On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $52 million grant from the federal government aimed at slowing the coronavirus’s rampage through California’s Central Valley, where residents of predominantly Latino communities have consistently been required to keep showing up to work in fields or meatpacking plants and warehouses
The money will go toward more focused testing efforts to identify outbreaks, education for employees and employers about rights to sick leave and other safety issues, and improvements to quarantine and isolation protocols.
“It’s not the fact that an employee is tested positive,” Mr. Newsom said, standing before a banner for Diamond Foods, a company based in Stockton where at least six walnut processing plant workers recently tested positive for the coronavirus, according to The Stockton Record. “It’s how we respond.”
Mr. Newsom praised Diamond Foods for its response and its place in the community.
He also emphasized that the money would not be used for initiatives “in a punitive mind-set.” Instead, he said, teams sent to the Central Valley will work with employers to fix their processes.
Mr. Newsom said the effort would draw lessons from the state’s work to help stabilize Imperial County, which, in recent months, has struggled with a flood of Covid-19 patients, many of whom were transferred to other hospitals throughout the state.
The new, “laserlike focus,” Mr. Newsom said, comes amid surging cases across the state, but particularly in the eight counties that make up the Central Valley, like San Joaquin County, which includes Stockton.
[Read about why Latinos have been disproportionately sickened by Covid-19.]
While the state’s overall positivity rate, or percentage of coronavirus tests that have come back positive, has plateaued at about 7.5 percent on average over the past two weeks, Mr. Newsom said Central Valley counties were grappling with positivity rates of between 10.7 percent and 17.7 percent
“These dollars are timely and critical and important,” he said.
For months, as the coronavirus has found its way into more communities across the nation, experts have sounded the alarm: The pandemic will not hurt everyone equally.
Agricultural workers cleaned carrot crops of weeds at a farm near Arvin on April 3. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
In California, that’s meant predominantly Latino communities far away from the coasts — where lower-wage, often immigrant workers have never stopped showing up for their essential jobs and heading home to crowded apartments — have been pummeled.
Experts and advocates say this isn’t new, however, and Mr. Newsom’s announcement of a targeted effort in the Central Valley doesn’t go far enough to force employers to keep workers safe.
“The issue is not just that employers should follow certain guidelines, but that often times they fail to abide by minimum standards,” said Ana Padilla, in an emailed response to Mr. Newsom’s announcement.
Ms. Padilla is the executive director of the University of California, Merced, Community and Labor Center, which recently released an analysis that showed a strong connection between counties with high concentrations of low-wage work and the prevalence of Covid-19.
She said the state must do more to enforce guidelines and laws — not just educate.
The lead author of that analysis, Edward Flores, said in an email that the $52 million was coming from a $499 million federal grant for the entire state; that portion roughly lines up with the proportion of the state’s population that lives in the Central Valley.
Still, Mr. Flores said it was not too late for the state to enact stricter policies and more rigorously enforce existing rules in the Central Valley’s big workplaces, in particular meatpacking and food processing plants.
“The alternative would be continuous outbreaks for the next couple years,” he said.