FDACS Disputes Agriculture is Driving COVID-19 Increases in Florida

Clint Thompson Florida

A farm worker packing romaine for harvest.

On Tuesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis vowed to keep the state open despite a recent surge in the number of people infected with COVID-19.

“We are not shutting down. We are going to go forward.” DeSantis said during a late afternoon news conference.

According to the News Service of Florida, DeSantis held the news conference amid increasing questions about the surge in cases and just hours after state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried accused him of acting “recklessly.”

DeSantis attributed the increases to state efforts to target testing in high-risk areas such as nursing homes and prisons. Also, he pointed to several cluster areas in the state that he said skewed the percentage of positive cases upward.

The governor said 90 workers at an Alachua County watermelon farm tested positive for the virus after a migrant worker from Miami arrived at the site. Health officials tested 100 workers at the farm and 90 came up positive.

“That’s a 90% positivity. And part of the reason is when you have workers like that, they are living in really close confines, sometimes multi-generational,” DeSantis said.

But a late Tuesday afternoon release from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) disputes the agriculture industry is a primary driver of the surge in cases.

FDACS spokesman Franco Ripple offered the following statement:

The Governor is mistaken regarding agriculture being a primary driver of COVID-19 in Florida. Commissioner Fried has been in close, regular communication with Florida’s leading agricultural associations throughout COVID-19. There is evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in areas where farms are located, but the vast majority of farmworkers left agricultural communities several weeks ago, as harvests have ended. As the Governor continues to prematurely reopen Florida, we’re seeing increases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and positivity in recent weeks, including the state’s highest-ever single-day number of cases just yesterday. Many areas where cases are spiking are in non-agricultural counties, such as Broward, Duval and Hillsborough, which have seen their highest positive case days in over a month. The Florida Department of Health has not communicated to our department any specific concerns about agriculture and COVID-19. Commissioner Fried’s 10-page report to the Governor’s re-opening task force included recommending that all farmworkers have adequate PPE, access to adequate healthcare and COVID-19 testing, and are able to practice social distancing on farms and food processing facilities. With her encouragement, many agricultural producers are following these recommendations. Commissioner Fried recommended that the Governor work with her to ensure that PPE, healthcare, and COVID-19 testing for farmworkers be provided, but has not received any response.”