One million surgical masks for the farmworkers who pick California’s crops came from Bank of America this month, and 200,000 of them are destined for Santa Barbara County. The donation to California’s Office of Emergency Services was earmarked for essential fieldworkers, whose cases of COVID-19 spiked dramatically in Santa Barbara County in July, largely in the Santa Maria area.
A heavy effort by Public Health, the Family Services Agency, and word-of-mouth outreach campaigns by groups like the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) succeeded in bringing the spikes from a high of 70-plus cases down to a case rate in the 20s by October. The Family Service Agency also runs the Housing for the Harvest program, which houses sick or exposed people in motel rooms and provides meals, wellness checks, and transportation so that the individuals can avoid exposing their families or roommates to coronavirus.
Recognizing MICOP’s successful education program on viral spread, Bank of America gave another 20,000 masks to MICOP alone. Vice Chair Thong Nguyen said the bank had “a responsibility to help protect the most vulnerable members of our community in these challenging times,” stating that agricultural workers have been hit harder than most others by the pandemic. The million masks also went to the counties of Ventura, Fresno, Imperial, and San Diego.
“Farm labor contractors and growers large and small have been receiving the surgical masks,” said Rudy Martel, Santa Barbara County’s assistant agricultural commissioner. The agency has been using its regular emails to growers to update them on the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), Martel said, listing vinyl gloves, surgical and cloth masks, and hand sanitizer among the PPE on hand. Notices from the agency also alert growers to the necessity of hand-washing stations, physical distance between workers, and allowing sick employees to stay home.
His office has received requests for PPE from growers in the north and south county, Martel said, adding that the Family Services Agency has been doing the lion’s share of the actual distribution in all parts of Santa Barbara County.