On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that additional protections will soon be in place for essential workers in California, along with expansions of regional and local programs that have shown success in mitigating COVID-19.
Project Roomkey, agricultural worker housing expansions
Among the new protections for essential workers will be available places for workers to quarantine when they contract the virus or have been proven to be in contact with someone who tested positive for it. Agricultural workers in particular were noted to need temporary housing due to high COVID-19 rates in many rural areas.
Newsom noted that he wants to expand Project Roomkey to cover essential workers such as grocery store workers and warehouse workers if they need a place to quarantine. For agricultural workers, who work in areas with few hotels connected to the statewide hotel project, the Governor hopes instead to use a plan that worked in Monterey earlier this year. The “Housing and Harvest Partnership” found places such as unused housing units in Monterey for COVID-19 stricken workers or those exposed to the virus to quarantine. After success there, the Governor said he now wants to expand it statewide and cover a significant amount of the 626,000 agricultural workers in the state.
“Not enough focus candidly has been placed on essential workers in this state,” said Governor Newsom during the press conference on Friday. “The most important thing we can do is if someone is sick or feeling sick or has been exposed to the virus, we’ve got to give them the supports where they have the ability to isolate and, in some cases, to quarantine.”
New COVID-19 employer standards and a push for a reopened economy
Employers were also given more instruction on virus prevention. A new employer safety handbook was released Friday, detailing on how to handle a COVID-19 outbreak at a place of business, as well as what is needed to comply with current state rules and guidelines. Newsom also noted that the costs of having employees being tested resided solely on the employer.
To ensure worker protections, the Governor also said that Executive Orders could be expanded on to ensure that paid COVID-19 sick leave, reporting outbreaks at businesses to proper authorities, COVID-19 related workers compensation, and other work measures would be protected. Newsom noted that following these protections would allow the economy to open up once again more quickly.
“We want to open the economy quickly,” added the Governor. “People that are feeling sick, we don’t want them going to work and infecting other people, having a big outbreak where now a factory or a meat processing plant or any business has to shut down. You want to give them the protection so that you can be protected and customers can be protected.”
A new public awareness program was also announced focusing on work and at-home safety.
“I don’t mean to remind you, perhaps, that on weekends where we may take on our guard a little bit, that’s where we have started to see some spread of this virus,” explained Governor Newsom. “So I encourage you when you’re mixing outside your household, if you have to do that, wear the masks and physically distance. Don’t let down your guard.”
Industry experts noted that while many of the issues the Governor brought up have already been in place, they were glad to see a renewed focus on the economy.
“We’ve been testing workers and sending them home to quarantine,” explained warehouse industry advisor Rich Caminiti to the Globe. “We caught flak earlier this year on having high numbers of COVID-19 positive workers at warehouses in California. Everything the Governor just said to do we’re already doing because of that. We aren’t putting employees in hotels to quarantine though. That’s the only difference.”
“I will say that Governor Newsom finally talking about the economy again is encouraging. He’s trying to broaden his COVID-19 health message by saying that a healthy economy need to have COVID numbers go down and the virus prevented against, and you know, that’s a good way to go for it.”
Improving COVID-19 statistics but with a long way to go
In addition to his COVID-19 announcements on Friday, Governor Newsom also released the latest COVID-19 figures in the state. Testing was highlighted, with 138,000 people being tested on Thursday and 9,718 coming back as positive for around a 7% rate. However, the Governor did note that hospitalization rates are going down compared to two weeks ago. In early July new hospitalization rates were at 28%, while this weeks rates were announced to only be at 9%.
Despite that and other figures such as ICU admissions slowing down, Governor Newsom conceded that the state still had a long way to go.
“That is nothing to jump up and down about. These are statewide numbers and they mask the reality in different parts of the state,” explained Newsom.