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Sunday, July 3, 2022

Orange County Continues to See COVID-19 Cases Rise in Workforce



The County of Orange continues struggling with COVID outbreaks among its employees, especially at the Social Services Agency, which handles welfare benefits for many struggling families. 

Workers, and their union, are calling for stricter pandemic protocols, more options to telecommute and moving some of the daily operations to outdoor settings in an effort to curb the virus spread. 

County officials have said they are following state workplace guidelines and taking extra precautions while state law mandates certain services be open to the public, especially welfare benefit application procedures.

“There are a lot of people that are working in the office that never had an option to go home. And these changes directly affect them — constantly being in the office. And, they have been incredibly flexible, they have been open to the constant changes of working at the window, at the lobby,” said Sara Ghambriani, an eligibility technician at the Social Services Agency.

She said many of her colleagues have contracted the virus over the course of the pandemic.

“If we are serving the most needy, when does our health and our safety come into play? Because if we need to help those most in need in society, we also need to be healthy,” Ghambriani said in a Zoom interview last week. 

Hanh Le, also an eligibility technician, said the employee notification system has been spotty.

“The tracking system has never been a good thing. That has always been a concern for all of us,” Le said, during the same interview.

Other employees interviewed echoed the same concerns surrounding COVID exposure notifications.

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Many of the Social Services Agency workers interviewed by Voice of OC over the past week said they want management to switch back to accepting benefit applications outdoors — where residents fill out eligibility forms outside the offices as much as possible.

“They are still in a room full of possibly unvaccinated people, unmasked people, with no distancing guidelines. So having them in the building is a risk,” said Jose Balderas, an eligibility technician for the Social Services Agency. 

County data reviewed by Voice of OC last Wednesday showed at least 71 employees in all have been exposed to the virus this month.

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