Doctors Without Borders supplements COVID-19 testing in Immokalee

Posted at 7:32 PM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 19:42:25-04

IMMOKALEE, FL. — The international medical humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders, has begun Coronavirus relief efforts in Immokalee.

The humanitarian organization is working with local health partners to test migrant farmworkers and provide life-saving information.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says it became aware of the community's need for additional COVID-19 testing and healthcare education after being contacted by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

"Farmworkers and packing house workers can't work from home, they can't fully mitigate their risk on their way to and from work on buses and public transportation, many live in very crowded housing," said Katie Irwin.

Irwin is the logistics manager in Immokalee with Doctors Without Borders.

"It's encouraging that the National Guard and the Department of Health have conducted mass testing, but there's also a need to continue on-demand testings so that everyone has access in a convenient time for them, in a language they can understand, and in a safe place," said Irwin.

MSF began coordinating Coronavirus relief efforts with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in late April.

Over the past three weeks, MSF has conducted several covid-19 testing mobile clinics with support from the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida and the Collier County Department of Health.

"When we set up a mobile clinic, we're essentially trying to bring the testing site, the clinic, to people that would otherwise might not have a mode of transportation or if their work schedule is restrictive," said Irwin.

The mobile clinics count with English, Spanish, Creole, and French-speaking staff.

So far, the organization has tested over a hundred people.

"While the majority of results are still pending, initial results from the first clinics show a high positivity rate, and that indicates ongoing community transmission," said Irwin.

MSF is now exploring ways to support the community in coming up with a plan to help farmworkers who need to self-isolate.

"As we do more testing, we know that there is a need to find places to stay for people who are positive, suspected cases, and their contacts," said Irwin. "Without a way to safely isolate, it'll be extremely difficult to stop the virus from spreading within living quarters and at the farms and packing houses."

Aside from the testing, MSF is also providing non-COVID-19 consultations through community-based mobile "virtual" medical clinics.

Doctors Without Borders is using social media and CIW's local radio station to spread the word on when the mobile clinics will take place.

"In order to get ahead of this outbreak and break those chains of transmission, we need to identify those cases, trace contacts, and make sure that people can safely isolate," said Irwin.

Irwin says MSF is working to provide testing at farms to make it more accessible for workers.

MSF also plans to support the Department of Health with contact tracing.

With no end date in sight, Irwin says they need more supplies like unopened boxes of gloves, disposable gowns, and gel sanitizer.

"We're trying to source more tests to continue supporting the capacity and the need in the community," said Irwin.

People who wish to donate personal protective gear (PPE) to support the organization's effort can do so by dropping off supplies at the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida in Immokalee.

To learn more about Doctors Without Border, click here.