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Timing is critical, because thousands of hand-harvest workers begin field work in just weeks.

PMG illustrationOregon's harvesting season is fast approaching and farmworker advocates are worried. They fear that if new protections are not put in place, the health of pickers could be put at risk by the pandemic.

They've pushed the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health agency for emergency regulations to protect the state's 160,000 seasonal farmworkers from getting infected with coronavirus.

They're expected to get a response in days.

Two groups have asked Oregon OSHA to require growers to increase field sanitation stations, implement new spacing requirements and take other measures to help protect farmworkers, deemed "essential" to the workforce, from becoming infected.

The timing of the request is critical, they say, because tens of thousands of hand-harvest workers, often working within just feet of each other, will begin field work in just weeks as planting and related activities get underway.

"What we're asking for is at least a fighting chance instead of just throwing people out there with very little protection," said Nargess Shadbeh, director of the Oregon Law Center's farmworker program. "Peoples' lives are at stake."

Michael Wood, OSHA administrator, said he hopes to decide "before the end of the month" whether to grant some or all of the emergency measures requested by the law center.

This Lund Report story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.

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