KDA pesticide testing during pandemic becomes model for other states
- By CHRIS ALDRIDGE
- Kentucky Agricultural News
On March 17, when Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear directed that all in-person government services cease because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s (KDA’s) Division of Environmental Services faced a dilemma.
The KDA was forced to close all 13 sites it was operating across the state to test, certify, and license commercial pest control applicators.
“For three months, we were unable to give a single person a test,” said John Pitcock, branch manager for product registration and technical support. “We knew we had people that needed to be tested, and that list was getting bigger and bigger.
“There was turnover in the (pest control) industry, and those new hires didn’t have the ability to make any pesticide applications because they were unlicensed,” he said. “There was a big demand for people needing to get licensed.”
Pitcock said most commercial pest control companies were understanding when testing had to be delayed.
“You’re always gonna have a few people upset,” Pitcock said. “But they were more upset with the pandemic and less upset with us.”
In a stopgap measure, the KDA issued trainee licenses to new hires, allowing them to make applications under the supervision of a certified and licensed applicator. That required pest control companies to devote two employees to accomplish tasks that previously only required one.
A light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel came May 22, when the governor allowed groups of up to 10 people to gather.
“In a group effort, the Pesticide Division sat down, put our heads together, and spitballed ideas,” Pitcock remembered.
Exactly a month later, on June 22, the KDA resumed pesticide testing in Frankfort, converting a warehouse adjacent to the Office of the Commissioner into the state’s only testing center. One test taker is seated at each of nine 8-foot tables spaced for social distancing inside the large room.
To eliminate the spread of the virus, the KDA no longer reuses its paper tests. Copies are given to each person taking a test, then disposed of. Pencils are also used only once, then thrown away.
The KDA provides calculators for each person being tested, and the devices are placed in plastic bags to eliminate contact with fingers. Disposable masks and gloves are also provided by the KDA for test takers desiring additional protection.
After each testing session, the bags, tables, and chairs are sprayed and wiped down with a disinfectant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for killing the COVID-19 virus.
When testing resumed, the KDA conducted two tests a day, from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m., five days a week. Demand has slowed to allow testing to be cut to two days per week. An additional testing site has been reopened in western Kentucky, testing one day per week in Gilbertsville, Kentucky, in Marshall County.
“The pesticide application industry provides a service that’s important,” Pitcock said. “You can’t have pests going unchecked. For farmers, crops can’t go untreated.
“These people needed to get licensed so they could go out and make the applications they needed to make,” he said. “We had to resume testing, but we had to do it in a safe and controlled manner.”
Pitcock said Kentucky’s successful resumption of testing became a model for other states.
“Other states tried to open testing back up,” he said, noting things didn’t go smoothly. “But after telling them how we did it, they adopted it and had better success.”