SCCAHS Provides Needed Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Researchers in Apopka, FL preparing to test community members.

The Southeastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (SCCAHS) is providing needed support and resources to Florida’s farmworkers and fisheries workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joan Flocks, associate in law at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law and director of Emerging Issues at SCCAHS, took action to help educate and test Florida farmworkers for COVID-19. This effort was made possible through partnerships with UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI) and the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF). 

Agricultural workers who work, travel and live in confined conditions are at an increased risk of being exposed to and contracting COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In early May, Flocks and a team of EPI researchers traveled to Apopka, Florida, to test local Haitian, Hispanic and African American community members for COVID-19. Sixty people, including nursery workers and FWAF staff and their families, were tested for the virus. 

Volunteers handing out masks to members of the community.

“I think this effort has heightened our awareness of how vulnerable these worker populations can be during a crisis,” Flocks said. “This will hopefully allow our ag center and other ag centers to be better prepared for something like this in the future.”

Flocks and her team are collaborating with organizations around the state to provide funding for outreach and education efforts. Funding has been used to purchase masks, thermometers and hand sanitizer for farmworkers, while educating them and their families about COVID-19. 

Andy Kane, associate professor in UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions and SCCAHS deputy director, has also partnered with EPI to educate and test vulnerable populations in Cedar Key, Florida. 

SCCAHS has been engaged with the Cedar Key community for years through research projects, industry support and extension. This recent testing effort involved more than 80 volunteers and provided an opportunity for 504 Cedar Key residents to be tested for COVID-19.

Team of researchers preparing to conduct COVID-19 tests in Cedar Key, FL.

“This was an opportunity where the center was able to provide extension to a community based on a unique emerging issue,” Kane said. “As a center, we had the capacity to respond to the community’s concerns.”

The Southeastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (SCCAHS) is part of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) / National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Agricultural Health and Safety Initiative. SCCAHS explores and addresses the occupational safety and health needs of people working in agriculture, fishing and forestry in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.