Published: December 10, 2020

California Lottery workers fear their jobs could make them COVID-19 superspreaders

California Lottery workers fear their jobs could make them COVID-19 superspreaders

DECEMBER 09, 2020 04:55 AM California State Lottery employees are still traveling to liquor and convenience stores amid a COVID-19 surge, raising concerns among workers that they could contract and spread the virus on the job. The lottery has classified sales representatives’ work as essential, so they must keep doing it despite the three-week shutdown of most state government offices that went into effect Monday. “If one (sales representative) gets covid, we can be walking superspreaders,” said Mike Ramos, a sales representative and SEIU Local 1000 union steward who works out of a lottery office in Los Angeles. The representatives worked from home from mid-March until Sept. 28, when they were told they had to resume their duties in person, Ramos said. He questioned why the workers are still in the field amid a far-reaching lockdown that is especially stringent in the Los Angeles area.

Lottery spokeswoman Carolyn Becker said in an email that the lottery is much better prepared to protect workers now than it was when the virus arrived and personal protective equipment was in short supply. The department outfits workers with masks, face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer and vests that say, “Please be mindful of social distancing.”

The lottery has developed safety protocols with input from union stewards, including strict safety requirements for its retailers and the option for employees to refuse service to retailers in unsafe situations, Becker said in the email.

“The lottery has taken appropriate measures to protect staff while continuing to carry out its essential mission of providing funding to California public education,” she said in the email.

Twenty lottery employees have reported positive tests since Oct. 1, but fewer than half of them work in the field, Becker said. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new lockdown rules last week based on regional intensive care capacities at hospitals. Human Resources Department Eraina Ortega announced that with some exceptions, state offices would close for at least three weeks in response to the order. Positive COVID-19 tests have continued to rise, with the state reporting another 23,272 positive cases and 112 deaths Tuesday.

The lottery employs about 220 sales representatives. Ramos said he visits six to 10 stores each day, with 117 on his route. He said he works in an office with 32 other representatives who service nearly 3,400 stores. He said he takes extreme precautions to stay safe, including wearing two masks plus a face shield and using a strict disinfection routine, but still he fears he could contract the virus and spread it to his mother or his grandmother, with whom he lives. In the Modesto area, the lottery has already had to notify several businesses that one of its workers might have exposed them to the virus, said Paulina Vasquez, a sales representative and Local 1000 steward. Vasquez said the way state workers’ sick leave is structured encourages risks. If workers are exposed to the virus or develop symptoms, they get tested and then they wait for results. If they don’t work while they wait, they have to use leave. If it turns out they’re positive, they can use special federal or state leave designated to help with the coronavirus, Vasquez said. But if it turns out they’re negative, they have to use their personal sick leave or other leave time, she said. Becker

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