COVID-19 Information for Ag Workers (May 2020)

U.S. health and safety professionals have been responding to needs of the public and workers to recommend protection against the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the infectious agent causing COVID-19.  Personnel in the Great Plains Center of Agricultural Health have been providing guidance to employers, health care systems, public health workers, and the public at large.  This website contains an assembly of best practices that have been assembled to provide guidance to agricultural workers. It will be updated as new information becomes available. We also intend to include Spanish versions of these resources as soon as possible.

Citizens across the GPCAH region have responded by adopting the highly effective, best practices that incorporate physical distancing, handwashing, and frequent disinfection of high-touch areas at home and throughout the community.  Questions from the community have been compiled into a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) guide to help agricultural workers throughout the Great Plains region with the most frequently asked questions relevant to protecting your family and business in these unusual times. 

Please send an email to cph-greatplainscenter@uiowa.edu with your questions regarding COVID-19.  We will answer your questions to help you protect your family and farmworkers this growing season.

Posters

You may download and print the following 8.5″x11″ posters to hang in spaces where employees can see them. Just click on the image to access the document.

At risk?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning and disinfecting

 

Social distancing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posters for Spanish Speakers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below are answers to frequently asked questions from the public and agricultural workers on COVID-19.

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

Why should I be concerned about this novel coronavirus?

The SARS-CoV-2 (the official name of this “novel coronavirus”) is a new virus.  When it started infecting people, no one in the world had any immunity.  For those experiencing the most severe complications from this viral infection, the lungs fill with fluid in response to trying to fight the virus, which leaves the blood, brain and heart starved of oxygen.  Countries and states have issued “stay at home” orders to prevent the spread of this virus so that the healthcare system does not become overwhelmed with infected citizens needing critical and urgent medical care.

To prevent getting infected, can we simply stay away from people who are sick?

For this virus, the answer is a clear “no”.  People who are exposed to someone carrying the SARS-CoV-2 may be incubating the virus for several days up to 14 days without showing any signs or symptoms of the disease.  If you are infected but don’t know it, if you continue interacting with people — at the gas station, the bank, the grocery store, the co-op — then you would be spreading the virus without anyone knowing it.  When this happens, we have “community spread” of the virus.  Since our region does not have the ability to trace everyone you contacted and test them for the virus, we do not know who or how many people you might have infected.

Interestingly,  some people may not have any symptoms but are capable of spreading the disease. Because of this, instead of thinking about staying away from people who are coughing, sneezing, and/or have a fever, we have asked everyone to keep distant from ALL people so we don’t pick up the virus or give it to others.

Schools have closed down, as have areas of public gathering etc., so that we can stay at home, when at all possible.  The recommendation of physical distancing (also called “social distancing”) is important to prevent disease transmission:  If we maintain 6 ft of separation between ourselves and others in the community, we decrease the chance that we (or they) transmit the virus, causing another infection.

Why should I be concerned about so many COVID-19 cases needing hospital care?

There are many answers to this. First, we do not have enough personal protection to prevent our healthcare workers from picking up the disease when infected people show up to the hospital. These workers are put at great risk of getting this disease (and passing it to their families) because someone showed up sick.  On April 7, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 23% of confirmed COVID-19 cases are in health care workers. 

Second, if the public does not help to reduce the spread of this disease, there will not be enough beds at the hospitals to treat those who become critically ill. Many areas of the US have a shortage of ventilators, which means that health care workers may have to make choices between who gets to use life-saving equipment and who does not.

Third, the hospital still needs to treat people for other illnesses – heart attacks, strokes, and broken bones still happen during this viral outbreak. The health care system is putting an enormous amount of resources into caring for COVID-19 patients:  if these health care providers get sick, they are not available to help people who need other types of medical care that our friends and neighbors need.

These are all reasons why we need everyone to adopt physical distancing (keep 6 ft apart from people you could infect) and handwashing (20 seconds, soapy water, dry with clean towel).

Why does everyone emphasize “handwashing”?

This virus is one that likes fat:  for you scientists, it is lipophilic, which means “fat-loving”.  Since soaps contain fat (it’s a lipid), any virus on your hands will attach to the soap and be washed away.  This is GREAT news!  No special sterilizing solutions are needed. However, you do have to wash your hands often to remove the virus you may pick up by contacting surfaces.

Why do we need to keep cleaning our hands?  You learned why way back in elementary school, but probably forgot:  any time you put your hands to your face, you run the risk of moving any germ from your hand into your mouth, nose, and/or eyes, and you really don’t want to do that with this virus. Hand to mouth transmission is one of the ways this coronavirus gets in to your body, then it multiplies, and you get sick as your body attempts to fight it.

