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Testing seasonal farm workers for COVID-19

Testing seasonal farm workers for COVID-19

New York is deploying mobile testing teams

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

The State of New York is taking steps to help ensure the safety of seasonal farm workers.

On Aug. 14, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled new COVID-19 testing initiatives, including one that targets farms.

“On testing, (the department of) ag and markets is going to work with the New York State Department of Health to dispatch mobile testing units to farms in rural counties,” he said during a teleconference. “We’re seeing several clusters, several outbreaks at farms, basically from the workers and we’re dispatching mobile testing sites.”

The State is also ready to provide support in terms of access to isolation housing for any workers who test positive.

Agriculture employs between 40,000 and 80,000 farm workers per year, the State Department of Labor says.

It’s unclear at this point which counties the mobile testing teams will be deployed to.

Gov. Cuomo’s announcement came three days after some farm workers employed in the state voiced their concerns about working conditions and the overall effect the pandemic is having on them.

“I’ve been affected really strongly by COVID. I just lost my father and I couldn’t be with him,” a worker named Victor, who works on a dairy farm in Wyoming County, said on Aug. 11.

Victor and other workers in the state participated in a conference call put on by multiple organizations including the Food Chain Workers Alliance.

“This pandemic will affect some of us forever, but we are here, we continue to work,” he said. “I work in a dairy farm and we have to be included as essential workers. We shouldn’t be discriminated against.”

Industry organizations support Gov. Cuomo’s direction.

Additional support for workers can only help them and their employers overcome the challenges of the pandemic, the New York Farm Bureau said.

“More accessible testing and additional housing support for incoming guest workers will better protect farm employees who are already working on farms, as well as help to prevent the spread of the virus,” the organization said in an Aug. 14 statement. has reached out to industry groups for comment and to government officials for testing deployment details.

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