Investigation ongoing into COVID-19 deaths at Mission Foods facility in Commerce

Our attorneys are representing the family of Jose Roberto Alvarez

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department (LACPHD) continues to investigate the circumstances that led to a recent COVID-19 outbreak among employees at a Mission Foods processing plant in Commerce, California. So far, more than 40 workers at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least two have passed away. This includes Jose Roberto Alvarez, who worked at the plant for two years prior to his death. Our attorneys are representing the Alvarez family as they continue to seek answers on how he became infected at his place of work.

Our investigation

An investigation conducted by Blair & Ramirez has revealed that Mission Foods was aware of positive COVID-19 cases among its employees at the facility and knowingly kept this information from at-risk workers.

According to a statement from the LACPHD, Mission Foods failed to notify the department when they met the threshold of three positive tests. A department representative noted that authorities learned about the extent of the outbreak through an anonymous tip, and that a further investigation revealed significant violations of state and county COVID-19 regulations, including employees not wearing face masks or observing minimum distancing guidelines.

On July 27—22 days after Jose Alvarez was admitted to the ICU and 7 days after he passed away—the LACPHD ordered the Mission Foods facility where he worked to be shut down. After an extensive review, the facility reopened after 24 hours, and will now be subject to random compliance inspections from the department.

"Our investigation has revealed that the company was aware of a breakout in the company and intentionally concealed that information from people that were at very high risk of becoming seriously ill."

Remembering Jose Roberto Alvarez

Born in El Salvador, Jose Roberto Alvarez, 67, was a hard-working, family-oriented engineer who had worked at the Mission Foods facility in Commerce for the past two years. Like many essential workers in Orange County, Jose continued working during the early months of the pandemic to support his family. His family notes that Jose felt he needed to continue working, despite the risk, in order to hold onto his job and continue earning a paycheck. Due to his age and several pre-existing conditions, Jose took precautionary measures, such as wearing a mask and gloves, to protect himself.

On June 22, Jose began to feel ill and exhibited several of the common symptoms associated with COVID-19. Just six days later, both Jose and his wife tested positive. On July 4, his symptoms worsened, and he was admitted to a nearby hospital, where he was soon put on a ventilator. Finally, after a long battle with the virus, Jose tragically passed away on July 20, nearly a month to the day he first exhibited symptoms.

Jose is survived by his wife, children, friends, and family. Those closest to him remember Jose as a kind, hard-working man who loved making friends and swapping stories. His wife and children knew him as a loving husband and father who would do anything to support his family.

The responsibilities of employers

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread throughout the United States, essential workers like Jose are at the greatest risk of being infected, sickened, or—most tragically—killed by the virus. When workplaces fail to take the necessary precautions or measures needed to protect their employees, no one is truly safe. In response to the tragic death of Jose and others, Los Angeles County has outlined consequences—including closure, fines, or the loss of permits—for businesses that fail to comply with critical safety regulations.

To be in compliance with LACPHD regulations, employers must:

  • Put workstations and personnel at least six feet apart to reduce the person-to-person spread.
  • Make a cloth face mask available at no additional cost to the employee, and allow for other personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face shields and gloves to be worn.
  • Allow employees to take frequent breaks for handwashing and sanitizing, staggered so that employees do not congregate in one area.
  • Conduct symptom checks of both employees and visitors.
  • Send symptomatic employees home for quarantine, and trace their contacts back so that all those who came in contact with them can also be quarantined.
  • Inform employees of their rights and these regulations through written documentation.

A community at risk

As was the case for Jose, contracting the virus in the workplace does not just put employees themselves at risk. It also endangers their families and loved ones. As the pandemic continues to impact our local community, it is crucial for employees to understand their rights, know the responsibilities of their employer, and be willing to hold violators accountable by contacting regulatory authorities.

To anonymously report a COVID-19 health and safety violation, please call the Los Angeles County Public Health Department at (888) 700-9995.

If you have reason to believe that your employer has violated COVID-19 safety regulations in your workplace, or has failed to disclose positive COVID cases, please contact our office immediately. We represent employees just like you and will help you defend your right to a safe workplace.