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Erie County Department of Health announces COVID-19 testing for agricultural workers

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Mon, Aug 17th 2020 10:45 am

Targeted program will provide diagnostic test access to essential farm workers throughout county

The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) is announcing a collaborative community program for diagnostic COVID-19 testing for workers in agricultural settings.

This program is being coordinated with Kaleida Health to test self-collected saliva samples.

“We know that the Erie County agricultural community is taking significant precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission among its workforce,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “However, agricultural settings may put farm workers at a higher risk for transmission of COVID-19, because of shared transportation and living quarters, and workers moving from farm to farm throughout the growing season.”

“Given the nature of agricultural work, it may be impractical for some farm workers to visit one of our county diagnostic test sites or community sites,” she continued. “In this program, Kaleida Health will distribute the sample collection kits to farms with detailed instructions, taking the test right to these workers. This is an innovative strategy to identify COVID cases in our community and keep our agricultural workers healthy and the food supply chain safe. We are eager to start this initiative.”

Farm owners and agricultural businesses that would like to participate in this program can contact the Kaleida Health Laboratories at 716-626-7939 for additional information and scheduling. Farms and businesses will be responsible for delivering completed sample kits to a Kaleida collection site the day of collection. There is no cost to farms, agricultural businesses or employees for these sample kits or tests.

“We have worked incredibly hard on behalf of the community when it comes to COVID-19 testing,” said Judy Baumgarter, president of Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and the Kaleida Health executive for the organization’s labs. “Thanks to the dedicated clinic and lab staff on our team, we have been able to test tens of thousands to date through our community partnerships and collaboration in government, nursing homes, clinics and other hospitals and health care facilities in Western New York. Expanding access to testing for the agricultural community is another important step in helping our community keep safe while we all collectively battle COVID-19.”

Kaleida Health will process the samples and ship to a reference lab in New Jersey. Results will be sent to the New York State Department of Health and ECDOH; ECDOH epidemiologists will confidentially deliver results to individuals who provided samples.

Erie County Commissioner of Environment and Planning Thomas Hersey Jr. explained: “The Erie County Office of Agriculture and ‘ErieGrown’ initiative were created to promote the viability of Erie County’s farms and agribusinesses, which are critical to the regional economy and our food supply. Proactive on-site COVID testing helps to protect our essential farm workers, growers and producers. We will continue to connect farmers and producers in Erie County with consumers to obtain fresh, local farm products in a safe and COVID-compliant manner.”

Erie County Farm Bureau President Hal Kreher said, “The Erie County Farm Bureau appreciates the planning being done by the Erie County Department of Health to protect our farms and farm workers by providing free COVID-19 tests. Farmers have been working together with our valuable employees to follow safety guidance to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and we encourage our farms to take advantage of this free, voluntary testing to continue that important effort.”

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County Executive Director Diane Held said, “Our farmers and farmworkers have been essential throughout this pandemic, continuing to supply us with fresh, local food. Erie County’s support to help farmers and farmworkers manage their health is of critical importance to maintaining a robust local food system.”

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