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More than 100 Immokalee farmworkers waited to be picked up on Saturday to go pick produce. Some farms in Southwest Florida have shut down because of COVID-19, while several remain in operation to meet the country’s need for produce. Image via Kinfay Moroti/hopeful images

Coronavirus in Florida

Health officials turn attention toward rural communities like Immokalee

Some rural communities have seen cases spike.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida officials stepped up testing in rural areas near South Florida hot zones.

“We’ve now done 17 walk-up test sites throughout the state of Florida,” he said at a Wednesday press conference. “You see them in places like Collier County and Immokalee. You see places in South Florida. This has really expanded testing to places where you probably weren’t having a lot of people tested, two months ago.”

That comes both as parts of rural Southwest Florida have seen a growing number of cases and as Florida moves toward further reopening of the state.

Collier County, which neighbors Miami-Dade, has seen 1,679 individuals test positive for COVID-19. But 648 of those came from a single ZIP code, 34142, serving the Immokalee community.

A glimpse at the Department of Health dashboard now identifies the community as a hotspot on par with parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Similarly, in Hendry County, there have been 476 cases, 365 of those in Clewiston’s 33440 ZIP code. And there are now 415 cases in the 33430 ZIP code serving Belle Glade in Palm Beach County.

Part of the spike in cases may be attributable to an increase in testing underserved areas, something the Governor alluded to in his press conference.

“We believe having done almost 50,000 tests in those, that’s been very good for a lot of those communities,” DeSantis said.

Concerns have persisted since early in the pandemic about the potential spread of the novel coronavirus in migrant farmer communities. Many undocumented workers living in those communities are reluctant to interact with state agencies, and work conditions for many farm workers are not conducive to social distancing. There have also been reported shortages of basic sanitation supplies.

Also notable, the documentation of cases and testing trends in rural counties has been a key discussion after the termination of Department of Health data manager Rebekah Jones. She claims she was fired for refusing to manipulate data so that rural counties met guidelines to advance into Phase One reopening. The Governor’s Office maintains she was fired for a pattern of insubordination.

 

ZIP code breakdown of COVID-19 cases as of May 3, 2020.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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