Housing Authority Evacuates Office After Covid-19 Exposure

The Santa Clara County Housing Authority evacuated its San Jose office Wednesday after another employee tested positive for Covid-19, according to sources inside the agency.

Employees—who spoke to San Jose Inside on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation—said management sent everyone home at 2:30pm, prompting an exodus from the Julian Street facility that’s been closed to clients since March.

A security guard stationed outside the building about an hour after the evacuation order came down said the agency sent everyone home to prepare for “a deep cleaning.” He declined to confirm whether the cleaning was in response to another Covid-19 case.

Employees say that at least three Housing Authority staffers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since the outbreak emerged in Santa Clara County this past spring.

Yet line-staff sources say Housing Authority CEO Katherine Harasz kept everyone in the dark about the rationale for evacuation until hours later.

Still, word quickly spread that it had to do with a Covid-positive employee who came to work on Monday and Tuesday this week before someone reported as much to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

In an email sent to staff a couple hours after the building was emptied, Director of Administrative Services Russell Brunson finally notified employees about the latest Covid-19 case, saying a worker tested positive this afternoon.

“Per our protocols, we have asked those in close contact with the employee to quarantine, and are asking employees to monitor themselves for Covid-related symptoms until Aug. 18,” the Wednesday afternoon letter stated.

Brunson then listed an array of symptoms for everyone to watch out for, including fever, cough, chills, fatigue and loss of taste or smell.

“We needed to have a deep cleaning-disinfection of the facility done this afternoon, and asked staff on the PM shift to leave the building today,” he added. “If you are scheduled to work in the building tomorrow, please report to the building at your regularly scheduled time. If you have Covid symptoms, please do not report to the building.”

In response to a query from San Jose Inside, Harasz downplayed the evacuation as routine, saying the agency has protocols in place for regular sanitization and symptom checks for anyone who enters the building.

(Employees tell San Jose Inside that those symptom checks entail someone asking for verbal affirmation about whether or not they show any signs of the illness.)

“We have a published facilities protocol that calls for evacuation of the building for cleaning if there is an employee who’s positive,” Harasz explained via text. “We had an asymptomatic employee who received a Covid test prior to a medical procedure and she informed us she was Covid positive. All of the published Covid protocols for work, grocery stores, pumping gas and ATMs are premised on the notion that you have asymptomatic people next to you. Pursuant to our protocols, we evacuated the workers to do a deep cleaning, as opposed to the daily cleanings we do twice a day, once during the noon hour and again after the second shift of workers leaves at 7pm.”

The evacuation comes just two days after this news outlet reported about the backlash Harasz faced by ordering line staff to return to work in the office.

Employees say the CEO has been telecommuting while denying office staff the same privilege, even though the federal CARES Act provides funding for employers to bolster work-from-home capabilities.

“We’re not asking to get paid to do nothing,” one employee said. “These are people who want to work. We’re asking to work our full schedules from the safety of our own home.”

According to the county shelter-in-place order, employers must maximize remote work.

“All employees who can work from home must do so,” he order states.

The only employees who can go to the office are those who can’t carry out their responsibilities from home. According to Housing Authority staffers who spoke to San Jose Inside, there’s no reason they can’t fulfill their work obligations remotely.

“This is just an attempt to micromanage us,” one case manager remarked in a phone call today. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

Emanuel Lee also contributed to this report. 

