Producers who need to talk with someone at their county office now will have to make an appointment, as COVID-19 cases continue to increase nationwide.

The Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service are encouraging farmer-customers to call ahead to make an appointment before coming into their local service center, in part to ensure the office is open. USDA released a list of service offices open “by appointment only.”

But the agencies also said customers “must” call ahead for an appointment if they answer “yes” to any of three questions regarding COVID-19 (see below).

USDA’s Rural Development agency announced Friday it would operate remotely while the crisis is ongoing.

“By moving to enterprise-wide remote operations, Rural Development is protecting the health and safety of federal employees and federal workplaces to prevent the transmission of COVID-19,” the agency said. “This action also protects our customers and our stakeholders as we work together to continue the delivery of programs essential to rural America. USDA Rural Development will not be modifying its operations, only the way we operate by moving to an enterprise-wide remote operating status.”

RD cited a March 17 memorandum from the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, in which Vought said “the government must immediately adjust operations and services to minimize face-to-face interactions, especially at those offices or sites where people may be gathering in close proximity or where highly vulnerable populations obtain services.”

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Vought said federal agency “plans and operations shall accomplish the following,” including “[maximizing] telework across the nation for the federal workforce (including mandatory telework, if necessary), while maintaining mission-critical workforce needs.”

Other agencies at USDA headquarters are moving toward increased telework. The National Agricultural Statistics Service, for example, is having its employees telework. "We are teleworking except when those preparing estimates and reports need to be in the office," NASS spokesperson Sue King said.

Here are the three questions customers are to ask themselves before visiting a service center:

  • Have you, someone living in your household, someone you have been in close or frequent contact with, or someone you are caring for been diagnosed with COVID-19 (new Coronavirus) or had any contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19?
  • In the last 14 days, have you or someone living in your household, or someone you have been in close or frequent contact with, or someone you are caring for returned from, or made a travel connection through a CDC Level 3 or Level 2 country or State Department Level 3 or Level 4 country?
  • Do you currently have, or have you had within the last 24 hours, any cold or flu symptoms with a fever greater than 100.4 or acute respiratory distress (e.g., shortness of breath and coughing)

“If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you must contact your local service center to make an appointment by phone,” NRCS said in a news release.

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