This week, public health officials announced that 27 employees at Champlain Orchards in Shoreham have tested positive for COVID-19. All are men who traveled to Vermont from Jamaica to work seasonally through the H2A visa program.
Vermont Edition spoke with Julia Doucet from the Open Door Clinic in Middlebury, about what is being done at the orchard to ensure that those who are ill have access to medical care and have other needs met, and don't spread infection to those around them. She joined the show after working at the orchard for the morning, handing out COVID care kits.
Our guest is:
- Julia Doucet, outreach nurse with the Open Door Clinic in Middlebury
Broadcast on Oct. 6, 2020 at 1 p.m.; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. You can listen to the full episode and find Health Commissioner Mark Levine's remarks, here.
Jane Lindholm: Julia, you've been on the ground in Shoreham today, talking with people and getting a sense for what the needs are, what the concerns are and what questions remain for the men who have tested positive, as well as for those who haven't tested positive and would like to remain virus-free. What can you tell us about what you were doing this morning?
Julia Doucet: This morning I went out to connect with the farm owner and to hand out, as you referred to, COVID kits, and those are packages of supplies that will go to each of the bunkhouses. There are currently five separate houses – three are bunkhouses – where the workers are staying.
The other two houses are being used for quarantine. They're able to separate out five of the people who may be at risk, but who have not yet tested positive.
Each of these kits contains a thermometer and a pulse oximeter, which is a device that's used to check your oxygen saturation – that's a really important piece of catching respiratory failure early – and hand sanitizer and surface disinfectant, a whole bunch of masks, some ibuprofen, and then a bunch of information from the CDC and the Vermont Department of Health about COVID-19 symptoms, information about the open door clinic, if they have questions. I was also just reaching out and making sure people know that we are here to answer questions for them.
Does it appear that people are effectively and efficiently quarantined?
Absolutely. The farm owners have done an amazing job. Their first workers arrived in March and they have been able to kind of pod their workers into people who live and work and eat together, who are separate from the other pods – some who arrived in June and some who arrived in September.
People who live in the Shoreham community may have seen workers out and about walking to the grocery store. Those were not the workers who were in quarantine. When workers arrived, they spent two weeks in quarantine in their houses before they were allowed out.
How are the 27 men who've tested positive doing?
They have a lot of questions, but they are by-and-large feeling good. They continue to be healthy. They really run a spectrum in terms of age. Some are on the younger side. Some are on the older side, and may have underlying conditions. But I would say, by and large, the biggest question was: “When can we be out of quarantine?”
There is definitely some fear.
For those who tested positive, I think there are a lot of questions about “What does this mean? What is my risk? How can I protect myself? What can I do at home?” For those who have tested negative, they are really wondering, one, when they are out of the woods first, and two, when they can get out of quarantine.
What do their health care options look like should these individuals need more advanced medical care than the COVID kits that you've been distributing?
That is something that is in the works. We at the Open Door Clinic have been in touch with Porter Hospital and the Vermont Department of Health, looking into different options for collaboration and coverage, in terms of making sure that these guys receive access to the health care that they need. As you can imagine, they're a fairly vulnerable population in that they don't have a lot of access to transportation. They're not covered by any health insurance coverage. And, they often come without a full understanding of what our health care system looks like and how to access care.
So our job is really to work with the farm owners and, as much as possible, work with the farm workers to connect them to the best way to get them the help that they need.
Are you confident that they'll be able to get and afford this kind of health care if they need it?
Absolutely. There is funding through the federal Health Resources and Services Administration that is specifically for COVID treatment and testing for those who are uninsured. We've had success in the past with accessing that fund, and I feel fairly confident that would happen again in this circumstance.
There are also financial assistance applications or programs for people without insurance, and those can – on a sliding fee scale – lead to 100% coverage, depending on that patient's household size and income.
We had a listener ask: What can community members do to be supportive of these workers right now?
I wish there was a quick and easy answer. We have a fair number of immigrant workers who come to this state to work, whether it be picking vegetables or berries or apples, and we also have workers who are here year-round who work in a lot of our dairies, here in Vermont, and uphold our agriculture in that way.
The ways that those two populations live is as different as the ways we all live. Some do live in aggregate housing, some live two- or three-people to a house depending on the farm where they are working. But they are all working hard. They are all doing jobs that many farmers can't find Americans to do, and they really keep the agriculture of Vermont going.
We are a safety net for many people who wouldn't otherwise be able to access care. I absolutely think that there would be a way to wrap all community members into access, to make sure that everybody has access to health care. I think that we as a small state do have an opportunity to do that, and I do think that there are ways to serve everybody.
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