Gov. Inslee issues protections for agricultural workers, elderly care facilities

May 28, 2020, 3:05 PM | Updated: 4:44 pm
agricultural, long-term care...
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a new proclamation to protect agricultural workers Thursday, May 28. (TVW screengrab)
(TVW screengrab)

Gov. Inslee issued a proclamation Thursday to protect agricultural workers in Washington state.

Strikers in Yakima and elsewhere in Washington from the agricultural industry have previously called for additional health and safety protections, and Inslee said their calls have been heard.

“Today’s proclamation is providing clear guidelines for both employers and workers that has been asked for,” Inslee said.

This proclamation applies to orchards, fields, dairies, fruit- and vegetable-packing warehouses, and employer or operator provided transportation and housing. The requirements do not apply to meat or other food processing operations.

Inslee said there are more than 100,000 people in Washington working in the agriculture industry, harvesting over 300 crops. The governor also recognized that there are numerous points of risk for people working in agriculture.

One of the guidelines of the proclamation includes forming smaller cohorts of people, up to 15 workers, who work, live, travel, and reside together. All workers will also need access to facial coverings on the job when they are near others, which Inslee said will be distributed by the state. There will be additional hand-washing stations installed as well, closer to the work areas.

“We know that every time we eat, there was a hand that provided our sustenance,” Inslee said, thanking the hard working people in the state’s agricultural industry.

Testing residents and staff at long-term care facilities

The governor also issued an order Thursday with the Washington State Department of Health to protect the most vulnerable residents of Washington state by requiring COVID-19 testing of all residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

Secretary of Health John Wiesman said, thankfully, cases have decreased in these care facilities over the last month or so thanks to the hard work of the staff and medical professionals.

That said, Wiesman recognized that it’s important to focus on the elderly population as they are at high-risk for COVID-19, and particularly for bad outcomes associated with COVID-19. Expanding testing in these care facilities will help health officials identify any asymptomatic cases and be able to isolate infected individuals to further minimize the spread of the virus.

According to the order, all residents and staff in nursing homes will be tested by June 12, and all residents and staff in assisted living facilities with a memory care unit will be tested by June 26.

Visitors to these care facilities are restricted, and screening measures will be required for all staff and residents, if these measures are not in place already.

Inslee noted that there are already tests being done under previous orders, and this expands on it. To help in this effort, the state will send test kits and personal protective equipment both for staff and residents in these care facilities at no cost. Facilities are not obligated to pay laboratories for tests of residents of staff — the state of Washington will pay for any tests not covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

Additionally, Wiesman said they’re focusing specifically on memory care units in this order as they tend to find higher infections in those units because people with memory issues tend to wander, and need to be able to move do so as part of their daily life. That movement, however, can increase their risk.

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Gov. Inslee issues protections for agricultural workers, elderly care facilities