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

15 Comments

  1. Classic ignorance. Explain how it’s acceptable for the BOC to condone the behavior of this Executive Director? Where is the Santa Clara County BOS in addressing this situation with the BOC? Cindy Chavez attempted to take over this agency 2 years ago? What happened, Cindy? Staff came to BOS at the beginning of this pandemic and the BOC for help and confirmed what was happening and proved the lies? Clearly, Executive Director Katherine, has demonstrated her personal bias and stranglehold on lower line staff but upper management is more valuable and trustworthy therefore exempt of risk? Read the story, sheepeople! It’s a nice fantasy of privileged, “government” workers however this only applies to this agency management. Have you read about their inflated salaries and the Infighting amongst them? The result is undermining of the agency mission. Katherine doesn’t care about the Section 8 program – her gig is development. Line staff are not sitting around on their laurels eating bon bon’s living a charmed life. Reporting to work, stressed out, exposing yourself and your family to a virus that long term effects, still unknown. Years before Covid, caseloads we’re scrambled without thought, millions wasted on contractors and bogus consultants to tell this management what they already knew they needed to do. BOC is lazy and promotes unqualified management making reckless decisions that endanger lives. Alex Sanchez is laughing at you, Katherine! John Burns is rolling in his grave!

  2. This agency has a history of employees filing DFEH claims for retaliation, harassment, and discrimination. They play by their own rules with zero consequences. It’s about time someone air out the agency’s dirty laundry. Housing Programs Director and Human Resources manager are guilty of not providing the city and county information regarding covid numbers.

  3. I left the agency last year after i realized how little they care and respect their employees. They constantly over work people, and I can just imagine how the people left to work are getting more and more work added to their day, then told they have to complete in same time. With my past experience with the agency, they could easily do a work from home program and their employees would be much safer. But then they would not be able to pile on more work to these hardworking people. Management and leadership is lacking to say the least.

  4. Cover Your Ass.
    The guiding principle of our heroic government.
    Don’t worry about producing anything of value. Just don’t do anything to get yourself in trouble thus putting your salary or pension at risk.
    Great work, directors and employees of the Housing Authority. You must be so proud.

  5. Any employee in management or exempt staff who stay home with their children due to distance learning or lack of childcare are allowed to telework. However if you are hourly/SEIU members with same situation, you are asked to submit FMLA request and forced to take time off and not given the opportunity to telework.

  6. what is this, a late lunch bitch session? yall realize there’s about to be be 50000 evictions in SC, and you use this rag to complain about your boss? maybe get your priorities straight, ya know, lotsa people worse off than you dont gotta job. maybe you should be finding them a place to live or helped your boss get “development” done

    since a lot of people pay half their salary keeping you in your guccis

  7. What safety protocol is being followed? The first article mentioned that SCCHA management hide the first two cases where two employees were tested positive for COVID-19. Didn’t see or hear anything about management evacuating staffs to deep cleaning the building when those two incidents happened. Seem like employees were still forced to go to work and were kept in the dark. So what protocol is these management people following? The protocol of dishonesty, they didn’t disclose this to their employees until two weeks later. Now a 3rd COVID-19 case appeared, management played dumb and pretended that they care about their employees safety. Judging from Katherine’s words, she doesn’t know anything about a safety protocol. Her definition of safety protocol is let see how long management can hush this up. No care or concern for their employees. Katherine, you should actually work in the building first, actually show up in the office, sit in a cubicle desk with other employees sitting directly across, in front and behind you, sharing and touching copier machines and let see how you feel being exposed to a COVID-19 employee. Then you can talk about your safety protocols. Seem like she is only hiding at home. The first article said Katherine didn’t even come to work even with her own office. That is her safety protocol. Upper management all safe at home while all employees go to work and get sick.

  8. SJ KULAK don’t forget that we are also tax payers! I am a dedicated long time employee of the HA, I stay because I am born and raised in San Jose/Santa Clara County and I enjoy my career in serving this community. I’ve learned to roll with the punches at this agency. However since the BOC promoted Katherine Harasz and Aleli Sangalang this agency has rapidly gone downhill. Millions of HUD/federal dollars used to line upper managements pockets. While the homelessness issue grows in our Community. The labor issues have increased over the last couple of years. Understandable most aren’t empathetic with employees at HA because you feel we are “entitled” government employees. However that’s furthest from our reality. Everyone is entitled to human rights, as an employee I expect to be treated with fairness and respect. My health is just as important as the executive directors. I’ve worked long and hard for my pension and benefits, nothing has been a hand me down. I’ve covered vacant caseloads for for a couple years now. I don’t get a pat on the back nor do I expect it from this ill mannered management. If you want to talk about folk who feel entitled, take a hard look at Katherine Harasz’s employment contact!

