Nearly 190 farmworkers contract virus in Southern California

July 6, 2020 GMT

OXNARD, Calif. (AP) — Dozens of farmworkers staying at a Southern California housing facility for migrant laborers tested positive for the coronavirus last week, the Ventura County Star reported.

County Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas said that as of Friday 188 of the 216 workers tested positive at Villa Las Brisas in Oxnard.

The facility has dorm-style accommodations for temporary migrant farmworkers in the H-2A visa program. It is owned by berry company Reiter Affiliated Cos., but the workers were employed by three separate labor contractors that leased space.


Vargas told the Star he believes the workers staying there were working as a unit and did not work alongside other farmworkers in Ventura County.

“Even between the three growers there might not have been much mixing, but certainly from my understanding they didn’t work with others outside of those in Villa Las Brisas,” Vargas said.

Elkhorn Packing Co. LLC, one of the three contractors, has about 35 workers staying at Villa Las Brisas and they had planned to return home June 26, said Erica Vela, a human resources employee. She said they worked at various sites in the county but declined to be specific.

Reiter said it “proactively engaged” with the health agency in April to review hygiene protocols and the county did not amend them after a site visit.

Vargas confirmed the tour occurred but said it wasn’t in an oversight capacity.

“My team did go out there and tour the site, and it looked good to us, but we’re not doing a formal approval of sites with these plans,” he said.

Reiter said that since April it has provided twice-daily cleaning and disinfecting of bathrooms and showers, cleaning of all high-touch areas daily, provided a cleaning and disinfecting kit in each dorm and employed social distancing protocols in common areas.

“We have been operating at a 46% approved occupancy and the county is directing the care of the guest workers including rooming and quarantine practices on site,” the statement said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three week. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Worldwide, the number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported numbers because many people haven’t been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.