Six Covid-19 cases have been tied to the Public Works operations yard on Cesar Chavez since April 23, and while the Laborer’s Union unabashedly describes this cluster of positives as an “outbreak,” the city denies that one is occurring.
Mission Local has confirmed that workers or visitors at the yard, located on the 2300 block of Cesar Chavez Street between Evans and Kansas streets, tested positive on April 23, April 30, May 5, May 6, May 7 and May 12. Theresa Foglio-Ramirez, the city representative for the laborers’ Local 261, says at least one of these workers is presently hospitalized and on a ventilator.
The sick workers, as far as the union rep knows, have not been vaccinated. She believes at least two of the workers intentionally avoided getting the vaccine.
Work conditions at the yard have spurred two recent complaints from Local 261 to the state division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). In July, 2020, the union faulted the city for failing to provide 350 on-site employees “with reasonable access to sanitary and safe restrooms and fully-stocked and accessible hand-washing stations during their shifts.”
In January, it filed a second complaint, claiming substandard conditions at the yard were to blame for “no less than nine” covid cases in a three-week period.
Both OSHA and San Francisco Public Works described these complaints as “ongoing investigations.” Foglio-Ramirez said workers on site have noticed OSHA inspectors regularly visiting the yard.
Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon confirmed that six cases have been recorded at the yard since April 23. Five of the cases were workers on the yard, and one was a visitor.
“Through contact tracing, it is believed that four of the six cases were community exposures, not workplace exposures,” Gordon wrote. “As for the other two, it is harder to determine, since those two employees also have a personal relationship outside of the workplace.”
Foglio-Ramirez said the union was disinclined to accept the results of the contact tracing.
The city and union also disagree on whether this constitutes an “outbreak,” which is more than a mere semantic joust. AB 685, which became law on Jan. 1, mandates a rash of employee notifications and mitigation measures in the event of a job-site “outbreak.”
Under the law, an “outbreak” is defined as “at least three probable or confirmed Covid-19 cases within a 14-day period in people who are epidemiologically linked in the setting, are from different households, and are not identified as close contacts of each other in any other case investigation.”
Gordon says these conditions have not been met; the yard is big, and does not serve as a single job site.
“These cases do not constitute an outbreak under state law, because they were not clustered at a specific area within the Operations Yard,” she wrote. “To be defined as an outbreak, three or more cases must be connected to a specific area.”
Foglio-Ramirez, however, noted that at least four of the sick people spent time in “Building B,” which is where workers pick up the keys to their vehicles, refuel vehicles at a gas pump and is also the site of the men’s and women’s lockers.
“City workers from other departments also use this facility,” she said. “The locker rooms, the bathrooms: This could get messier than just Public Works.”