Fast-food workers in LA face unmasked customers and unsafe workplaces, and are punished for speaking up about COVID-19, a damning new report says

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A McDonald’s in Littlerock, California has been linked to 32 COVID-19 cases, the UCLA and UC Berkeley researchers said.

  • Fast-food workers in LA are “especially vulnerable” to COVID-19, a new report says.
  • Some restaurants in Los Angeles County aren’t following COVID-19 rules and punish staff for speaking out, the report found.
  • Restaurants sometimes didn’t tell workers when colleagues caught the virus, according to complaints.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Fast-food workers in Los Angeles are facing unsafe conditions at work, and outbreaks among staff at restaurants are threatening the area’s ability to recover from the pandemic, a new report says.

Fast-food workers in LA County are “especially vulnerable” to COVID-19 community transmission, the report by UCLA and UC Berkeley found. They often face unmasked customers and unsafe workplaces, the groups said.

Workers aren’t protected when they speak up, and some are even punished, researchers wrote.

And the demographics of the fast-food industry means that women and minority workers have been hardest hit. The LA County fast-food industry has almost 150,000 restaurant workers, the vast majority of whom are women and workers of color, the report, conducted on behalf of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said.

Staff say they weren’t told when their coworkers were infected

In summer 2020, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) inspected more than 2,000 restaurants and found that a third didn’t follow physical distancing protocols, while 44% didn’t follow face mask regulations.

Fast-food restaurants in the county had at least 59 COVID-19 outbreaks between July and December 2020, affecting as many as 338 workers, the UCLA and UC Berkeley researchers said, citing data from the LACDPH.

In total, around 15% of the county’s documented coronavirus workplace outbreaks were at fast-food restaurants, they said.

But workers often don’t know how many COVID-19 cases have been linked to their workplace “because employers do not disclose when employees test positive,” they wrote.

A McDonald’s in Littlerock, California has been linked to 32 COVID-19 cases, the researchers said, citing complaints to local authorities. Workers said they couldn’t socially distance at the restaurant, and that management tried to hide infections and pressure staff to work while sick.

“Even though there have been many cases of COVID-19 among coworkers at this McDonald’s, I have never been notified that I was in close contact with anyone,” one worker wrote in a complaint.

Workers went on strike multiple times to demand improved safety protocols, but said they faced retaliation and had their hours cut, per the complaints.

McDonald’s operator Andrew Marroquin told Insider the restaurant had “rigorous policies” to protect staff and customers and would work with the LACDPH to comply with COVID-19 guidance.

“We are deeply disappointed in these inaccurate allegations which do not reflect what is actually happening in our restaurant,” Marroquin said.

When a COVID-19 case is confirmed in a restaurant, the company immediately closes it to sanitize the restaurant and notify both local health authorities and other employees, he said. The company supports staff with paid time-off during the entirety of their illness, he added.


Staff also sanitize the restaurants on a nightly basis and sanitize and disinfect commonly-touched areas throughout the day, Marroquin said. Staff are given gloves and masks and the company conducts wellness and temperature checks before each shift, he said.

A worker at another LA fast-food restaurant said six people were sick with COVID-19, but the employer didn’t share this information with staff, according to another complaint cited in the report.

“We had a strike at the store, and instead of listening to our concerns, they terminated us,” the worker said.

In a survey by UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center, 44% of food service workers said at least one of their coworkers had contracted the virus, and 54% said they interacted with 10 or more unmasked people in one shift. More than a third said they weren’t given mandatory training on COVID-19 safety protocols.

Fast-food workers were already vulnerable

“COVID-19 exacerbates the risks already faced by fast-food workers,” the UCLA and UC Berkeley researchers said.

LA County has around 9,000 fast-food establishments with 150,000 workers, making up almost 4% of the county’s total workforce, they said.

Almost 70% of these workers are women, and 90% are people of color, with more than 70% Latinx, the researchers said. People of color have been especially hard hit by the pandemic, research shows.

In addition, fast-food workers are more likely to be living in poverty. Fast-food workers nationally are twice as likely as other workers to fall below the federal poverty line, and fast-food workers in LA County are one and half times more likely to be uninsured than the workforce as a whole, the UCLA and UC Berkeley researchers said.

Fast-food workers are also three times more likely than the national average to get public transport to work and are also more likely to live in larger households, the report said.

“This means that a worksite outbreak raises the risk for community spread in dense working-class areas of Los Angeles,” Tia Koonse, legal and policy research manager at the UCLA Labor Center, said.

Some fast-food companies across the US are offering employees perks if they receive the coronavirus vaccine. These include Darden Restaurants, Shake Shack, Noodles & Company, McDonald’s, and Starbucks.

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Already overworked and strained Los Angeles County ICU doctors brace themselves for another anticipated surge in COVID-19 patients

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Michelle Goldson, RN works inside the ICU at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital on December 17, 2020 in Los Angeles.

