Sonoma County Health Officers Returned to Work Say They Are Exposed to COVID

Union members say removing the remote work option is not a solution.

“I don’t see why he can’t keep working,” said Paul Foster, a health accountant and local office worker at 1021. “We managed to end the fiscal year in July 2021. Of course, last year was tough.” But we succeeded. “

As part of Rivera’s directive, employees were given the opportunity to request remote full-time work. It just became another apple of discord. Many employees really wanted to work from home through managers. (Rivera said the number was “10+.”) Any application was denied, she admitted.

“For those exceptions, which may be formal requests for accommodation, which would have accompanying medical notes, they would go to (the human resources department of the health services) and follow the county’s standard practices and procedures for medical accommodation.” County spokesman Matt Brown wrote in an email. “The county could not comment on the condition of those who requested medical accommodation, as this is protected information.

Exposure notices are installed

Fiscal staff members were also upset by what they considered weak protection from COVID on Neotomas Avenue, the administrative headquarters for health services.

When they returned for the first time, no one was required to wear a mask; this term came a few days later. There was no additional system of social distancing. And the air conditioner temporarily stopped circulating several times. At one point, someone opened a door to the courtyard outside the rest room and propped up two interior doors with floor fans to increase airflow.

“No county has had a mandate for a mask, but mask recommendations have always been in place,” Rivera said when asked to comment on the complaints. “Our building filtration systems have been analyzed by the district risk (managers) and assessed for any further improvements needed for appropriate smoke air quality standards and COVID regulations; if additional equipment was needed, it was purchased and installed. We also have air scrubbers throughout the building for added protection. ”

However, announcements of COVID’s exposure began to arrive within days of his return to personal work – on 16 May, 2 June, 3 June and most recently on Wednesday.

As of Thursday, eight health workers at Neotomas’ office were out due to symptoms or exposure to coronavirus. Those known to be in close contact with an infected colleague were told not to quarantine, as confirmed by staff notifications shared with The Press Democrat.

Family members are at risk

Many officials said their circumstances had changed during the pandemic and it was not easy for them to return to work quickly. For some, this was due to vulnerable relatives.

“When we returned to the office, I was left with a family member who worked with an elderly patient as a caregiver and another member of the household who was immunocompromised with many basic health conditions,” said a fiscal official who asked her name to not used because he fears revenge. “I didn’t feel safe when we started receiving exposure notifications.”

For Foster, abandoning telecommuting had an immediate and tangible effect on his family.

“I am currently in hospital because I was called back to the office,” he said on Tuesday.

Foster’s father, who turned 84 in May, lived with him during the pandemic. When health officials first returned to the office three days a week, Foster said, he was no longer able to make sure his father was eating right and safe. His sister in Roseville agreed to accept him.

“But she came to Santa Rosa and was exposed to COVID,” Foster said. If he didn’t have to work, he would be home with me.

Foster’s father was released from the hospital on Tuesday.

Morality is low in Neotomas, workers insist. And the attendance too. On June 2, Jolie wrote that there were 16 people in the fiscal department, according to her census – about half of the staff. On Tuesday, she sent a message saying there were still at least 12 people.

“We have six accountants,” Foster said. “Yesterday I think I was just one.”

“One more thing” for business

Health services are far from the only work environment that has to make calculations of the risk associated with the virus. The county’s epidemiological team is currently investigating 18 reports of possible outbreaks in workplaces such as grocery and retail stores, manufacturing sites and wineries, said Brown, a county spokesman..

While Sonoma County businesses do not notice a serious shortage of staff from the first wave of Omicron in early January, the shortage continues, said Peter Rumble, chief executive of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber. This is not entirely due to COVID.

“It’s like an extra thing that makes it more challenging,” said Rumble. “It’s like, ‘We can’t fill a handful of positions.’ And on top of that, the posts I have have to work around time out due to illness.

All this leads to a difficult calculation for business managers: When is it safe to gather in an office and which workplaces are most likely to benefit from face-to-face interaction? Rumble usually prefers to open as much as possible.

“The CDC tells us it’s endemic now,” he said. “And the infection today does not mean the same thing as in March 2020. If we hear from the highest medical authority and they say that it is endemic, then we must start living our lives as endemic. That means we need to get vaccinated and get on with our lives. “

Rivera described the order to return the health services as temporary. It is expected to be in force until July 31, the end of balancing the fiscal year. After Wednesday’s meeting, Jana Blunt – president of SEIU Local 1021 and Sonoma County official, secretary-registrar-assessor-voter registrar – has her doubts.

“She was unable to provide an approximate date, but our conclusion is that there will be no future time when Ms Rivera believes that remote work will again be appropriate for staff if the determining factor is whether there is a backlog.” said Blunt.

Rivera did not offer an exact schedule for an exchange with The Press Democrat.

“We cannot have programs without a stable infrastructure and funding,” she said. “There are times when temporary measures are needed to address issues that are of great concern. This is one of those moments. “

You can contact Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or [email protected] On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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