Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday toured a packinghouse-turned-vaccination clinic for farmworkers in eastern Riverside County, where he announced $24 million in additional funding for a state program that provides temporary hotel housing to agricultural workers who must isolate due to COVID-19.
The governor toured Sea View Packing in Coachella, where Medjool dates and other fruits are packed. Riverside County on Tuesday set up a three-day mobile vaccination clinic at the site.
“Thank you to the farmworkers,” Newsom said during a news briefing, with an orange in his hand. “These things don’t just magically appear in the grocery store. There are folks out there every single day in 120-degree heat that make sure these arrive in your grocery store.”
The Sea View Packing location will inoculate between 300 and 350 people a day, according to county spokeswoman Brooke Federico. She said the site, set to operate through Thursday, is part of a broader county effort that began more than a month ago that is now targeting different packinghouses, ranches and farms, which have combined to inoculate about 2,300 agricultural workers.
Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said the endeavor was a collaborative effort that included local growers and about a dozen community organizations. The effort started as educational outreach in the fields, which morphed into offering testing, and now vaccines.
Saruwatari said the goal is to inoculate agricultural workers “where they are and where they are working to make it easy for them to get the vaccine.”
“We know that its not easy for the farmworkers to get out to our mass vaccine sites that are fixed sites. They don’t have the flexibility with time off work. They don’t necessarily have computers at work,” she said.
Newsom spoke after several local leaders highlighted coronavirus- related inequities exhibited in the predominately Latino population of local agricultural workers.
Studies have found that agricultural workers have contracted COVID-19 at disproportional rates compared to other residents in the state. One study from UC Berkeley published in December found agricultural workers were three times more likely to be sickened with the disease caused by the coronavirus than other residents.
Newsom conceded the state should “do more and do better” to help those workers.
“Frankly, we haven’t done enough. We have to own that. We have to recognize we haven’t delivered on equity as we should,” he said.
During his visit, the governor also announced additional funding for the state’s Housing for the Harvest program, which operates in about 15 counties in California, including Riverside County.
The program “helps positive or exposed workers protect their loved ones and co-workers by giving them a space to self-isolate,” according to the state’s website. Participants receive a free hotel room for up to two weeks to self-isolate.
Earlier in the morning, Newsom toured the facility and spoke to farmworkers who had been vaccinated or were planning on getting a shot. Some spoke about their fears of getting inoculated due to widespread negative rumors associated with the vaccine, the governor said.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, a physician and son of farmworkers, applauded the governor’s efforts in combating the pandemic, saying Newsom “saved millions of lives with his early decisive decisions.”
The congressman, who represents much of Riverside County, also lauded the governor for visiting the eastern Coachella Valley instead of more affluent outposts often frequented by government officials in the region. Ruiz was raised in Coachella, not far from the packinghouse.
Ruiz said Newsom may be the first California governor to have ever visited the city of Coachella.
“We have had other elected local representatives who have never stepped foot here in Coachella with farmworkers,” he said. “Most national or state individuals go to Indian Wells and to fancy country clubs with very rich and powerful people.”