Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A COVID-19 message to equestrians

Dr. Brian Joseph
Washington State Veterinarian

State Veterinarians across the U.S are concerned about animal susceptibility to coronavirus and
possible links between animals and the spread of COVID-19 among humans.

Horses are not susceptible to COVID-19, but horse owners
should avoid gathering with people around horse barns etc.
For horse owners and people who work with horses, we see little cause for concern about equine susceptibility or transmission; no evidence currently links the virus that causes COVID-19 with disease in horses nor are there any indications that horses can infect humans with the virus.

A virus in the coronavirus family, equine coronavirus (ECoV), can cause gastrointestinal disease in horses with signs of fever, depression diarrhea and colic, but this variant is NOT the same as the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Equine Disease Communication Center has recently put together valuable resources about the differences in ECoV and COVID-19.

Concern about people

Although our horses are relatively safe for the pandemic, people participating in equine activities and events such as group trail rides, boarding, training and lessons are still at risk.

At a time when we are trying to control the spread of COVID-19, we need Washington’s equine enthusiasts to do their part, too, by adhering to strict limits on, or completely avoiding gatherings of any kind.

Improve your biosecurity for horses

We need to improve our personal biosecurity and that of our horses. So, here are some best practices that were developed with the help of our colleagues in Kentucky to adjust equine activities to protect public health during this time. I urge you to implement these best practices in your facility and in your activities:

  • Open barns to allow as much fresh air exchange as is possible.
  • Assign equipment to an individual horse. Virus can be carried on equipment (ie: halters, shovels, brushes, cross ties, etc.) 
  • Clean and disinfect equipment daily.  This is always a good practice and can decrease the spread of other important equine viruses such as equine influenza virus and equine herpes virus. Clean and disinfect surfaces such as desks, rails, gates, floor mats having contact with individuals or equipment daily.
  • Prepare and complete records electronically. Paper records or common dry erase boards can be a pathway for virus to pass between people.
  • Limit the number of daily visitors to farms. Consider a schedule that limits the number of individuals on the farm to be less than 10 at any one time.
  • Farm employees and horse owners should practice social distancing. This is the only way to stop the spread of the virus.
  • Farm employees should take their own temperature twice daily and self-quarantine if they have a fever.  Fevers should be reported to the barn manager.  Designate someone else to care of the sick person’s horse.
  • Do not to move your horses between stables unless it is essential. 
  • Practice excellent biosecurity. Clean and disinfect your tack and your trailer including the wheels. Moving horses to new stables causes them stress which can suppress their immune system making them more susceptible to disease.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations and wash your hands frequently with soap and water. 
One other note: WSDA's brand program not doing field inspections for horses (lifetimes or annuals) to observe social distancing during this crisis. This work will resume as soon as it is safe.

I understand that some of what we are recommending is inconvenient, some of it costs money, but if we all work together, we can stop the spread of this virus.  All our health, our economy and the quality of our lives depends on our working together.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Agriculture, more “essential” than ever

WSDA Communications

Agriculture and the businesses that support it are essential.
Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee intensified our state’s coronavirus response with a statewide, Stay HomeStay Healthy order to suspend all non-essential activity. Inslee called on people to stay home and for businesses to close, except for essential activities and services.

Though the spirit of the mandate is clear, some workers and business owners are still unsure if the directive applies to them and if their activities are viewed as essential.

For the agriculture industry, here’s what it means to you.

Agriculture and supporting businesses remain open

If you work or do business in food and agriculture – farming, ranching, food processing and production, food distribution; or you work in a business that supports agriculture, like pesticide application, fertilizer distribution, or veterinary care – then you can continue to operate.

Our basic needs, including the need for food, drink and other agricultural products have not changed. Washington is committed to keeping the food supply chain open and operational -- especially during the current crisis.

This is why “Food and Agriculture” is identified in the Governor’s Essential Business list.

Keeping the food moving helps in the fight
against coronavirus.
New guidelines to help stop COVID-19

During these extraordinary times, essential businesses that remain in operation must do their part to protect workers and fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus by implementing social distancing and sanitation practices.

To help, WSDA has been sharing guidelines for the agriculture industry to help protect workers so they can safely fulfill their essential function. Those resources, for food processors, storage warehouses and packing houses, are available on the WSDA website coronavirus webpage, many of them in English and Spanish.

Keeping food on the shelves

Deliveries to grocery stores are continuing at a steady pace and farmers, ranchers and food processors are producing plenty to meet our needs. By maintaining the food supply chain and safe conditions for workers, we can ensure that store shelves will not go empty and the public can ride out this storm.

WSDA remains committed to ensuring that Washington’s agriculture industry continues to thrive for the benefit of those in the agriculture community, and those of us who depend upon them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

WSDA’s COVID-19 Response

Chris McGann

As the situation around novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in our state continues to develop, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has been coordinating and deploying a multifaceted response to ensure staff and public safety.

Our efforts are also geared toward maintaining continuity of service to the fullest extent possible given the current public health concerns and logistical challenges.

WSDA, along with most other state agencies, is arranging for as many employees as possible to work from home, or telework. This may result in temporary changes in the way WSDA staff communicate and interact with clients and stakeholders. In some cases, it may require rescheduling of inspections, training opportunities or other services.

Adapting to the situation

During the course of this pandemic and the corresponding changes, some disruption is inevitable.

We ask for your patience and understanding that any operational changes are rooted in our agency’s goal of protecting public health.

Everyone benefits from being flexible, working together and supporting each other as we make the rapid adjustments necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In the days and weeks to come, we will have more specifics about how the COVID-19 response will affect each of WSDA’s divisions. We apologize for any inconvenience.

What we know now

To minimize confusion and answer some of the questions you may have about how COVID-19 affects WSDA, we have coordinated with our local, state and federal partners, to create and compile resources to help food producers, processors and distributors, as well as livestock and pet owners. Links to this information are available on our website, where you’ll find a COVID-19 resource page.

General COVID-19 information

For general COVID-19 information, please refer to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Prevention practices for food pantries 

State and federal health officials currently recommend taking preventative steps to reduce the spread of viral respiratory diseases in food pantries. These steps include the hygiene recommendations that apply to the general public, such as frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with others.
They also call for processes specifically aimed at food pantries, including alternate delivery systems such as drive-through pickup and pre-bagging produce to reduce the amount of food touched by multiple clients. Here is a fact sheet with more information about best practices for food pantries. [PDF].

Information for pet and livestock owners

There are currently no restrictions on livestock trade or animal movement due to the COVID-19
response, nor is there any evidence of pets or other companion animals spreading or becoming sick from the virus.

Continued vigilance about hygiene and biosecurity are the top recommendations for people who come in contact with domestic animals. Here is a fact sheet with more information about animals and COVID-19 [PDF].

Produce safety

Produce does not appear to be a likely transmitter of COVID-19 infection. However, the current outbreak is a timely reminder to adhere to food safety practices to protect the workers and the public from diseases.

Reviewing your operation’s health policies, encouraging sick employees to stay home, increasing hand hygiene, and making sure hand-washing stations are properly stocked help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and many other diseases. Here is a fact sheet with more information about produce safety. [PDF].

Best Practices

All WSDA departments are adhering to the best practices that apply to everyone during this episode -- frequent hand washing; watching for symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath; staying home if sick; and limiting social contact.

Stay up-to-date about additional precautions and news by checking our COVID-19 resource page