COVID-19 RESPONSE: Take action to protect farmworkers in Immokalee!

TODAY'S NEWS

Doctors Without Borders to NPR: We need “more access to tests that we can use so the persons who are positive, their contacts could get tested, so we can quell this outbreak.”

After weeks of anxiety, it appears that the novel coronavirus has established a foothold in Immokalee. 

Just last month, before state and local authorities agreed to implement three days of mass COVID-19 testing in Immokalee, the number of positive tests reported in the farmworker town hovered for several weeks in the 20-30s, creating the impression of a vulnerable community miraculously spared by the deadly virus.  Then, last week, following the three days of testing — and more than a week of delay before the lab finally released the results — the number jumped to nearly 100.

And now today, just two weeks after completion of the mass testing, the number of cases has risen to 249, with stories of severe cases beginning to circulate in the tight-knit farmworker community and new cases increasing by larger and larger numbers every day.  As a result, Immokalee has shot up the list of cities with the most cases in the state of Florida, landing among much larger cities like Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, and towns on the east coast of Florida, where large numbers first appeared in the early days of the outbreak:

Data from the Florida COVID-19 database. Original Source: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429

The days of thinking Immokalee had dodged the COVID-19 bullet are now behind us.  And Doctors Without Borders, the Nobel Prize-winning health care organization that set up shop in Immokalee several weeks ago to do battle with the virus, is turning to the press to amplify its call for testing resources to quell the increasingly alarming outbreak.  

 Yesterday, Doctors Without Borders issued a press release about its work in Immokalee in partnership with the CIW and a broad collaboration of local health agencies and community organizations.  Here’s an excerpt from that release:

IMMOKALEE, FLORIDA, MAY 18, 2020The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has begun working in Southwest Florida to assist migrant farmworkers who are particularly susceptible to contracting COVID-19.

The organization is working in Immokalee, Florida, on a public health education campaign and is supplementing local testing efforts. It is also providing non-COVID-19 medical consultations through community-based mobile “virtual” medical clinics.

“Immokalee is a community where as many as 15,000 to 20,000 migrant farmworkers continue to provide essential labor during this pandemic despite having a high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to crowded living conditions and limited ability to prevent infection during the course of their work,” said Adi Nadimpalli, a doctor working as MSF project coordinator in Florida.

MSF is working in close collaboration with local partners, including the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, the Braden Clinic, and the Department of Health of Immokalee and Collier County. Over the last three weeks, MSF has conducted public health activities in Spanish, Haitian Creole, and English to promote healthy behavior and social distancing. The organization has also run five mobile clinics where it has tested 126 people, with significant support from the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida. While the majority of the test results are still pending, initial results from the first clinics show a high positivity rate, indicating ongoing community transmission.

Dr. Nadimpalli also noted that these initial clinics have shown that there is a strong interest from community members for testing. Last Wednesday alone, 47 patients came to the MSF clinic for COVID-19 testing, many of whom had symptoms or were contacts of patients who tested positive during mass testing done the week before by the Department of Health and the National Guard. 

While there is a desire for testing by the community, accessing tests and the personal protective equipment (PPE) required to operate clinics is challenging, not just for MSF, but also for other organizations in the area as well, said Dr. Nadimpalli.  

“While confirming more positive cases might sound alarming, the fact is persistent testing and ongoing health education is the only way to break the chains of transmission and stop this outbreak,” said Dr. Nadimpalli. “Testing should be accessible to every person at a convenient time and place, in their native language, and in a safe environment.”…

… MSF first learned of the concerning situation in Immokalee after being contacted by CIW, a human rights organization with a long history working in the community. Since the start of the outbreak, CIW has called for specific public health interventions and policies to control the outbreak and reduce community transmission, such as increased access to free COVID-19 testing, affordable health care, and isolation facilities.

At the end of April, MSF sent a team to Immokalee to assess the situation and quickly realized that health education and testing activities needed to be ramped up immediately.

