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Call for better protections after San Diego County social worker dies from COVID-19

The union representing the social worker, SEIU Local 221, is calling for PPE, hazard pay and more staff to fight COVID-19.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Calls for better protections were made at a vigil Monday after a San Diego County social worker died from COVID-19.

Ronda Felder, 60, died from the virus in August. Her colleagues said she contracted the virus during fieldwork and spent a month in the hospital before she died.

During a vigil for Felder, her colleagues said she gave her heart and soul to help children.

“She was the type of person you could have a bad day and see her smile and hear her laugh and know that you could get through it every day,” said San Diego County social worker Crystal Irving.

Felder was featured on News 8’s Adopt 8 in 2016. She was a foster parent herself and advocated for children.

Social workers say during this time they can’t follow up with child abuse tips online, they need to do in-person visits and speak and look at the child for any emotional and physical signs but by going into the home, they are putting their lives at risk.

“We have an obligation to, of course, serve the community, children, and families we work with, but we also have the obligation to come back to our families at night,” said Irving.

The union representing Felder, SEIU Local 221, organized the vigil to also call attention on the need for better protections.

“The county does not want to give any hazard pay. They don't give proper PPE and this is unacceptable, they need more staff,” said David Garcias, SEIU Local 221 President.

During the vigil, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, District 4, attended and told SEIU members he would be there to help protect them. He proposed hazard pay for frontline workers but there was not enough board support.

“For the members of SEIU Local 221, we are going to continue to fight alongside you for the right working conditions and pay and acknowledgment and respect you deserve,” said Fletcher.

A spokesperson for the county e-mailed a statement to News 8:

“The Child Welfare Services is deeply saddened to have lost our dear colleague, Ronda Felder. Her passing has been a great loss to our team as she was not only an excellent social worker, but she was a wonderful team-member who always had a positive attitude, great sense of humor and enjoyed her work with children and families. 

We are committed to prioritizing the health and safety of our staff during this pandemic. We have rigorous safety procedures for every time a social worker comes in contact with a client to keep everyone as safe as possible. This starts when we get a call into the child abuse hotline. The hotline social workers ask questions to assess for awareness or potential or known exposure or confirmed presence of COVID-19. Then there are preventative recommendations for social workers put in place to be utilized during home visits or other in-person contact with families such as keeping a safe social distance, wearing PPE, washing hands and minimize touching surfaces in the home. The County has continued to make PPEs such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizing items available to all staff.

Garcias said workers have to buy their own PPE, “and sometimes you have to use it over and over and over.”

SEIU said the county board of supervisors added some positions to help in the pandemic but more is needed. The board will vote on a county budget when it meets on Tuesday.

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