LACEY, Wash. — Farm groups and state agencies have mobilized to supply face masks and hand sanitizer to prevent and contain the coronavirus from spreading among farmworkers.
The Washington Farm Bureau on May 22 dispensed about 1,100 gallons of state-purchased hand sanitizer at their headquarters north of Olympia. The bureau plans to hand out more sanitizer in northwest and Eastern Washington. The bureau and other farm groups already have distributed tens of thousands of masks bought by the state.
“It’s probably been one of the better collaborative efforts we’ve had that’s involved the governor’s office, agencies and legislators,” said Breanne Elsey, associate director of government relations for the Farm Bureau.
Farms and food processors have continued to operate during the pandemic as essential businesses. Even essential businesses, must follow state-issued safety standards that call for physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and face masks in some cases.
The state Department of Agriculture received 136,925 masks bought though the governor’s office, a department spokesman said.
So far, the Farm Bureau, Washington Growers League, Washington State Tree Fruit Association, Wafla, Latino Civic Alliance, United Farm Workers Union and Washington State Dairy Federation have received face masks to distribute, he said.
The Farm Bureau had 12,500 masks to give out this month and they were claimed in two hours, Elsey said. A waiting list for 2,000 masks developed. The organization hopes to get more, she said. “I don’t think we even understood the overwhelming need.”
The Farm Bureau had 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer on hand Friday in Lacey. It also planned to distribute as many as 10,000 gallons in Mount Vernon in Skagit County the same day. The handout was postponed as the Farm Bureau and state agencies clarified the rules for transporting sanitizer.
Sanitizer contains alcohol and is potentially hazardous. Because of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Transportation in April relaxed rules for trucking hand sanitizer.
Elsey described the delay as a “hiccup.” The distribution will be rescheduled, she said. The bureau also plans to distribute sanitizer in Eastern Washington.
The agriculture department has requested another 50,000 gallons of hand sanitizer through the Washington State Emergency Operations Center, the spokesman said.
If the order arrives, the sanitizer will be stored at a warehouse in Union Gap in Yakima County and distributed to farmers and farmworkers, he said.
The Farm Bureau estimates there will be a total of 164,000 agricultural workers in Washington at some point this year. The bureau figures about 70% of the demand for supplies to guard against COVID-19 will be in Central and Eastern Washington.
Elsey said the organization is trying to calculate the volume of supplies that will be needed.