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.