Farm biosecurity measures and practices are most often framed within the context of protecting livestock health. As our farms and farm families live and manage through the current COVID-19 pandemic, the focus of farm biosecurity shifts to human health; measures and practices that can help keep family members and farm employees healthy and safe. Looking at farm biosecurity for COVID-19 starts with understanding how this virus is spread and transmitted.
Doctors and medical persons tell us the COVID-19 virus is most often contracted by touching an infected surface with our hands and then transferring the virus to our face, specifically by touching our eyes, nose or mouth. On the plus side, this virus is killed by thoroughly washing our hands using soap, or barring that, a hand sanitizer with at least a 60% alcohol content. There is a recommendation that wearing a mask can often result in preventing people from touching their face, thereby reducing the risk of disease transmission. COVID-19 biosecurity measures need to focus on farm personnel behavior and the disinfection of surfaces that have a lot of contact with hands.
Key behavior modification involves refraining from touching your face with your hands, practicing social distancing of six or more feet between persons and refraining from shaking hands. On the farm, labor is critical and so farm owners/managers are not going to tell their employees to stay home unless they are sick. Cross training employees so that all employees can do multiple tasks provides farms with some flexibility to work around sick employees. Farms may have to restructure some tasks to allow for more social distancing, for example scheduling only 1 or 2 farm employees in the shop at a time as equipment is being readied for the planting season. Which service providers need to physically visit the farm vs. a phone call? If a delivery must be made, can a designated area be set aside and minimize person to person contact? Setting aside a specific area for deliveries can make it easier to provide regular disinfection of that area.
Milking parlors are difficult farm environments in which to practice social distancing. I encourage farm managers to analyze and re-structure the milking routine to allow milkers to work in defined areas that keep as much distance as possible between themselves. Minimize milking routines that have workers frequently crossing each other’s path. Wear gloves and provide face masks to all milkers in the parlor.
Evaluate the use of commonly shared equipment, tools and other objects. Think about protective equipment; things like welding gloves, helmets, googles. It may be time to provide additional supplies of these items and assign them to specific employees, rather than sharing among employees to reduce the chance of virus transmission. Think about other objects that are commonly shared between employees and handled frequently, for example pens and clipboards. Is there a way to eliminate that sharing behavior or protect employees when things are shared? Wearing disposable gloves or maybe use of a whiteboard for some communication might be work arounds.
The second prong of farm biosecurity for COVID-19 is disinfection. The COVID-19 virus can stay active on many hard, smooth surfaces for multiple hours to even days. On most farms, there is often a need to do some deep cleaning of surfaces before disinfectants are applied. Most disinfectants do not work if the surface has organic material on it, for example, soil, dust, feed, plant material or manure. You clean a dirty surface first, then you disinfect it to kill microbes and viruses. A recent Buckeye Dairy News article said to concentrate efforts on high touch areas, areas that have a lot of contact throughout the day. Some examples include tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, power switches for large motors, phones, tablets, touch screens, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets, sinks, cabinet handles, mailbox handle, shop hand tools, welders, all tractor controls, tractor seats, hand rails, high touch areas in the barn, rattle paddles, all controls in milking parlor, and anything else people may touch.
For porous surfaces, like cloth tractor seats, the Buckeye Dairy News article recommends wrapping them in plastic to allow for better cleaning. Once wrapped in plastic, these surfaces can be treated the same as all other high tough areas. Vinyl seats should be treated as a hard surface, high touch.
The EPA has a list of disinfectants recommended for COVID-19, available on line at https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2. Concentration is very important, but a few common active ingredients on this list are sodium hypochlorite, sodium chlorite, ethanol, quaternary ammonia, and hydrogen peroxide. If using a bleach solution, the goal is a minimum of 1000 ppm sodium hypochlorite or for household bleach, 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water.
The Wayne County Extension web site has a page where we have compiled a list of COVID-19 resources for farms. It is available at http://go.osu.edu/agwayne, click on the COVID-19 heading in the left-hand column.
Rory Lewandowski is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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