COVID-19 has seeped its way into virtually every crevice of the food industry.
When asked how many meat packing plants or date plants have been affected, Joe Duffle, President of a union representing food workers across Southern California, said there has not been one plant that has not been affected. He says navigating the pandemic has been increasingly difficult.
“You do it well, you do it right, you do it once, because if you don’t, you’re going to pay a higher price later and right now we’re paying that high price,” said Duffle.
That price is positive coronavirus cases.
Riverside and Imperial Counties have some of the highest numbers and some are still going unaccounted for, according to Duffle.
“Companies don’t want to give out information because they don’t want to scare their investors or they don’t want to scare the customers, it’s just bad for business right,” he said.
Labor representatives say many food workers earn low incomes, have limited access to health care and have concerns about their immigration status making it difficult to come clean about COVID-19.
“When you create that atmosphere you put people underground and they go out and expose other people, potentially because they’re trying to do business as usual, we have to have a system, a greater system where people feel safe to be able to say, ‘I’ve contracted this’ or ‘I believe I’ve been exposed to this’ and that there’s not going to be repercussions because of that,” said Duffle.
Brooke Federico, Riverside County Public Information Officer, says, “when our public health department reaches out to any confirmed case and we ask if they are employed, if they do work outside of the home, again we’re asking these questions so that we can contain the disease.”
Federico says Riverside County has ramped up resources for coronavirus, but Duffle says he thinks Riverside County needs to step up.
“We do want to increase our number of contact tracers so there are areas that we know we want to continue to meet our state metrics in, i will say that we do not currently have a backlog in our contacts that our contact tracers are reaching now, so when our contact tracers are reaching out to people, they’re so within a very short time frame of a confirmed case,” said Federico.
Everything remains a work in progress so people can stay at work in Riverside County.