  9. A CLOSE LOOK

    Seems more like a “Wadsworth Maneuver”, as she lays the groundwork for some shift in political or ordinance normalcy with a string of smearish propaganda pieces sensitizing the sheep for a new landscape. We have seen this movie before. It’s quite funny how she positions herself as little ol me alt-weekly powerless editor, when in reality she is batting 1000 in getting things done executing this same gambit over and over.

    It is no secret the HA, the county and San Jose have been posturing for a war of conquest over the Authorities vast resources for a while. Many ‘friends’ would like to see those dollars and assets under their control, and no better crisis than this one to put an end to this little fiefdom.

    If you really have been there so long, I am sure you know what’s really going on.

  10. SJ Kulak – YAWN! SJ Kukoo here – Pick a topic where you can articulate a comment that makes sense. This is not about you or your ridiculous rants all over local social media to fire people up. It’s about individuals and families, being exposed to a life threatening, unpredictable virus at work. For no reason. It’s control. CARES Act Funds are to purchase equipment, reinforce infrastructure for telework. The City of San Jose, Santa Clara County and other housing agencies across CA are teleworking .What Is the excuse today? HUD promotes telework but this management would rather restripe the parking lot and place orders for PPE with cute agency logos. All likely paid for with CARE. Wake up, listen to the online board meetings use your voice to ask local county and city officials why they allow this agency to be so reckless.

  11. Wow! The HA seems to be having a lot of internal issues. Not surprised when you have a Director who seems to be running a public agency like it’s her own personal business venture. Striking to me that she makes close to half a million dollars (salary, benefits and pension contributions) which is more than many other public agency officials in the Bay Area. Much closer to a CEO than a Director of a tax payer funded social service agency! How does the HA justify her pay? I’m curious to know what other perks she gets. I don’t see it on their website but maybe a public records request? As far as the employees go…I really don’t see how it’s “not possible” for HA employees to work from home. Banks have employees working form home and they have access to a lot of personal information. IRS has employees working from home and they too hav access to sensitive information. This really seems to me like a control/trust issue from the Director. As far as the three employees who contracted Covid, it doesn’t say that they contracted it as work. I’m guessing they got it outside of work and then showed up to work possible sick or with symptoms which alerted someone to send them home. It would be good info if the article mentioned how they think these employee contracted it and why they showed up to work if they had symptoms. Anyway, I’ll make sure and apply for the Director position when it opens up…who doesn’t want to make $500K a year to sit at home and show up to the office once a week?

  12. NATIVEMAN

    You are blowing the “Wadsworth Maneuver.” It is very consistent. Ms Wadsworth crafts a number of lived experience narratives pulling from the set of the highly sympathetic intersectional categories. Each time, us trolls below the line point out the lies of omission, propagandist nature of narrative, yellow journalism, tell the “subject” to leave, move or be more grateful, etc. All of which only adds to the power of the narrative. Rinse and repeat for a few weeks.

    But you guys are blasting the comment section with your whining, and not well. The more you talk the less anyone cares. The power of mystery is underrated. Silence is golden. You need to just let her work her magic and Ms. Arenas will take over the HA by the end of the year. Ms Wadsworth knows what she is doing, you clearly don’t.

    You’re welcome, never say I didn’t do anything for you.

  13. SJ Kulnak you sound a lot like a manager at the HA. You have insight on the agency that only a long time employee or someone in management would know. Silence is golden? Well that’s just ignorant to say. Your posts are very entertaining! Lol

  14. oh yes, im a government lifer fer-sure

    and thanks for the recognition on my posts, it aint easy being so entertaining

    i just wish you working class stiffs would heed my wisdom, your life would be half as hard

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