Harvest Guidance for COVID-19

COVID-19 Guidance for Wild Blueberry Harvest 2020

This guidance is a compilation of information from the CDC, Maine DACF, Wild Blueberry Processors and Small Farmers that should be farm tested and tweaked given the space and work that you do.

This guidance is optional and designed to simply communicate standard practices for the 2020 wild blueberry harvest during the Covid-19 pandemic. This information was compiled by Dr. Lily Calderwood, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Wild Blueberry Specialist from April-July 2020. All linked documents are available at https://extension.umaine.edu/blueberries/covid-19-resources/.

Three main points:

  1. Face Coverings. COVID-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets from talking, yelling, laughing, coughing, sneezing. Wearing a mask or face covering is a key practice used to minimize the spread of this disease.
  2. 6-foot Distancing. Maintaining distance between people at all possible times reduced the risk of infection. When 6-ft. distancing cannot occur, masks should be worn.
  3. Hand Washing. COVID-19 has a lipid bilayer which means that soap and water is the most effective way to clean it off of your hands. Hand washing stations should be stocked, cleaned and sanitized regularly. Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol is a good substitute for hand washing and should also be readily available. Make sure you know the difference between cleaning and sanitizing.

 

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

LABOR

Is testing available for farm workers?

Yes. Farm managers, migrant and local workers can be tested with or without symptoms. If you have any trouble getting tested you can present this June 6th Standing Order.

The Maine Mobile Health Program is assisting with farm worker testing and we strongly encourage you to get in touch with them. They have bilingual staff and provide free services which can include frequent and on-site Covid-19 testing (not antibody testing), other preventive care, care for patients who have tested positive, and bilingual staff. Reach out to Lisa Tapert at ltapert@mainemobile.org.

How can I provide safe housing for my workers?

  1. There is a Department of Labor Poster that must be posted at your establishment where workers can read it. This poster outlines worker rights specific to
    COVID-19. Download the poster and learn more from the Maine Department of Labor here.
  2. Where possible, each family unit should have their own living space. Workers should have at least 6 ft. between beds. Think about how your workers live while they are here and consider how you could help to make their lives safer. Refer to the Department of Labor Guidance for Agricultural Labor.

How can I safely transport workers?

In transit, people cannot socially distance. Whether you have two or 100 workers to transport, consider the following:

  1. All persons should wear masks on transportation.
  2. Reduce the number of people on each transportation trip by 25-50%.
  3. Household group transport.
  4. Create assigned seating.
  5. Have hand sanitizer available for people when getting on and off.
  6. Don’t forget to protect yourself.

Are there other tips on how to manage workers safely?

Of course! Consider the following:

  • Have groups of workers who live together also work together to reduce inter-group transmission. For example, siblings who live together could work together. If one group has a positive test, contact tracing and quarantine could take place while the other group continues to work.
  • Shift break times around to create more space for people still working and those on break.
  • Encourage workers to bring only items that they need to work. By reducing personal belongings in the workplace, risk of infection can be reduced.

What questions should I ask before hiring someone?

Asking employees these questions should happen as frequently as you see reasonable. According to the State of Maine General Guidance, the following questions are recommended:

Have workers provide the following basic information in case contact tracing is needed:

Name, Address, Phone, and Email
Have you had a cough or sore throat?
Have you had a fever, or do you feel feverish?
Do you have shortness of breath?
Do you have a loss of taste or smell?
Have you been around anyone exhibiting these symptoms within the past 14 days?
Are you living with anyone who is sick or quarantined?
Have you been out of state in the last 14 days?

What should I do if a worker refuses to wear a mask due to medical reasons?

  • Ask the worker to provide a written doctor’s note that indicates the condition preventing them from wearing a mask.
  • Non-compliant workers could be assigned to a task where they are more than 6ft from other people.
  • Governor Janet Mills’ July 8th statement that enforces the use of face coverings can be found here.

What should I do if myself or a worker tests positive?

CDC Guidance if workers are exposed to a positive COVID-19 case can be found here.

