Our COVID-19 Response: Putting workers first
When the Governor declared a state emergency on February 29, 2020, stating that the outbreak “could likely be a worldwide pandemic,” Gebbers Farms had already been preparing to protect its employees (workers), beginning with a close partnership with Okanogan County Public Health and later with an expert epidemiologist. None of us knew as much about the novel coronavirus then as we do now, and public health recommendations have changed frequently. Through it all, we have put the safety of our workers first. Here are just some of the things we’ve done to limit coronavirus exposure and transmission among our workers:
In the early months of the pandemic, COVID-19 tests were hard to come by in our area; capacity issues and lack of supplies were barriers to large-scale testing at nearby hospitals and clinics. By late summer, the state finally could offer county-wide community testing.
- After the state tested all 3,000+ workers at Gebbers Farms, 99.3% tested negative for the virus. Only a handful of tests came back positive – at a rate four times lower than that found in Okanogan county. This is a great testimony to the effectiveness of our protocols and our workers’ commitment to following them. Those few who did test positive followed state protocols for quarantining, recovered and returned to their normal work crews.
- New workers and those with COVID-19 symptoms are tested for COVID-19 and follow state quarantine and recovery protocols.
As an employer, we do everything we can to provide a safe work environment, but workers spend the majority of their time outside of work. So, it has been crucial that we communicate to employees the importance of following social distancing protocols, wearing masks and practicing good handwashing hygiene at work, at home, and while in the community.
- We notify employees of state public health COVID-19 requirements and our protocols in bilingual notices that are posted in common working and living areas. As reminders, we periodically hand-deliver bilingual flyers to employees.
- We repeatedly provide workers with educational materials so they know how to self-monitor for symptoms, as suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Providing PPE, Plus More
- All workers receive new personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves regularly. We also provide optional face shields.
- We take workers’ temperatures daily. All workers are asked to self-monitor as recommended by CDC and stay home if they are not feeling well.
- Hand sanitizer and handwashing stations are readily available.
- Common areas and vehicles are cleaned and sanitized regularly.
- Our guest workers are assigned rooms and put into cohorts or “pods,” which are made up of a finite group of workers who share all daily routines and do not interact with other pods.
By all standards our efforts have exceed expectations. But as health officials and scientists continue to learn more about the virus, our response will also evolve. And through it all, we will put our workers first.