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State announces testing in migrant worker communities but not in Immokalee

The State of Florida is introducing a new program to ramp up testing in migrant worker communities. But during the busy fall harvest season, this doesn’t include Immokalee.

Migrant workers are flocking to Immokalee for the November harvest. Which could be considered putting your life at risk in the time of coronavirus. “We are treated as if we are or the job we do is essential but our safety is irrelevant,” said Gerardo Reyes Chavez from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Chavez’s worry is that cases will spike again. “So there’s gonna be a lot of movement if… if there’s no plan that’s gonna be a lot of people being infected,” he said.

He believes that if the Department of Agriculture had participated in the push for new testing of migrant workers, they may have been protected and the workers could’ve felt safer. It involved five counties, but not Collier County.

The County Commissioner who covers Immokalee says the Department of Agriculture never contacted him. “I would’ve liked to [have] been communicated with and not have heard it from third parties that are outside the system with regard to how we’re providing for our care for our community,” said Bill McDaniel, Collier County Commissioner.

But now, he says the focus should turn to contact tracing. “The testing thing we’ve gotten down pretty good. If I have an issue, I hope it would be moving into a more aggressive case management with folks who do in fact test positive,” McDaniels said.

Reyes Chavez believes not accepting help from the Department of Agriculture may prove to be a lost opportunity. “Whenever there are ideas that help in the mission, they should be the mission of all of us making sure that our communities are healthy and safe. It should be embraced. Not the opposite,” he said.

Chavez fears for his community.

Collier County says that it informed the Department of Agriculture of their goals for Immokalee in August,  including six-day-a-week testing, a community outreach plan and mobile testing sites. Afterward, they say they were not offered any of those additional resources.

The Florida Department of Health in Collier County said, in a statement:

“In August, the Florida Department of Health in Collier County participated on a call with Department of Agriculture as well as Collier County, and State and Local Emergency Management. During this call the County was requested to provide funding for the migrant testing by FDEM and Department of Agriculture. The Florida Department of Health in Collier County was asked what testing capabilities we had, and what outreach and education efforts we were coordinating  to which we found that they were underinformed about our efforts including the fact that we were already (and still are) offering testing in Immokalee six days per week, that we have a community outreach plan to promote testing in the Immokalee community and that we have acquired the RV for mobile testing. Afterwards, the Department of Agriculture did not offer any additional staffing resources to help with our ongoing efforts.”

Reporter:Rachel Cox-Rosen
Writer:Drew Hill
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