In summary:

  1. Get the person to the care they need
  2. Clean and sanitize surfaces
  3. Identify who this employee was in contact with
  4. Maine Mobil Health can help you get testing for all exposed workers
  5. When the sick and exposed workers return to work, a mask should be worn for 14 days

 

HARVEST

Do rakers need to wear a mask while raking?

If harvesting lanes are wide enough to allow for 6 ft. between rakers at all times, rakers might not need to wear a mask. Once people are working closer than 6 ft. from each other, masks should be worn.

  • Someone working on the back of a harvester might not be able to socially distance
  • Unloading bins at receiving stations, bathrooms, and hand washing stations may be crowded at times
  • When people are working they breathe heavier, thereby emitting more respiratory droplets.
  • Consider spray painting a 6ft wide circle at the water cooler and/or bathroom to show people where 6ft is.
  • Consider assigning each worker their own rake and/or other frequently used materials.

If a raker isn’t wearing a mask could the berries get COVID-19 on them?

COVID-19 is not a food borne illness. People who are sick with any contagious illness should not be working with food. Consider giving a worker in this situation a non-food contact task.

Do I need to clean and sanitize the harvester?

Cleaning and sanitizing the steering wheel and handles before another user begins working is recommended.

Do I need to clean and sanitize bins more frequently?

No, as is true for normal food safety, your bins should be visibly clean of soil particles. In general, washing your hands is more effective at managing Covid-19 spread than cleaning other surfaces including bins.

 

PROCESSING

How can workers socially distance in our space?

Limiting confined spaces is critical. Think about indoor and outdoor workspaces and how workers move through buildings. Consider the following:

  • Could you shift or remove items in your processing space to allow people to be 6 ft. apart?
  • Where do people enter and exit the building? Can another door be made accessible to allow separate entry and exit?
  • Where are the bathrooms? If there is a line, where will the line form?

How often do I need to clean and sanitize?

Cleaning and sanitizing bathrooms, handwashing stations, doors, and frequently used handles is important.

  • The number of people are using a restroom will determine the number of times it needs to be cleaned and sanitized per day. The gold standard would be to clean and sanitize the bathroom at the beginning, middle, and end of the day (or every 4 hours).
  • Bathrooms, hand washing stations, and door handles are important to clean regularly. Other surfaces are not as high of a priority because the virus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets.
  • Would it be possible to assign a staff member to cleaning and sanitizing?
  • Soap and sanitizer might run out more quickly than usual because workers are using more of it this year.

What about plexiglass and face shields?

Plexiglass, face shields, and other barriers do not replace the need for a mask. A mask contains respiratory droplets surrounding the nose and mouth. Before installing plexiglass or plastic barriers, consider the following:

  • How will you clean it? Will the material degrade from the cleaning material?
  • Where will the cleaning liquid drip?
  • Is this barrier really necessary or does it create a false sense of security?

 

RESOURCES

Maine CDC

www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/airborne/coronavirus/index.shtml

Maine Department of Labor Guidance for Agricultural Labor:  www.maine.gov/dacf/covid19/docs/dol-guidance-agricultural-employers-healthy-farming-season.pdf

US Department of Labor Poster (required)

www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic

Maine DACF Interim Guidance for Agricultural Farm Workers

www.maine.gov/dacf/covid19/docs/maine-covid19-interim-guidance-ag-farmworkers.pdf

Maine Registered Disinfectants for Use Against COVID-19

www.maine.gov/dacf/php/pesticides/documents2/registration/ME Registered SARS-CoV-2 products.pdf

Managing Public Visitors in You-Pick Operations (Cornell U-Pick Guidance)

smallfarms.cornell.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Cornell-U-Pick-Best-Practices-COVID-19.pdf

PPE Resource List from MOFGA: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1A9vDOM9NBfpu4d5g-22XY0GkdKbhX5eHAbSdhfyUTAc/edit#gid=1208397420

UMaine Extension COVID-19 General Ag Resource Page extension.umaine.edu/beginning-farmer-resource-network/covid-19

UMaine Extension Wild Blueberry COVID-19 Resource Page

extension.umaine.edu/blueberries/covid-19-resources

 

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

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