Joel Angel Juárez here. It’s that time of the year again—harvest season in the Salad Bowl of the World.
At this time last year, working and living conditions for agricultural workers looked very different—much of it because of the global pandemic that had found its way onto Monterey County soil at the same time as the first picking of the crops.
A lot less was known about the virus at its onset, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control safety guidelines and other Covid-related resources had yet to be developed and refined. The Monterey County Health Department had reported just 182 cases of Covid-19 by April 16, 2020.
Four months later, that figure had increased to 1,276 people infected—and 31 percent of these cases, for which occupation information is known, were agricultural workers. These numbers did begin to level out later, as the pandemic became more widespread; today, agricultural workers account for 18 percent of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Monterey County in patients whose occupation is known.
This week’s cover story looks into what preparations have been developed over the past year for the agricultural workforce, including the estimated 10,000-plus seasonal workers expected to arrive in Monterey County for the harvest season, some of whom are already here as early as last month.
This season, we’re better equipped with vaccines, isolative housing and financial assistance programs for those infected with the virus. There’s also an ongoing community health worker outreach program. But still the question remains—are these resources enough, or will farmworkers continue to be victims of Covid-19?