Wash your hands.  A lot.  Our University of Iowa students made a video for you (https://youtu.be/yQl1KBi_s6k) which demonstrates techniques to apply to your 20-second hand wash.  It includes a useful visual demonstration of why each of the steps recommended help you clean your entire surface of both hands.

If I get COVID-19, what are my chances of dying? 

The true fatality rate is unknown because, right now, we have no real information on the true number of who has been infected. In early April, Italy data reports a high fatality of 7.7% (nearly 8 deaths for every 100 people infected), but in Germany it is 0.2% (2 per thousand infected).

These fatality rates are computed by taking the number of deaths (which we are more certain about) and dividing it by the number of all infected people.  In many US states, we are simply not widely testing the public. Most state protocols only test those with severe symptoms.  This means our estimates of “infected people” counts is low.  If we divide the number of deaths by a low number, then our calculated fatality rate is higher than it really is.

At this point in time, looking at all rates across the globe, we arrive at a best estimate of 0.78 to 11.39 deaths per 100 infected persons. This site has more detailed information on fatality rate by age, medical condition, gender and job (health care).

Some individuals are more sensitive to the virus than others, but at this time it is hard to predict who may have serious complications after exposure, other than what we know about high-risk individuals.

Who has the highest risk of being severely ill when infected?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled risk factors. In short, people 65 years and older and people with the following underlying medical conditions are at risk of having deadly reactions to this virus: 

  • chronic lung disease,
  • moderate to severe asthma,
  • serious heart conditions,
  • immunocompromised (such as cancer patients, organ transplant recipients, immune deficiencies),
  • diabetes,
  • dialysis patients,
  • liver disease, and
  • severe obesity (BMI >40).

See this CDC web page for more information on protecting those at high risk.

How does this virus spread?

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that this virus is transmitted by both liquid droplets (from sneezing, coughing, and talking) and by fomite transmission (droplets on a surface, which are picked up by hands, and the hand travels to the mouth, nose, and/or eye).

How long does the virus live outside of an infected person?

Current information, although limited, provides guidance on how long this virus survives on different types of surfaces. The SARS-CoV-2 can live on solid, uncleaned surfaces like plastic or stainless steel for 2-3 days.  This virus survives on cardboard for only 24 hours.  See this publication in the New England Journal of Medicine for details on this study.  

In the air, we know that large particles will settle quickly when they are generated by a sneeze or cough, but if these droplets dry quickly (in dry air), then these particles stay airborne for a long time.  We do not know how long this virus lives in dry air, however. 

What surfaces should I prioritize for decontamination?

Disinfection of frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned at least daily (more frequently if become visibly dirty or you know of contact by others):

  • tables
  • doorknobs
  • light switches
  • countertops
  • handles
  • desks
  • phones
  • keyboards
  • toilets
  • faucets
  • sinks

 

What chemicals should I be using to disinfect surfaces that might be contaminated?

Disinfection of these surfaces requires commonly available products. Typical solutions are listed here:

  • Bleach Solution (use mix within 1 day): 6 Tablespoon (1/3 cup) 7% bleach / gallon water or 4 teaspoons 7% bleach / quart water; 1 minute contact time.
  • Alcohol Solution (70% minimum; no dilution)
  • Antibacterial sheet products: using any home product that indicates “Kills 99.99%” should be good.

Guidance on cleaning methods for different surface types is on this CDC’s web site.  It is important to follow CONTACT TIME recommendations:  you are asked to let the solutions sit on surfaces for 1 to 10 minutes, depending on the product used. If you are using industrial strength products, the US EPA has updated its pesticide registration list for SARS-CoV-2, which contains information on contact time required to kill this virus.

Can’t I just wear a mask to protect myself?

A respirator can protect you if all of the following are true:

  • You have a respirator that is approved for removing particles from the air,
  • You have been fit-tested with that respirator to make sure it seals to your face, and
  • You have no breaks in this seal at the time you are wearing it — this means there is nothing on your face, including facial hair, that comes between the respirator and your skin.

IF you meet all of these conditions, then this respirator will be useful to wear when you are around people who may be infected.  But, the problem is that most people don’t want to wear a big respirator when shopping around town or talking with neighbors or the hired help.

The disposable “N95s” you may have been wearing when mucking out the stalls or working around animals are the perfect respirator to wear to prevent COVID-19.  But, again, the other two caveats are needed: you have to know it fits you and you have to be clean shaved. 

