by: Nouran Salahieh
Posted: / Updated:
L.A. County’s health department is investigating reports of two COVID-19 deaths at a Commerce food processing facility, one of three in the county that have been allowed to reopen after being closed earlier this week for failing to report coronavirus outbreaks, officials said Thursday.
The deaths were reported at Mission Foods Corp., which has had 49 employees test positive for the virus, L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said in a Thursday briefing.
The health department said one of the people who died was an L.A. County resident, and the other lived outside the department’s jurisdiction.
The head of maintenance at the facility, 67 year-old Jose Roberto Alvarez, died of COVID-19 last week and it is believed he contracted the coronavirus at his Commerce workplace, according to his daughter Alisha Alvarez, who said her family learned of the outbreak at the facility through the media, and not from her father’s employer.
Mission Foods released a statement saying they’ve been implementing safety measures “exceeding the requirements of the health authorities,” including mandating face masks and social distancing, installing plexiglass barriers and restricting the use of common areas.
“We have worked hard to keep our employees informed since the pandemic began in early March,” Regional Director of Manufacturing at Mission Foods, Paul de la O, said in a statement.
The two other food facilities that were ordered to close Sunday are S & S Foods in Azusa and Golden State Foods Corp. in the City of Industry, which had 60 and 47 coronavirus cases respectively.
“In all three outbreaks, the employer failed to notify the Public Health Department when there were three positive cases identified amongst their employees,” Davis said, explaining that the department found out about the outbreaks from an anonymous complaint line.
The complaint line receives about 2,000 to 3,000 complaints a week, and the department is currently investigating more than 1,000 coronavirus outbreaks in the county, according to Davis.
In a statement to the media, Golden State Foods said it has been reporting its COVID-19 cases to “the necessary authorities,” but said the L.A. County Department of Public Health did not communicate its reporting requirements to manufacturers.
“This was simply a procedural matter around reporting, and LA County Department of Public Health officials were satisfied with GSF’s comprehensive, preventative, operational COVID-19 protocols. GSF has been following all other state, federal, and international reporting requirements; LA County was the one exception for a period of days in July,” the statement reads.
In response to questions about what the manufacturers were in violation of, Davis said: “The fact that these came in through anonymous tips means that they were in violation of the protocols.”
The L.A. Times reports the department’s requirement to report when there are three known cases has been in place since at least June 11.
“That is part of the protocols, it’s not just about having what you need in place inside of the facility itself but it’s also adhering to reporting when needed so that we can help provide guidance and ensure that the rest of the workers are safe once it is identified within the workplace,” he said.
The health officer said all three facilities were allowed to reopen this week after they provided the department with information needed to assess and guide their response, and they will all continue to get unannounced inspections to ensure compliance with protocols.
“Businesses have a corporate and moral, and social responsibility to their employees, and to their employees’ families to provide a safe work environment,” he said.