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State orders COVID-19 testing for farm workers; Farm Bureau has questions

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

The Michigan Farm Bureau has some concerns about a state emergency order that agricultural and food processing workers get tested for COVID-19.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an emergency order on Monday.

“The men and women who work in our fields and food processing plants are at particular risk for COVID-19, and they need and deserve protection,” says Robert Gordon, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

The order requires migrant housing camp operators to provide COVID-19 testing as follows: One-time baseline testing of all residents ages 18 and over. Testing of all new residents with 48 hours of arrival, with separate housing for newly arriving residents for 14 days and a second test 10 – 14 days after arrival. Testing of any resident with symptoms or exposure. Employers of migrant or seasonal workers, meat, poultry and egg processing facilities and greenhouses with over 20 employees on-site at a time to provide COVID-19 testing as follows: One-time baseline testing of all workers. Testing of all new workers prior to any in-person work. Testing of any worker with symptoms or exposure.

State health officials say there have been  identified outbreaks on farms and in food processing plants in Michigan in recent weeks.

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center issued a statement saying says the emergency order is tailored to address barriers that block farmworker access to health services and social programs.

"Our clients care about their health and the health of their families, their co-workers and the public. They need and deserve equal access to interventions like testing and quarantine housing that stop the spread of COVID-19 without intimidation, blacklisting, or unfair economic pressure."

But there are still questions.

Craig Anderson is the Michigan Farm Bureau’s Labor and Safety Services Specialist. He says agribusiness owners need more clarity on who should be tested, how much of the cost must they bear and where the testing kits are coming from.

“There are significant amount of questions in terms of what each one of those terms would mean and then the application of when testing would be applied,” says Anderson. “You could fairly quickly come up to closer to 100,000 tests that would be necessary in a couple weeks timeframe.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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