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