach more community members.

“Testing has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control as one of the best practices recommended for managing and reducing the spread of COVID-19,” McAvoy said, “since there is currently no vaccine or cure for COVID-19. Testing allows early identification and isolation of infected individuals before they can spread the virus to others.”

Free testing at convenient times and locations are being made available to farmworkers by county health departments and FDACS mobile testing units and private contractors.

“In many cases, testing is also available to agricultural employers and farm labor contractors by appointment on farm or at labor housing locations,” McAvoy said. “Our hope is to make testing widely available and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on this vulnerable population. It is also important to protect and keep this essential population healthy to maintain the integrity of our domestic food supply. Fruits and vegetables produced in Florida are consumed by over 150 million Americans during the late fall winter and spring and constitute the source of the majority of fruits and vegetables consumed east of the Mississippi during those months.”

Currently, produce is the largest economic driver of the state’s economy now that tourism has declined in the face of COVID-19-related closures and generates over $150 billion dollar per year.

“UF/IFAS remains an active partner in the state’s agricultural economy, supporting Florida agriculture through research and education aimed at making agriculture more profitable and sustainable,” McAvoy said.

To learn more about this program, visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu.