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Migrant Farm Workers Forced along ‘COVID Corridors,’ and Doctors Without Borders Deploy in Florida

June 23, 2020 (EIRNS)—The COVID-19 impact was so severe among farmworkers and surrounding communities in Florida, that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) deployed there a few weeks ago. They were in Immokalee, a center from which 15,000-20,000 migrant workers harvest in the area, before they, typically, would then move into northern states for other harvesting deadlines. The Doctors Without Borders then withdrew, after the state started to provide long-delayed aid to the situation.

The common practice for harvesting field and orchard crops in recent decades has been to rely on travelling bands of poor pickers and their families, who move from place to place as the sequence of crops progresses—in Europe, the Middle East and North America. E.g. in northeast Spain at present, there is an outbreak of this type in the Huesca region, which has occasioned resumed restrictions.

In the U.S., on the East Coast, the seasonal worker migration goes from early crops, e.g. strawberries in Florida in March, up through apple picking in Virginia in September-October, and farther north. In the pandemic, these laborers were officially designated as “essential workers,” and as in the case of meatpacking, nothing at all was done in the way of advance federal or other contingency intervention to deal with their situation. So they have been infected at super-high rates. This has spread to the surrounding communities. And in many cases, the response of state authorities, is to say, send them away, thus creating terrible “corridors of COVID.” The people have to travel with many to a vehicle—buses, vans and trucks—and stay and eat in crowded conditions along the way. Outbreaks of COVID-19 are showing up en route to Canada from this process.

In Florida during the pandemic, infection showed up and spread easily in this subgroup, e.g. around Belle Glade—the area made famous as an original hot spot in the 1980s for HIV/AIDS. The seasonal worker community have no resources among themselves to stay at home, for treatment, or other protection. The surrounding population also got super-high rates of infection. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has not stopped re-opening in the state, and has in effect—viewing the migrant workers as to blame—moved them out!

Direct reports from Florida stress not only the horrific conditions there in many stricken farming towns, but also that this whole situation has serious implications for the future of food production.

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