It was to be a banner year for crops in Ventura County with orchards exploding after so much rain. Ranchers never saw the threat on the horizon -- a pandemic at harvest time.
"We couldn't get anything done without our workforce," said Chris Sayer with Petty Ranch. "Over an eight-day period we harvested over 600,000 pounds of lemons."
"They are our bread and butter for everybody," said Terri Ramirez. "They put it on the table."
And the numbers, according to the Agricultural Commissioner, as many as 43,000 workers were picking and processing in the county in this season. And their contact with healthcare was minimal.
An alarm sounded for Dr. Tipu Khan and his team of back pack medics.
"We said, 'hey, we have got to do something to take care of these patients because they are going to get hit and if they get hit, they can get hit very hard,'" said Dr. Khan with Back Pack Medical Team.
Instead of telling the workers to go see a doctor, doctors go to workers.
On an earlier visit at Chris Sayer's ranch, a worker reported suspicious symptoms.
"They actually pulled out their kit and suited up with their gowns, gloves and face shields and they were able to perform a test on him, right then and there. We had results back within 24 hours and thankfully it was negative," Sayer said.
Yet anxiety is high.
One of the largest clusters COVID-19 cases in California erupted at a Santa Paula packing plant. The company shut down for deep cleaning when the first case was detected, but 34 others would later test positive. Sweeping safety measures are now in place.
Dispelling myths, raising awareness, it is a race against the virus. This team is in a strategic position because it was already working before the pandemic. Their focus is on individuals isolated in homeless camps.
The team's mission is to help those in hidden communities and at the same time, train young doctors how to hunt down the underserved and help them on site.
"We're trying to set them up for providing this kind of care of giving back to their community, no matter where they go," said David Araujo, MD with Ventura Residency Program.
"I think the moral of this project, but also what we do here as a residency training program in a county facility, is remembering that each and every person in society is connected. Taking care of our most vulnerable, we are taking care of all of our society," said Dr. Khan.
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