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Ohio's Migrant Farmworkers Need COVID-19 Protections, Advocates Say

Local advocates for migrant workers are calling for more protections against the coronavirus on Ohio’s farms.

Protective measures like handwashing and social distancing are not possible under farmworkers’ current living conditions, said Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) Managing Attorney Eugenio Mollo.

“The close proximity of individuals in overcrowded dwellings is of deep concern, and we need mandates to address this issue,” Mollo said. “In Ohio, many of them are living in employer-provided individual housing units without running water.”

Those issues have been affecting farmworkers for years, Mollo said, but the coronavirus has made the living conditions worse.

“The problem now is that all of these concerns from previous years and previous farmworker generations, those problems have compounded upon themselves on top of this pandemic,” he said.

Justice for Migrant Women (JMW) is working with the on outreach and COVID-19 testing, said JMW President and attorney Mónica Ramírez, but more needs to be done.

“The virus is spreading, workers are getting sick,” and more than 100 have tested positive for the virus, Ramírez said. “Workers are concerned about getting sick, and workers do need and want help.”

Coronavirus outbreaks have sprung up at a chicken processing plant, a salad packing facility and multiple farms in Ohio, Mollo said.

“One of the points we’re trying to communicate is that all of those farmworkers and agricultural workers are really vulnerable,” Mollo said.

The state is launching testing among farmworkers in seven northern Ohio counties: Huron, Sandusky, Erie, Ottawa, Wood, Lake, and Hamilton. Testing has started in Huron County, Ramírez said, and a schedule is being developed for the remaining six.

Ramírez also wants to see Ohio needs to enact measures to ensure migrant workers are safe, including an industry mandate for agriculture employers to follow safety protocols, funding for farmers to provide temporary housing for sick workers, and support for organizations doing outreach to

JMW and ABLE are also calling on the state to earmark funds for rural health clinics to ensure migrant families have access to healthcare, and to expand coronavirus testing to meet the needs of seasonal and migratory workers.

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