In interviews, union officials defended their efforts to limit direct contact between child welfare workers and at-risk children. The virus, they argued, presents too big a threat to workers and children alike. “Obviously, this is the new normal and we need to make sure we’re assessing for abuse and neglect and doing it in a way that we can protect the social workers that families depend upon,” David Green, a lead negotiator for the union, said.
At the same time, many caseworkers have complained about a lack of personal protective equipment for months. Critical supplies have been rushed to hospitals and other front-line essential workers, but they have been slow to reach those responsible for protecting children from abuse and neglect. Some have said privately that they have been forced to buy their own.
The union said it is trying to meet the needs of all its workers.
Scott Murray, a spokesman for Mr. Newsom, said the governor was trying to balance the competing demands of preventing the spread of the virus while also keeping watch over vulnerable children. “California will continue to work to protect child welfare and public health during these trying and uncertain times,” he said.
Since the start of the pandemic, child welfare workers have been exempt from stay-at-home orders because they have the legal responsibility to take emergency custody of abused children and, when necessary, place them in foster care.
Yet leaders at the federal, state and local levels have pushed these workers to carry out their duties from home as much as possible to limit the virus’s spread. The child welfare agency for Los Angeles County, the largest in the nation, has locked its doors, cutting off public access to the agency’s headquarters and 19 field offices. In addition to suspending public access, the agency’s leaders sent home virtually all employees.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 6, 2020
Why are bars linked to outbreaks?
- Think about a bar. Alcohol is flowing. It can be loud, but it’s definitely intimate, and you often need to lean in close to hear your friend. And strangers have way, way fewer reservations about coming up to people in a bar. That’s sort of the point of a bar. Feeling good and close to strangers. It’s no surprise, then, that bars have been linked to outbreaks in several states. Louisiana health officials have tied at least 100 coronavirus cases to bars in the Tigerland nightlife district in Baton Rouge. Minnesota has traced 328 recent cases to bars across the state. In Idaho, health officials shut down bars in Ada County after reporting clusters of infections among young adults who had visited several bars in downtown Boise. Governors in California, Texas and Arizona, where coronavirus cases are soaring, have ordered hundreds of newly reopened bars to shut down. Less than two weeks after Colorado’s bars reopened at limited capacity, Gov. Jared Polis ordered them to close.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
Many abused children whom the agency deemed to be living under “high” or “very high” risk of renewed abuse were not visited for months, records and interviews show. Before the pandemic, child welfare workers in Los Angeles were required to at least try visiting children within five days of a new abuse allegation. Now they are allowed to take up to 10 days to respond to most new reports of mistreatment.
“We are in completely uncharted territory, and it concerns me greatly,” said Bobby Cagle, the director of the child welfare agency for Los Angeles County.