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PO Box 370
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COVID-19 Q&A with Dr. Ken Kirton and Our Community Farmers

In last week’s press release, Ken Kirton, MD, Chief of Medical Staff at Freeman Regional Health Services provided an overview of COVID-19 and answered general questions on navigating the current situation. This week Dr. Kirton is addressing farming and agribusiness questions. These essential workers in our community need to remain safe and healthy as they produce food and provide economic stability for our community.
What advice do you have for farmers, producers and others in agribusiness?
Remember that knowledge of the virus that causes the disease can help us make informed decisions. Recall that the virus that causes COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that is easily spread through air and by hand to viral contaminated surface to face. The further away a non-infected person is from the air space around an infected person, the lower the chance for virus transfer. However, this virus has high infection rates that may occur with limited exposure. Symptoms range from asymptomatic shedding of virus, to cold symptoms, to fevers and aching, cough, trouble breathing and occasionally weakness. A high percentage of individuals who contract the virus have the potential for developing a serious illness that carries a higher death/mortality rate.
What protections should I follow when I need someone to visit my property?
You should feel comfortable asking the individual if they are alright with having a conversation about the necessary changes to how your business transaction occurs. Be sure to stress that they are welcome and that you value their friendship and business relationship. Explain that these are different times and that you want them to feel comfortable with how this interaction might be different due to the risks of COVID-19. You should ask them if they have been ill or around others that have been ill. Stress that it does not mean that you will not do business if someone has been ill, but that it may need to proceed in a different way. Be certain to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet during the transaction and avoid physical contact. Conduct the business exchange in a way that minimizes your contact with surfaces touched by others. Wash or sanitize your hands post transaction to prevent bringing your hands to your face before they have been cleaned. Wipe down any touchable surfaces unless the items can be avoided for many days.
How should I be handling payments and mail?
Remember how viruses can spread and that that they cannot jump from the paper to your nose. When your hand touches a contaminated surface then touches your face is how the virus gets where it needs to go to infect you. Consider conducting your business electronically or alternatively placing the payments or mail into a box for several days before processing. Always remember to use good hand hygiene when handling items. 
What steps should I take when I need to purchase supplies at a retail store?
Consider calling in your order and picking up the items at the curbside. If you need to navigate into the store, then think about how the COVID-19 virus is spread. Wear a mask and carefully take it on and off. Remember to wash or sanitize your hands right after going into and out of the store, especially before entering your vehicle. You should limit your time spent in the store by focusing on your direct needs while eliminating touching of surfaces that do not help your transaction. 
How can I protect myself when I must travel locally and out of state? 
Before you travel, view the status of COVID-19 for each county or state that you intend to travel at their state department of health website on COVID-19. Each website lists the number of statewide cases with a county breakdown but remember that limited testing availability means these numbers are often dramatically lower than the actual prevalence. Plan a strategy for how to navigate the trip there, the transaction and the trip back. Take into consideration meals, bathroom and gas stops along with the site of the business transaction while thinking about how the virus is spread. When outside your vehicle use thoughtful hand hygiene such as using hand sanitizer. You should consider wearing a mask that you take on and off without touching the outer surface until washed. You may reuse a mask if you have to, but you must use good hand hygiene when taking the mask on and off. Incorporate the precautions mentioned in the other questions when conducting your business transactions. 
What should I do when I need to trade animals or equipment?
Think about how the virus is transmitted. Animals are not believed to be an infection source for humans in this country. The key interactions will be those with the humans in the transaction and any surfaces that they may have touched in the last three to five days. 
What precautions should I take for my farm hands? 
Remember how the COVID-19 virus is spread. Promote a culture where individuals identify when they are ill (fever, coughing, trouble breathing, or upper respiratory infection symptoms). Encourage your ill workers to seek medical advice for potential screening or testing to avoid a workplace disaster that could result in lots of folks being unable to work. Strategize work responsibilities to naturally build in social distancing and cleaning into and out of shared workspace. Consider varying the timing or location for breaks and meals to reduce exposure amongst your team.
Can I still meet with my friends for coffee? 
This is a tough one. Think about how the virus is spread and develop strategies to protect yourself, your family, your friends, your community and the workers at the place where you might be going for coffee. Be creative with your knowledge and come up with the safest ways to stay connected to each other. The safest strategy will have you being in fresh air with greater than six feet of space while effectively using masks and good hand hygiene. 
Anything else that a farmer or producer should know?
You folks are important to all of us. You are essential workers for our community. We want you to be safe and to be physically, emotionally and economically successful. If there is some way we can help you navigate this situation, then please reach out to us at the clinic or hospital.