MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KION)
UPDATE 4/24/2020 10:30 p.m. Dozens of agricultural workers in Monterey County have been infected with COVID-19, according to county officials on Friday.
41 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in that demographic, accounting for about a quarter of the county's total positive cases.
"I hope now that some of these numbers are actually heard by our state legislators and by our governor because we've been asking for weeks now for more resources to be deployed," said Luis Alejo, a Monterey County supervisor.
Without providing more detail, the Monterey County Health Department says the workers impacted could be those in the field or people working in packing, sheds or transportation.
Officials say part of the problem is how close people get to each other, sometimes packed together in the fields or where they live. The county put out guidelines for how agriculture companies can protect their workers about a month ago.
Supervisor Alejo suggests now is the time to make the guidelines mandatory, even though he feels most have been following the rules.
"I think that would put more strength and that will address the bad actors that perhaps are not following what we've been asking them to do," said Alejo.
"The same efforts certainly need to be done in this crisis to ensure that we are providing them with temporary housing that they need so they can shelter in place, that they won't be a risk to their family members," said State Assemblyman Robert Rivas.
Assemblyman Rivas wrote a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom saying in part: "I fear this is just the beginning, and that – without further and immediate action – California will soon have large outbreaks debilitating to our food supply."
This week, Governor Newsom announced a plan to add 80 test sites across the state, but local lawmakers say that may not be enough.
"One testing site and this expectation that they're going to go to that testing site, that's not going to work," said Rivas.
"Part of that plan should be we're going to make some extra testing kits in agricultural counties available so their health officers and their health department can make that testing easily available to them," said Alejo.
Assemblyman Rivas is proposing a package of bills in the state legislature that would provide COVID-19 relief specifically for farmworkers.
PREVIOUS ARTICLE: Monterey County health officials said agricultural workers are over represented among local COVID-19 cases.
They said 41 people, about 25% of those who have tested positive, identified themselves as working in the agriculture industry. They could be farmworkers or people working in packing, sheds or transportation.
Officials believe they are seeing more cases there because they may spend a lot of time with coworkers, work in close proximity for long periods of time or live in large households.
Dr. Ed Moreno said there is no evidence of a spike in cases in Monterey County and that the Shelter in Place order has decreased the ability of cases to double.
As of Friday morning, there were 164 confirmed cases and four deaths.