Misunderstood mandate: Fresno coronavirus order could expand throughout Central Valley

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A misunderstood mandate has led to a lot of complaints from people who say their employers don't seem to take the coronavirus seriously.

"Folks who are in a workplace and there is a positive case, I think they certainly have the right to know that they were potentially exposed," said Fresno City Council Member Nelson Esparza, who pushed the mandate into the city's emergency coronavirus order.

And that mandate may soon get expanded throughout the Central Valley.

When the Fresno County jail discovered what turned out to be an outbreak of coronavirus in its North Jail, deputies had to call several potentially infected inmates back from the county courthouse.

Employees at the courthouse tell Action News they learned about their potential exposure through our reporting, not from their bosses.

And several court employees say the city of Fresno's mask mandate is not enforced.

"The language spoke about wearing a mask at all times but it still slowed for the option of removing your mask when you're sitting at your desk," said one anonymous employee.

The lack of masks is a common concern in complaints coming in to Action News about employers across the Valley.

Employees all wanted to remain anonymous to protect their jobs.

Court employees tell me they get their temperature checked walking in the door, but the readings come back as low as 93 degrees, so it's unreliable.

They're often forced to attend indoor meetings with 25 or more employees.

And they don't think their bosses are following the city of Fresno's rule requiring employers to notify employees of confirmed coronavirus cases within 24 hours.

"We essentially received notice that there are people saying that they are positive but then they find out they're not positive but they won't inform anyone of it," said the anonymous employee.

Court administrators have told us they're following all the rules to the best of their ability.

Their employees and anyone in the city of Fresno can report non-compliance to the city's code enforcement team by calling 621-8400.

"It's there primarily for employees who do not feel safe in their workplaces and feel like their employer may be violating our emergency orders," said Esparza.

He asked to add the reporting mandates to the emergency order. He says employees have a right to feel safe at work and to know of any potential exposure.

Esparza says code enforcement has gotten 14 employee complaints in the 21 days since his ordinance passed.

Code enforcement officers haven't had to visit any business twice, so they've issued zero citations.

Esparza says the city is leading by example, so the mandate applies to them too.

"It is working at the city of Fresno because I did receive a notification just yesterday actually of someone who did test positive," he said.

But Fresno is the only city in the area requiring notification from employers.

One of the complaints we got came from a city of Clovis employee who said they don't get notified when co-workers test positive.

City manager Luke Serpa confirms seven city employees have tested positive for coronavirus.

But he says the city did contact tracing, so they would've reached out to people who spent time near those infected employees.

"The City of Clovis is complying with all State and County Public Health Orders and Guidelines regarding employer COVID19 precautions and notifications," Serpa said in a statement to Action News. "The City has implemented all necessary social distancing and protective protocols to minimize the chances of transmission between employees or the public. Like other employers throughout the region, and with over 600 employees, the City has experienced employees with COVID, but contact tracing has affirmed those exposures were outside of the workplace and not between employees or via public contact while at work. Appropriate quarantine, tracing, and notification measures were instituted by the City in all of those cases. Certain information is confidential due to HIPPA laws, but the City has notified any and all employees that were known to have had close contact with any exposed employees."

Fresno County's interim health officer, Dr. Rais Vohra, asked the state strike force that came here this week if they might institute a similar policy statewide.

"We did not get an immediate response to this query from the state task force on Monday," he told us.

Dr. Vohra says they're still discussing how to make the mandated reporting work as part of the strike force's regional action plan.
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