(The Center Square) – A new study from the California Institute for Rural Studies found that coronavirus infection rates and job losses due to the pandemic are increasingly impacting farm workers in that state, and disproportionately so in some areas.
The findings of the study were released Tuesday, the same day California health officials reported a single-day record for coronavirus deaths with 171. The state now has 8,716 fatalities and 473,500 confirmed cases, including 10,042 new cases reported Tuesday.
The CIRS study included telephone interviews with more than 900 farm workers in 21 counties during April, May and June. The interviewers asked about workplace conditions, coronavirus safety precautions, housing conditions and transportation to and from work.
"California has the largest agricultural industry in the country, a $54 billion economy that is the backbone of the fifth largest national economy on the planet," the study says. "Farm workers, without whom the industry would collapse, are proving especially vulnerable to contracting Covid-19."
Researchers pointed to Monterey County as a prime example of their findings, noting that agricultural workers there are more than three times as likely to contract coronavirus than non-farm employees.
The rate of infection there among farm workers as of July 1 was 1,410 positive cases per 100,000 residents, compared to 455 cases per 100,000 among all other industries.
Agricultural employment numbers in the county also show a 39 percent decrease from the three-year average of 2017 through 2019.
Farm workers nationwide have been impacted similarly due to less demand in the food service industry as restaurants have been forced to close or offer limited options such as reduced seating or carry-out only service.
CIRS researchers pointed to several factors they think put farm workers at such high risk for coronavirus.
Migrant workers in particular work side by side in fields while picking crops, which makes social distancing difficult. They also mainly live on the farms in crowded dwellings or in nearby houses with multiple families sharing the spaces. They also often rely on company-provided carpools or transportation vans that do not allow for social distancing and drink from the same water coolers while in the fields.