200918_cp1_news_dj farmworker housing

Housing at Gebbers Farms in Okanogan County, Wash. The Washington Department of Labor and Industries and Department of Health plan to make emergency rules for COVID-19 permanent for 2021, anticipating the pandemic will last into next year.

Washington regulators are looking ahead to 2021 and preparing to make coronavirus-related emergency rules for farmworker housing permanent.

Research suggests the pandemic will continue next year and “possibly longer,” according to a notice by the Department of Labor and Industries and Department of Health.

The departments will take another look at ventilation requirements, and rules for isolating infected workers and operating group shelters, according to the notice.

The emergency rules were hastily written last spring and withstood a court challenge from a farmworker union. Farm groups intervened in the suit to help the state defend them.

The rules have been amended over the past several months. They’ve largely worked, Washington State Tree Fruit Association Jon DeVaney said Monday.

“While the rules have been inconvenient, they’ve also been pretty effective. We haven’t had the big outbreaks in housing that were feared,” he said.

In writing the emergency regulations, Labor and Industries initially proposed banning bunk beds. The department eventually allowed up to 15 workers grouped in a shelter with bunk beds if they were isolated from other workers.

The union Familias Unidas por la Justicia sued, alleging the rules wouldn’t protect workers. A Thurston County judged rejected the claim.

Washington remains far short of meeting most goals for stopping the pandemic. Since late February, the state has confirmed 80,138 COVID-19 cases, slightly more than 1% of the population.

The curve has been flattened. COVID-19 patients occupied 2.5% of the state’s licensed hospital beds, meeting the state’s goal of 10% or less, the Health Department reported Tuesday.

The statewide rate of new cases exceeds the state’s goal. In the past two weeks, there have been 81 cases per 100,000 people, and the goal is 25 cases.

Five Central and Eastern Washington counties — Yakima, Chelan, Douglas, Benton and Franklin — remain in Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase plan to reopen the economy.

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