Many every day activities have suddenly become a potential risk factor when it comes to the spread of COVID-19. For example, two months ago, no one probably thought twice about opening the mailbox, pulling out the contents, and bringing it into the house. Now, there are concerns about virus transmission and recommendations to wear gloves and quarantine items before opening them.
On farms, deliveries may be a nearly daily occurrence, especially in the spring, with the arrival of feed, seed, fertilizer, and so forth. John Shutske, a professor and extension specialist of agricultural health and safety with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shared practical guidelines for receiving deliveries in the video “COVID-19: Minimizing risk while handling farm products in containers.”
Minimize human contact
He started off with a reminder that the transmission of COVID-19 through mail or packages is quite low. “The biggest risk of accepting product is likely the contact between people,” he said.
He encouraged the practice of social distancing, or physical distancing, even when outside. “The more distance, the better,” he said. Stay at least 6 feet apart from the person making the delivery, and farther if possible.
Although a longstanding tradition and symbol of respect, Shutske said that handshaking is not encouraged right now. “It is a potential mode of transfer for this particular virus,” he said. If face-to-face contact can be eliminated all together by using phone, text messaging, and email communication, he said that is even better as it eliminates all risk of potential exposure from person to person.
A record of who is dropping off what, though, is smart. Shutske recommended farms have people sign in — using their own pens, if possible — when making a delivery. He also said to designate a drop off location that is far away from the house, office, or where children play. Post instructions for delivery personnel, and if possible, use a form of visual delivery confirmation, such as a video phone app or photo verification.
Handle with care
For security reasons, not all deliveries can be left outside, but when possible, Shutske noted that the sun can be a benefit. Sunlight will deactivate this virus, he said, making it far more less likely to cause infection.
Shutske reiterated that the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and the United States Postal Service all agree that the risk of COVID-19 spreading on shipping packaging is low. That being said, the virus can remain viable for 24 hours on cardboard and for three days on plastic and steel.
For these reasons, Shutske said to not handle deliveries for at least 24 hours after arrival when possible.
If a delivery is waterproof, Shutske said a solution of 1/3 cup bleach in 1 gallon of water could be mixed in a non-contaminated garden sprayer and used to sanitize packages.
When opening packages, he recommended wearing gloves, either nitrile or plastic. Cotton gloves could also be used and washed in warm water and detergent and then dried.
In general, Shutske emphasized the need for extra precautions in this current situation, including diligent handwashing and sanitation of contact surfaces. He also said to make sure everyone on the farm, family members and employees, understands these protocols. “The protection you give each other is only as good as the weakest link in that chain,” he said.