Farm work is essential to our food supply. Every year, hundreds of temporary agriculture workers from across the country travel to B.C. to help with harvest. This year was no different, with the big exception of COVID-19. Municipalities and regional districts in our region worked closely with the provincial government, Interior Health and many other organizations to keep farm workers and communities safe.
When the Loose Bay campground outside Oliver was closed by it’s management society due to the complexity of COVID-19 regulations, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen stepped in and opened the site to accommodate agricultural workers. They did this without initial funding and worked tirelessly with IH to establish COVID protocols for the site. They even produced bilingual signage to accommodate the many French Canadians staying there.
The District of Summerland identified a section of their local public campground to be used exclusively by domestic farmworkers. They even set up extra facilities and brought in an RV in case anyone needed self-isolation accommodation.
The Regional District of Central Kootenay, in partnership with the Town of Creston, established an Economic Recovery Committee to help the agriculture industry adopt and communicate the necessary guidelines and orders from the federal and provincial government. This committee also arranged and managed an agricultural worker accommodation site to ensure the health and safety of employees and their community.
Inside Interior Health we were also busy preparing for this important time in our communities. Many different teams came together to develop a plan that would help us prepare for all possibilities. This effective internal teamwork – in partnership with external stakeholders – was public health in action because it protected the health-care system and prevented domestic temporary agricultural COVID-19 cases.
“Public health work done well is invisible because the outcome is what people would expect, no outbreaks among domestic farm workers” says Dr. Silvina Mema, Medical Health Officer. The efforts of those involved in the planning and implementation of safe accommodation hubs paid off and helped to keep all IH communities safe this harvest season.