Yakima County judge blocks some virus rules on farms

Yakima
Lynne Sladky
FILE - In this May 12, 2020, file photo, farmworkers harvest beans during the coronavirus outbreak in Homestead, Fla. Many U.S. health centers that serve agricultural workers across the nation are receiving COVID-19 vaccine directly from the federal government in a program created by the Biden administration. But in some states, farmworkers are not yet in the priority groups authorized to receive the shots.

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state judge has blocked some coronavirus-related restrictions on farms and orchards meant to protect farmworkers.

Yakima County Superior Court Judge Blaine Gibson issued an injunction last week that stops the state from enforcing a series of regulations to protect workers from the virus, the Bellingham Herald reported Sunday.

The now-blocked rules had required twice-daily visits from medical staff to isolated workers; required workers to be within 20 minutes of an emergency room and an hour from a ventilator; and provided workers open access to people in the community.

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The judge’s ruling left in place restrictions on bunk beds, a regulation that the two groups that brought the suit — the Washington Farm Bureau and Wafla — had fought to lift, the newspaper reported.

Wafla is a human resources firm that supplies laborers for farms. They also manage housing for workers. Farm owners had potentially faced steep fines for violating the now-blocked regulations.

Franklin County Farm Bureau President James Alford said the state restrictions seemed to have been made by someone who did not understand the industry.

“After a year of asking the state to work with the farm community to make science-based adjustments to the COVID-19 emergency regulations, we’re very pleased with this common-sense ruling,” added John Stuhlmiller, the chief executive officer of Washington Farm Bureau.

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A spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, Mike Faulk, said the governor is pleased with the outcome and that the state had already been considering similar changes.

The United Farm Workers said the changes could result in health risks for farmworkers.

“Our concerns at the state level have not diminished,” said Elizabeth Strater, the director of strategic campaigns for the United Farm Workers. “These aren’t tools. These are human beings. … We really need to do the bare minimum to make sure they’re safe.”

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