COVID-19 Hitting Hard in Facilities with Close Quarters

Essential Workers

While California continues to try to keep COVID-19 cases down by reducing or shuttering certain industries, essential workplaces and facilities that operate with large populations in close quarters are seeing large numbers of infections. While some measures have been mandated to ensure safety, unclear directions or failure to comply with safety measures have resulted in outbreaks.

Farmworkers have been especially hard hit and meat packing and other food packaging facilities have become hotspots for the virus. Foster Farms has temporarily stopped operations at its poultry plant in Livingston after close to 400 employees reported positive and seven workers died. Similar outbreaks have happened at other facilities throughout the country.

Factors that increase meat and poultry processing workers’ risk for exposure to COVID-19 include prolonged close workplace contact with coworkers, working in often frigid temperatures, shared work spaces, shared transportation to and from the workplace, congregate housing, and frequent community contact with fellow workers.

Merced County public health officials intervened in July to urge widespread testing of the Foster Farms facility to control the outbreak. Foster Farms initially tested less than 100 of its 3,000 employees.

California’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Centers and prisons have also been ravaged by the virus. In July, half of the detainees who were tested came back positive at a facility in Bakersfield. In San Quentin State Prison, over 2,200 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and close to 2,000 at Avenal State Prison. At Folsom State Prison, 233 inmates had active infections and a large tent structure was erected with 90 beds available to provide care. All aforementioned prisons have also had several hundred employees test positive for the virus.

Earlier in the summer, inmates with active infections were also transferred between facilities, while others were released.

To complicate matters, the state does not have a solid reporting policy for workplace outbreaks and contract tracing efforts have failed to materialize.

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