“We wanted to ensure that these workers received COVID-19 health education and testing before they started to migrate north at the end of the southern Florida farming season,” said Dr. Nadimpalli. “If we don’t reach them now, it may be much more difficult to ensure their safety. However, we’ve never worked in Florida and could not have responded in time without the support of CIW and our other local health services partners.”

MSF says it is concerned that the current testing efforts, including its own clinics, are insufficient.

“Testing has increased in bigger cities, but we’re going to have to ramp up testing right here in Immokalee in order to control the spread of the virus and meet the needs of the community,” said Dr. Nadimpalli.

Dr. Nadimpalli also spoke with the local NPR affiliate, WGCU, this week about his concerns:

During a Collier County COVID-19 response call, Dr. Adi Nadimpalli, who is leading the local team, said they’re supporting prevention awareness, while working with Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida at mobile clinics, and beginning to help with contract tracing. He said they’re also ready to help expand testing efforts, but need test kits.

“One of the things that would be helpful is if there’s more access to tests that we can use so the persons who are positive, their contacts could get tested, so we can quell this outbreak.”

Dr. Nadimpalli said they’re ready to offer testing on evenings and weekends.

Immokalee Division Director for Department of Health Collier, Mark Lemke, said he is working with the department of health to try to get more test kits.

“So we will do our best to see if we can get some supplies so that you can be out there in the community and on the weekends.”

As the numbers continue to climb in Immokalee, the immediate next steps – if we have any hope of combating the rising tide of the coronavirus among the men and women who put food on the nation’s plate here in Immokalee – are clear:  We need not only additional, consistent, and accessible testing, but also effective contact tracing and wrap-around services to support the hundreds of COVID-positive patients in Immokalee. 

Make sure to stay tuned in the weeks ahead for how you can support the ongoing efforts in Immokalee!

TOP STORIES

FEATURED VIDEOS

RECENT NEWS

The chickens have come home to roost…

May 15, 2020

As thousands of farmworkers across the country test positive for COVID-19 — putting their lives, and our country’s food supply, in danger — how are retail food companies like Wendy’s stepping up to protect the health and safety of the essential workers their business depends on?  MARK YOUR CALENDARS: Join the Fair Food Nation on May 27 at 5 p.m. ET for a virtual “Essential Labor, Expendable Lives: A People’s Forum” condemning Wendy’s rejection of the Fair Food Program!  Over two months ago, the COVID-19 public health crisis began taking root in communities across the U.S. In the short time […]

“The eyes of Florida are on [Gov.] DeSantis to protect the health and safety of the state’s farmworker communities…”

May 11, 2020

One week ago, we posted our last update from the battle to blunt the impact of the novel coronavirus here in Immokalee with the title “COVID-19 testing is underway in Immokalee!”  Finally – after more than a month of delay, nearly 40,000 signatures on a petition to Florida’s elected officials, multiple national news stories, and countless calls to Governor DeSantis – local health officials agreed to organize mass testing in Immokalee.  Soon, the farmworker community would have the data it needs to more effectively plan and lead the fight to protect itself from this deadly virus. Except “soon” is, apparently, […]

COVID-19 testing underway in Immokalee!

May 5, 2020

Hundreds of Immokalee residents walk, bike, and drive to mass testing site after governor, local health officials respond to growing call for support… Department of Health spokesperson: “We have heard the needs of Immokalee.  We understand the unique needs.” 3 times more people tested on first day alone than during entire month of April… After more than a month of calls to the governor, nearly 40,000 petition signatures, and countless national media stories, the pleas of Immokalee’s farmworker community for vital aid in the fight against the coronavirus are starting to be heard.  State and local health officials organized a […]

Persistence pays off: Governor DeSantis announces free, community-wide testing to begin in Immokalee this week!

