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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 8th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 19 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 21, Issue 19

Local organizations call for action over farmworker conditions during COVID-19

By Malea Martin

With about 20 percent of Santa Maria’s COVID-19 cases being among farmworkers, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) released a joint statement calling on Santa Barbara County elected officials and public health to take action. 

CAUSE and MICOP are asking the Board of Supervisors to use its power to direct the county’s Public Health Department and the agricultural commissioner toward action. Demands include educating farmworkers on the sick leave they’re entitled to, developing an inspection program for farms, and providing mobile COVID-19 testing sites at agricultural work sites. 

County Public Health Officer Henning Ansorg told the Sun that the percent of Santa Maria residents who work in the farming industry is similar to the percent of COVID-19 cases that are farmworkers, so he does not believe that farmworkers are disproportionately affected at this time. 

Ansorg also spoke to some of the precautions that he sees local farmers already taking, and public health’s role in it.

“At the work sites, the growers do a very good job, and we’re working with them from public health to have them spaced out and wear masks,” Ansorg said. “They have good sanitation in the fields; they disinfect and wash hands and everything.”

However, he did point out that farmworkers often live in congregate settings and are unable to social distance when driving to work and on the job, making them more vulnerable to infection.

This is particularly true for H-2A workers, CAUSE Community Organizing Director Hazel Davalos said. They come to the U.S. on temporary work visas and often live in close quarters with other H-2A workers. 

CAUSE and MICOP are also asking the Board of Supervisors to address issues around H-2A housing during COVID-19.

Concerns around the vulnerability of H-2A workers during COVID-19 were heightened, Davalos said, with the recent news of a COVID-19 outbreak in a Ventura County farmworker housing facility. According to the Ventura County Star, all 216 people staying at the farmworker housing facility were tested after two people there tested positive for the virus. As of July 3, 188 workers were positive for COVID-19.

“We’re talking about workers living in dormitory-style housing,” Davalos said. “We’re really hoping that this incident can be a learning lesson for the agricultural industry to step up and do a better job around preventing the spread among the workforce. We see this as an opportunity for our public health department to step up and increase regulation of the agricultural industry.”

One idea the organizations are proposing is to require that farmworkers who share a room are also transported to and from work together, work together, and eat together. This would essentially treat roommates as a household, Davalos said, and hopefully prevent small-scale outbreaks from reaching the larger group.

“Right now, it’s often the case where [farmworkers] have their roommates, and then they’re all thrown into one big bus when they go to work every day. Your bubble of four goes to 30 really quick,” Davalos explained. “Public health could make stipulations around those sorts of things.”








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