Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed more protections for essential workers Friday, releasing new safety handbooks for employers and promising to work on new legislation at the state level.
With the number of statewide coronavirus cases surpassing 425,000, the governor said he is hoping to build on past executive orders meant to help those most at risk of contracting and spreading the virus. COVID-19 has killed 8,027 people in California as of Thursday.
According to the Los Angeles Times’ tracker, 150 fatalities were recorded Wednesday, which is more than any other day during the four months of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, hospitalization rates and the rate of people testing positive for the virus have been trending upward in the state’s 14-day average, according to health officials. However, Newsom said those rates are climbing slower than earlier this month.
The number of hospitalizations, going by the daily average from the last 14 days, rose by 9%, Newsom said Friday. The increase in the last 14-day average, reported earlier this month, was 28%.
In California, the massive outbreak has disproportionately impacted people of color, particularly Latinos, who are most of the people working in essential jobs such as restaurant cooks, construction workers, farm workers and laborers, Newsom said.
According to state data, 93% of farmworkers, 78% of construction workers and 69% of cooks are Latino, making up the vast majority of a few crucial industries.
“The epidemic in the West is particularly among the Latinx community. … They are both in urban, as well as rural, agricultural areas,” Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco, told the L.A. Times. “There’s tremendous amount of transmission in Southern California, in particular in Orange and Los Angeles counties.”
Newsom did not announce any public health order or other concrete effort to give more protections to essential workers but spoke extensively about the need for more legislation to that end.
“Let’s talk about the preventative measures,” Newsom said, adding it is crucial to help people, particularly workers, be able to self-isolate.
The state is working to offer hotel subsidies — which have been provided to homeless Californians at most risk and medical workers — to essential workers, Newsom said.
He told reporters he will work alongside the state Legislature “hand in glove” to provide guaranteed paid sick leave for those infected with coronavirus and other extend other labor protections.
With some relief at the state and federal levels set to expire, such as the $600 boost to unemployment benefits, Newsom said it’s necessary to start working on other legislation or state orders to ensure economic survival among Californians.
“A lot of these things are expiring into August, September,” Newsom said, explaining what he described as a “need to reengage in a more vigorous conversation” with the federal government.
The state has collaborated with the U.S. government on other relief efforts such as Project Roomkey, an initiative to house homeless Californians most at risk of becoming ill or dying from the virus. But Newsom said he wants to focus more on ways to help essential workers, naming the state’s massive agricultural industry as being at particularly high risk.
“We have to do more to support some 626,000 crop workers that come in this state, and live here year-round in the state of California,” Newsom said.
In Monterey, Newsom said, state officials have worked on a “housing and harvest partnership” that gave farming facilities access to space for workers to self-isolate.