Social workers employed by Orange County are calling for enhanced safety measures at the Santa Ana building where they work, driven by fear of increased exposure to colleagues who have tested positive for coronavirus over the past few weeks.
The workers say their potential exposure to the virus also poses a risk to elderly and disabled clients who they sometimes must visit at home, the Orange County Register reported.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said officials have increased cleaning in the Social Services Agency’s offices.
“We are providing a high level of cleaning,” Kim told City News Service. “We’ve been doing that since the beginning of the pandemic and we’ve increased cleaning by 25%.”
There is a “higher level of cleaning” in areas where an employee has fallen ill, he said, adding that the county “is bringing on a consultant to review all of our cleaning protocols to ensure we’re following the highest levels of cleaning protocol that is appropriate to manage COVID-19 in the work environment.”
The county is using plexiglass in offices and asked for volunteers to take jobs requiring interaction with the public, Kim said. The county is also allowing as many employees as possible to continue telecommuting, he added.
“To me, it’s been a model department and I’m proud of the work they’ve done,” Kim said of the Social Services Agency.
In recent weeks, coronavirus has spread rapidly in Orange County, which is now one of 24 counties in California in danger of being forced by the state to return to some kind of social and economic lockdown. The latest concerns from social workers echo complaints that surfaced in early April after an employee with the Social Services Agency came to work after testing positive for coronavirus, creating a ripple of fear among people working at an office building on south Grand Avenue. That building houses the Santa Ana Regional Center.
Now, nerves are on edge among social workers and other employees at a different county building, on East Warner Avenue. Four people who work in that building tested positive for coronavirus from the beginning of June to the first week of July, according to internal county emails shared with The Register and confirmed by Social Services Agency administrators.
Employees in that second building, at 1505 E. Warner Ave., work for the Social Services Agency’s In-Home Supportive Services division and for the Orange County IHSS Public Authority, a separate entity that contracts with the county. The staffs of both agencies oversee assistance to elderly, blind, and disabled residents whose ability to care for themselves is limited.
Caregivers paid by IHSS Public Authority directly help those clients with routine tasks, such as cooking meals, grocery shopping or doing laundry, to remain at home.
The building, like other county buildings, has been closed to the public since March 19. There is no set date to reopen it, county officials said, although social workers told the Register there was talk of a mid-July opening.
But caregivers who go into homes of IHSS clients do come to the site for drive-through pickup of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. Social workers also occasionally visit the clients at home to verify or update information. Such encounters can strain the 6-foot limit of social distancing guidelines, because many clients are hard of hearing or don’t see well and social workers say they must come near to them to provide assistance, the Register reported.
“There’s a heightened concern because of the work they do,” said Charles Barfield, general manager for Orange County Employees Association, the union that represents about 18,000 county workers.
Representatives for the Social Services Agency said staff concerns are being addressed. They said COVID-19 safety measures undertaken at the Warner Avenue building comply with state and federal guidelines.
But some IHSS office workers who have contacted the Register say more needs to be done. They are calling for a quarantine of their workspace, along with deeper cleaning measures than what they say the county has provided — requests that are similar to what other county workers and the union representing them, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, sought in April.
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