Primex worker dies after COVID-19 outbreak at Wasco farm

July 17, 2020 /

After a COVID-19 outbreak at Primex Farms, one worker has died, and another is being removed form life support, the UFW confirmed Friday.

Maria Hortencia Lopez, 57, was taken off life support this week after testing positive for the virus, according to the UFW.

The UFW has confirmed 97 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and 40 adult family members and 23 children of Primex workers have been infected, for a total of 160 people connected with the company.   

In response to the outbreak and concerns over whether the company is protecting its workers, the UFW has called on California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate the Wasco almond and pistachio producer.

Workers told the UFW they learned about colleagues testing positive for COVID-19 from other employees and media stories instead of the company. Some workers asked to stay home to protect their health but were advised they could quit instead, the UFW says. The UFW heard reports that some workers who tested positive were told to keep it quiet.

RELATED CONTENT: UFW confirms 91 Primex employees infected, pushes for legislation to help agricultural workers amid pandemic

Works say the company has failed to protect them while at work. Armando Elenes, the secretary treasurer for the UFW, told Kern Sol News there have been mixed test results for the Primex workers. Some workers tested positive at clinics or hospitals but tested negative at Primex, Elenes said. 

“Workers that have tested negative are being asked to return to work but workers want the test results in writing,” said Elenes. “They still don’t feel safe due to the lack transparency.”

Remigio Ramirez, a 13-year veteran maintenance worker at Primex, said he tried multiple times telling supervisors he was ill and asked to go home. According to Ramirez, they said there was too much work and not enough workers. A few days later he tested positive.

The UFW is calling on people to send a message to Becerra, advocating for an investigation against Primex.

Workers are demanding Primex institute social distancing, pay wages during shutdowns and for workers who’ve tested positive or have been told to self-quarantine, do a thorough third-party COVID-19 specific cleaning, continue to sanitize facilities daily and test all current and new employees for COVID-19.

This story is being updated.