Coronavirus: Monterey Peninsula mayors urge prioritizing farmworker vaccinations

Peninsula Premier Admin

MONTEREY — In a Jan. 26 letter to county officials, the mayors of every Monterey Peninsula city, as well as Salinas, are urging that farmworkers, critical to the nation’s food supplies and the regional economy, be at the top of the list for the next round of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Over the past months it has become clear that our county’s infection rates are the highest among the agricultural workforce and their family members,” the letter begins. “Starting in March we can expect another large influx of seasonal farmworkers coming from Yuma, Ariz.”

Farmworkers toil in the Salinas Valley during the summer months and then travel to Yuma to work the fields during the winter.

Arizona, with a population of 7.2 million, now has the worst per-capita coronavirus infection rate in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that hospitals are filling up, with a scant 150 intensive care unit beds available statewide at any time. Rural areas, including farm-rich Yuma, resort to flying patients to Phoenix.

“We, the undersigned mayors, ask the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to direct the Health Department staff to proactively work with our agricultural industry to provide free testing for all returning farmworkers,” the letter states. “Only after successful testing has been accomplished, should seasonal workers be allowed to work within our county.”

Karen Smith, a spokesperson for the county Health Department, said her agency has not yet issued a statement in response to the letter. The county has previously stated it has a shortage of doses. County officials are meeting with state legislators on Friday to advocate for increasing the vaccine supply to the county.

The letter went on to say the mayors strongly support vaccination programs that prioritize essential workers employed by the agricultural sector.

The letter was signed by Dave Potter of Carmel, Alison Kerr of Del Rey Oaks, Bruce Delgado of Marina, Clyde Roberson of Monterey, Bill Peake of Pacific Grove, Mary Ann Carbone of Sand City, Ian Oglesby of Seaside and Kimbley Craig of Salinas.

On Tuesday, Grower Shipper Association Executive Director Chris Valadez and Clinica de Salud Executive Director Dr. Max Cuevas presented a public-private plan to vaccinate up to 72,000 farmworkers including migrants at a “handful” of drive-thru sites.

The mayors also made a case for the economic impact of allowing an even greater surge of infections than what is seen currently.

“What happens in our agricultural sector directly impacts the ability of the Peninsula’s main employers to employ thousands of laid off workers,” the letter states. “We simply cannot afford to continue being stuck in a tier which restricts or even destroys our economies and with that the livelihood of thousands of residents.”

Contributed by local news sources

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