Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – More than 55,000 farmworkers across New York play critical roles sustaining the local and global food supply.

Many of these essential workers – who often live in close quarters and work side by side – have continued to work without face masks, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To help protect farmworkers and slow the virus’s spread in rural New York, the Cornell Farmworker Program is mobilizing local support to make and distribute face masks across the state. 

“Farmworkers are essential to our health in good times and even more so during a crisis like this,” said Mary Jo Dudley, director of the Cornell Farmworker Program. “By working together with our local and statewide network, we have a chance to slow the spread of this pandemic in rural New York and protect our most vulnerable populations.” 

Since March 15, when the initiative began, volunteers have handsewn more than 1,400 cloth masks for New York farmworkers. So far, the program has helped distribute masks in rural communities across the state. Health clinics in the local communities play a critical role by making the deliveries in full protective gear, while sharing health information and administering COVID-19 tests.

In addition to making masks, the program is hosting weekly informational webinars, in both English and Spanish. In April, the program partnered with Finger Lakes Community Health to offer COVID-19 education, in English and Spanish, reaching nearly 1,000 farmworkers each week.

The program provides health updates by texting its network of 2,500 Spanish-speaking farmworkers, and including links to videos and other useful information that are designed for low-literacy populations. The program also offers materials in indigenous languages, such as the Mayan language Mam, as Spanish is a second language for some.

“It is so uplifting to have the support of the broader community during this crisis,” said Dudley. “This will be an ongoing effort and we welcome the continued support of volunteers.” 

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.