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    January 05, 2021

    EL CENTRO — A COVID-19 exposure outbreak at the Imperial County Department of Services, where up to 80 employees could have come in close contact with a person or persons with the virus last week, has raised questions about the county’s response.

    County CEO Tony Rouhotas Jr. said the county sent out an email to those exposed on Wednesday, though some employees reported it was sent after hours. He would not say how many employees were exposed.

    Several Department of Social Services employees took New Year’s Eve off to enjoy a four-day holiday and are now worried they could have passed on the virus to family members without being told they had been exposed.

    Some employees said the county did contact them on Saturday, three days after the letter was sent out.

    Former Imperial County Program Manager Claudia Camarena said she thinks if she had not posted this information on Facebook the employees would not have been contacted.

    Rouhotas disagreed.

    “We get results, positive and negative, all hours of the day, including over the weekends, after hours and holidays in which we have an established team to address and handle during these off times,” Rouhotas wrote in an email. “We also need to verify that we have all of the paperwork and results to act upon.”

    Rouhotas said he can establish a teleconference with others involved to explain, but the results are not always given, received or known in an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day.

    In addition, the county employees in the administration building were given notice Monday to leave by 11:30 a.m., so that sanitization could occur of an office space and some general use areas.

    Members of the public who showed up were told the building was being evacuated.

    Rouhotas said this is similar to occurrences to what has been happening the past several months. The county administration building will reopen at 7 a.m. today.

    In the letter from Human Resources Director Rodolfo Aguayo to the Social Services Department employees he told them new state changes require the county to perform COVID-19 testing when there is an outbreak of three or more positive cases within 14 days.

    County records show the department has met the criteria of an outbreak, he wrote.

    In the letter he wrote to the Social Services employees that their department identified them as being physically available at the worksite 14 calendar days from the last positive case.

    “As per state regulations, the test is mandatory,” he wrote. “You will be given paid time off during regular working hours to perform the test.”

    For those employees on vacation or some other leave they will have to take the test on the first day they return to work.

    Rouhotas said the line of cars Monday morning for employees getting tested before being allowed to return to work was to comply new state regulations that went into effect Jan. 1.

    Michael Maresh