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GET PREPARED: Be proactive on the farm about COVID-19. Talk with employees, review biosecurity practices, institute social distancing and enforce policies that keep sick employees home.

What is your COVID-19 plan?

For farmers still operating amid the outbreak, biosecurity is the name of the game.

With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases leaping each day, it’s even more important that farmers remain vigilant at practicing biosecurity.

A lot of you know how to do that for your livestock and poultry. This time around, it’s for you, your family and your employees. And it involves a fast-spreading, respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus containing hundreds of particles in a single aerosol drop.

During a recent webinar focusing on what farmers need to know about COVID-19, Heather Fowler, director of producer and public health with the National Pork Board, and Jeff Bender, co-director of the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, offered suggestions on how to operate your business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suggestions included developing a safety plan for your employees and the continuity of your farm business as well as reminders of day-to-day practices. Here are the key points they offered:

Continue to practice good biosecurity. “We’ve been talking about this for decades,” Bender said. Limit farm access and activity. Stagger activities on farm for arrivals, departures, lunch breaks, etc. If you are sick, even with mild symptoms, stay home. Wash your hands frequently. Clean and disinfect common areas.

Bender said he is frequently asked if people should wear masks.

“Personal protection equipment should be a last resort,” he said. “Those are necessary for health care workers.” He explained that there is a “hierarchy of controls” for disease, and PPE is at the bottom of that list. To contain a disease, the first goal is to eliminate the pathogen by removing or preventing it. Next, efforts should be made to allow for control using facilities, physical space and work procedures. And last, consider using PPE to prevent pathogen exposure and spread.

Implement social distancing on the farm. “What does social distancing on the farm look like?” Bender asked. That practice doesn’t sound like anything new to many geographically isolated farmers. Yet, it does warrant some definition. On farms with employees, Bender suggested holding early morning meetings by video, cell or conference call; changing work schedules to limit the number of people working on the farm at any one time; and limiting the number of workers taking breaks to two people at a time.

Prepare for human illness. Bender suggested talking with employees to raise awareness with them about COVID-19 and to also learn if they have concerns or circumstances that may affect their job performance. For example, they may be caring for an older relative or someone with compromised health.

Fowler recommended developing an employee safety and continuity of business plan. Items to consider in the plan would include reviewing your sick leave policy and cross-training employees so that if someone is ill, chores are covered.

“Be prepared to revise plans as needed,” she added.

As you take additional precautions, Bender suggested that you remember neighbors and friends during these high-stress times.

“Check on your neighbors with Facebook or other mechanisms,” he said. He encouraged social interaction and support with virtual coffee visits or church activities.

For additional resources on COVID-19 and mental health, visit UMASH’s website.

For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

To learn more about developing biosecurity plans for the farm, visit the National Pork Board’s website.

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