You may have learned that there is a worldwide shortage of these respirators — you won’t be able to get your hands on these in the near future for your work because doctors and nurses have a dire need to use these to keep safe in the hospital right now.  But, if you have not given them to your local emergency room to protect healthcare workers like the CDC and local health departments have requested, you could wear them when around the public.  We recommend practicing physical distancing of 6 feet when wearing these, but if you need to work closely for short period of time, wearing this N95 can protect you from inhaling the virus being shed from a coworker.

As of April 3, the CDC has recommended the general public wear “cloth fabric face covering” across the mouth and nose when in public.  These “homemade masks” are great to send a signal that you care about protecting your neighbor, and it may prevent YOU from sneezing and infecting others around you.  However, depending on the fabric, construction, and fit, this mask is NOT a guarantee that the fine droplets generated when you sneeze or cough will be completely collected by this cloth.  When wearing these cloth covers over your mouth and nose, it is EXTREMELY important to know that you still need to maintain physical distance of 6 feet.  If a person next to you sneezes, a cover on your mouth and nose will reduce only some of these virus particles that you might inhale.  If you sneeze while wearing these cloth coverings, only a fraction of particles will be trapped by the cloth.  We cannot overstate the importance of maintaining a 6 ft separation from people, even and especially when wearing these homemade masks.

What do I need to do on the farm to protect myself?

The rules of social distancing and handwashing apply on the farm just as they do anywhere else.  If you are farming with family members who live with you, unless you have someone with a high-risk medical condition, extra precautions are not needed.  

However, if someone else comes to the farm, you should act as if YOU are infected and THEY are infected and maintain your 6 ft distance.  This means no hand-shaking, but you can walk together (separated by 6 ft) and discuss work that needs to be done.  Disinfect surfaces you touched (before having your visitor touch it and then after).  

If you need to work in close contact with a visitor or worker to your farm, this is the time to break out the respirators:  the N95 disposable mask (don’t use the one with an exhalation valve) or a HEPA or P100 filter on the elastomeric respirators you use for chemicals are suited for this.  Make sure you disinfect your reusable respirators after use (follow guidance from manufacturer).

What if I have elderly family members that are at high risk?

If you are a caretaker of an elderly family member, you need to do everything you can to prevent yourself from carrying SARS-CoV-2 virus.  Adopt the most rigorous distancing protocol at work/home to prevent infection.  If you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, you need to isolate yourself from high-risk family members.  Guidance is available from the CDC and your state department of public health

If I have had COVID-19 symptoms, how do I know if I am no longer contagious?

Your determination is based on whether you can get tests to confirm you are no longer infected.  If you have been sick with COVID-19 and cannot get a test to confirm your status, you should only leave your “sick room” and home when ALL three are true:

  • No fever for at least 72 hours (3 days without the use of medicines that reduce fevers)
  • Other symptoms have improved
  • It has been at least 7 days since you started feeling sick

If you have had testing to confirm you are no longer contagious, you can leave quarantine if ALL three of these are true:

  • You no longer have a fever (without the use of medication that reduce fevers)
  • Other symptoms have improved (for example, no cough or shortness of breath)
  • You have received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart.

More details are available on this CDC website, which includes a link to the procedures your doctor will follow to make this decision.  

Additional Info about COVID-19 from US Ag Safety and Health Centers (CDC-NIOSH)

Additional Info about COVID-19 from Regional State Departments of Health and Extension Offices

State Department of Health State Extension Office 
Illinois http://www.dph.illinois.gov/covid19 https://extension.illinois.edu/global/resources-responding-covid-19
Iowa https://idph.iowa.gov/emerging-health-issues/novel-coronavirus https://www.extension.iastate.edu/disasterrecovery/covid-19
Kansas https://www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus/COVID19_Resource_Center.htm https://www.ksre.k-state.edu/news/stories/about-us/covid-19-extension.html
Minnesota https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html https://extension.umn.edu/news/extension-ag-research-and-education-going-strong
Missouri https://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/novel-coronavirus/ https://extension2.missouri.edu/covid-19-resources-public
Nebraska http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx https://disaster.unl.edu/agriculture
North Dakota https://www.health.nd.gov/diseases-conditions/coronavirus https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/alerts/coronavirus
South Dakota` https://doh.sd.gov/news/coronavirus.aspx https://extension.sdstate.edu/covid-19-response
Wisconsin https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/index.htm https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/covid19/

Please send an email to cph-greatplainscenter@uiowa.edu with your questions regarding COVID-19.

Last Update:  May 20, 2020