Harvest Time Brings COVID-19 Dangers For America's Farmworkers

California farming executive worries of food shortages if COVID-19 spread sickens more farmworkers.

Harvest Time Brings COVID-19 Dangers For America's Farmworkers
AP/Lynne Sladky

The coronavirus is taking its toll on the farmworkers who are harvesting America's food supply. Virus spikes are being reported in agricultural communities in California and Florida, where field workers often live and work in close quarters. 

California's Salinas Valley is known as the "salad bowl of the world" because farmworkers there harvest 60 percent of America's leaf lettuce and half of its broccoli.

Local hospital officials say the laborers are also experiencing disproportionate impacts from COVID-19.

"The largest percentage ... it is the agriculture community in this area. We assume, we're definitely going to have more positive cases, at what rate we don't really know," said Carla Spencer, emergency services director at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.

Farmworkers make up 10 to 14 percent of the population in this Monterey County region, depending on the growing season. CNN reports they currently account for nearly 40 percent of coronavirus cases.

And farming executive Joe Pezzini warns there could be food supply disruptions if worker health isn't protected.

"It takes a lot of hands to harvest this produce, to grow it, cultivate it, harvest it. If there is an impact on that workforce, yes there could be shortage because we simply cannot get the product to market," he said.

Health officials in Florida are also reporting COVID-19 clusters in agricultural areas. In one farmworker community in Collier County, 2,500 people were recently tested - and 36 percent were positive for coronavirus. Compare that to the positive test average statewide, which is less than six percent.

In the Salinas Valley, some exposed farmworkers are being quarantined in local hotels. Workers are getting advice on social distancing and face masks are required. But the harvest must go on.

Contains footage from CNN.