Alco Harvesting, a full service harvest management company in Santa Maria, employs around 1,000 local and H2A employees.
Fifty of them have tested positive for COVID-19, and one employee lost his life to the virus. Leodegario Chavez, 51, lived in congregate H2A housing, and died on July 7.
Santa Maria still surpasses every city in Santa Barbara County, with 77 new cases as of Friday, bringing the total number to 2,496. There are 183 active cases in the city, and 2,296 individuals have recovered.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 133 new positive cases in the county on Friday, bringing the total to 5,576 where 5,175 have recovered and 369 are still active.
Amid this outbreak in the hotspot of the county, Alco Harvesting has dramatically ramped up its spread-prevention tactics. According to Jeremy MacKenzie, the general manager, the company and county public health officers have developed an “aggressive serial testing and retesting program” for all employees residing in corporate housing.
“To date, all workers in guest housing have been tested at least twice,” Mr. MacKenzie said. “Retesting will continue into the foreseeable future until the doctor recommends otherwise.”
Once test results are received, healthcare officials talk with the employees to determine if they must quarantine, a decision the general manager says Alco Harvesting is not involved in. Privacy laws protect the discussions between employees and doctors.
If an employee tests positive, they gather their belongings and gets transported in a dedicated company vehicle that is cleaned and sanitized daily, according to Mr. MacKenzie. The vehicle has a plastic partition between the driver and the passenger.
“At the quarantine location, employees must still wear company-provided masks and gloves when they are not in their rooms, for example, in common areas,” he told the News-Press. “We provide employees food and water so that they do not need to leave the site for meals. Visitors are not allowed.”
In attempts to prevent further spreading within the H2A Housing, Mr. MacKenzie said they’ve implemented the following measures: providing employees with masks and gloves which must be worn while working; regular sanitization of housing facilities and vehicles; checking employees’ temperatures daily; placing six-foot social distancing markers; revising harvesting procedures to allow for adequate space to social distance, including at breaks and lunch time; continuous reminders and education; and encouraging employees to follow guidelines while not at work.
“Visitors are not allowed in the employee housing and an onsite live-in manager oversees protocol compliance,” the general manager said. “Alco Harvesting strictly follows state and federal worker safety laws and guidelines, including those pertaining to the pandemic.”