May 1, 2020

Governor Ron DeSantis, during an hour-long briefing on reopening the Florida economy on Wednesday, announces new testing sites targeting “under-served” communities across Florida, making special mention of Immokalee. Promising new public/private collaboration starting to take shape in Immokalee to address COVID-19 crisis, giving vulnerable farmworker community new hope with aggressive, comprehensive defense strategy; Collaboration among state and county agencies, Nobel Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders, and CIW to include free testing for symptomatic and non-symptomatic alike, contact tracing, and alternative housing for those who test positive and cannot self-isolate at home; Time remains the enemy, however, as the number of confirmed […]

CNN, CBS Evening News: Immokalee’s call for urgent farmworker protections receives national attention…

April 24, 2020

Advocates warn that many farmworkers are living and working in conditions that put their health at risk. And if coronavirus outbreaks hammer farmworker communities, they say it could put the nation’s food supply at risk, too. https://t.co/8BYl5ZCHVe pic.twitter.com/VfdDMOLB2G — Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) April 18, 2020 CNN Prime Time with Chris Cuomo: “If [farmworkers] get sick, and they can’t do their jobs, we’re going to see disruptions in the food chain. It shouldn’t be about avarice, it should be about humanity.” CBS Sunday Evening News: “Work or stay safe: A daily dilemma for laborers like [farmworker Gloria Carrera] across the […]

A glimmer of hope, and a flashing red warning light…

April 17, 2020

Targeted COVID-19 testing on the way for Immokalee?… CBS Reporter Jim DeFede: “Have you had a chance to look at the issues surrounding Immokalee?” Jared Moskowitz, Director, Florida Emergency Management: “I’ve been talking to the Emergency Management director of Collier County… I  can tell you that on my list of places to expand (testing) over the next week or two, Immokalee is on that list.” But… the clock is ticking, and the tragic experience of Smithfield meatpacking workers in South Dakota provides a stark cautionary tale for what happens when time runs out… Let’s begin with the good news — […]

ACTION ALERT! Call FL Governor Ron DeSantis now

April 15, 2020

APRIL 15: NATIONAL CALL-IN DAY TO GOV. RON DESANTIS As one of the country’s most vulnerable populations, our community of 25,000 farmworkers is in grave danger from the rapid spread of coronavirus. Most workers live in overcrowded housing units, are transported to and from the fields in packed vans and buses, and lack access to personal protective gear.  If nothing is done, the virus will carve through the state’s agricultural workforce like wildfire, and in a matter of weeks, Florida will not have enough workers to harvest our crops. Simply put, without farmworkers, there is no food. Help protect the lives […]

Part One: Coronavirus media round-up…

April 14, 2020

National and Florida-based news outlets, social media urge officials in the Sunshine State to act now “to minimize the catastrophic harm that the coronavirus could bring to the (farmworker) community…” CIW on CNN: “It is quite possible that in a matter of a couple weeks here in Florida we may not have enough people to harvest the state’s fruits and vegetables…” PLUS: Florida Public Health Association, Human Rights Watch, the Sierra Club, RFK Human Rights, and the United Church of Christ join over 180 organizations in calling on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to erect field hospital, provide critical health care for farmworkers… […]

CIW to Collier County Government, FL Department of Health: “Failure to prepare invites catastrophe”…

April 10, 2020

Collier County Government, FL Department of Health to local CBS affiliate, WINK NEWS: “A field hospital concept has been evaluated and determined unnecessary at this time due to apparent capacity at local hospitals.”

“After #MeToo, This Group Has Nearly Erased Sexual Harassment in Farm Fields”…

March 13, 2020

Reporter embeds with Fair Food Program Audit and Education teams, documents unprecedented progress in combating sexual harassment and other labor rights violations in extraordinary new article published by Civil Eats… Participating Grower: “This is the first real audit organization that I’ve ever seen.  You can’t fake your way through it.” Farm Supervisor, on prevalence of sexual harassment before Fair Food Program: “We didn’t notice, like cavemen didn’t notice that killing someone with a rock was bad.” But first, a word on COVID-19… Before we begin today’s post on the extraordinary new article by Vera Chang published last week in the […]