  • Doctors in Los Angeles County are bracing themselves for a likely rise in an already surging number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
  • Physicians told Business Insider that their hospitals are running through multiple contingency plans to figure out how to best treat patients, maintain supplies, and keep healthcare workers safe.
  • Los Angeles County has averaged over 14,000 daily new cases over the past week.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Doctors in Los Angeles County – the country’s most populous county home to more than 10 million residents – are planning multiple measures to handle an anticipated rise in the current surge of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. 

Los Angeles County has seen a sharp increase in novel coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and death since November, with public health experts mainly attributing it to people ignoring social distancing measures during the holidays.

Healthcare workers in several hospitals across the county told Business Insider that they’re already overworked and at a high capacity of COVID-19 patients. Nonetheless, they’re tirelessly working on contingency plans ahead of an expected rise in cases following Christmas and the New Year holidays.

Los Angeles had an average of more than 14,000 daily new cases over the past week, according to data compiled by The New York Times. 

The Los Angeles Times reported the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests is now at 17% across the county, more than four times what it was on November 1.

Dr. Greg Kelman, Regional Medical Director of Operations at Southern California Kaiser Permanente Medical Group, told Business Insider that 80% of inpatients are being treated for COVID-19. 

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Medical personnel prone a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles on November 19, 2020.

So far, the group has worked to help train healthcare workers whose roles have been reduced, due to the postponement of elective surgeries, on roles relating to the treatment of COVID-19 patients. 

Kelman explained that the network has a series of plans to address a potential surge, however, he hopes it doesn’t reach that far. 

He explained that, so far, to accommodate the current surge, the hospital has shifted to allow for more virtual visits to help keep space available for people who have to come in. They’ve also reduced some of their routine care and cut out things like elective procedures. 

If the surge continues Kelman said they may have to cut down even more routine care. Additional efforts include working with state regulators to get more people to help out in a healthcare setting even if it’s just individuals who are simply bringing equipment or answering calls, or even getting nursing school students to help, or even calling on out of state Kaiser Permanente networks to help out if the surge gets too high. 

“After plan B, there’s a plan C, and after plan C there’s a plan D. We just hope not to go through all the alphabet,” Kelman said. 

Some hospitals have been so strapped for physical space to host patients that they’ve had to treat some in their gift shop or chapel.

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A patient lies on a stretcher in the hallway of the overloaded Emergency Room amid a surge in COVID-19 patients in Southern California on December 23, 2020.

Kelman said his hospital has adapted to turn different departments, such as some areas in the emergency room, into spaces that accommodate ICU needs to see COVID-19 patients. 

Dr. Tamara Chambers, an ICU physician at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center told Business Insider that compared to March, a lot more people of all ages are now coming in to be treated.

“In March, we were seeing much older patients – lots of nursing home patients. Now we’re seeing all ages, all genders. We’re seeing everyone, it has not discriminated. Many people have underlying conditions, but not all. So this virus has really evaded comprehension,” she said. 

Chambers said that unless people take this more seriously it’s going to become more difficult for hospitals and healthcare workers to provide adequate care for all patients. 

“We’re really doing our best to try and hold the fort, but as long as people continue to fail public health measures and advice, then I think we’re going to continue to see the surge,” she said. 

She added that this isn’t just an issue of providing care but said that healthcare workers are stressed. 

“Despite the number of beds that we have everybody’s been fighting this fight since at least March, and people are tired. Workers are tired, workers are sick. It’s taken a huge emotional and physical toll o everyone,” Chambers said. “I worry about the continuity of the healthcare system and healthcare workers being able to provide care.”

She added that staff members are also getting sick with COVID-19, which means there are sometimes fewer people who are able to treat patients, which in turn places more stress on other workers. 

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Nurse Michele Younkin, 28, takes off her personal protective equipment after assisting Antonio Navarro’s family members visiting to say goodbye to the patient in his final moments in a COVID-19 unit at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2020. Navarro was nurse Michel Younkin’s first COVID-19 patient to pass on her watch.

Kelman highlighted that while it’s likely to catch COVID-19 working with patients, he said more workers were catching the virus in their community rather than in controlled settings where they have protective equipment and know the people they are working with have the virus.

Despite that, both Kelman and Chambers worry that about the risk they take working closely with COVID-19 patients and if they may then spread the virus to their families. 

On top of that fear, the rising number of deaths, Chambers said, was taking an emotional toll on her and other workers.

“You’re seeing a lot of deaths in ways that we don’t normally see. Usually our patients, they get well and they move through their continuum of care and there are not these issues, but now you’re seeing patients die on a regular basis every day,” she said. 

Supply shortages are also a concern for the physicians. At least five hospitals in the county had to declare internal disasters and were forced to reroute ambulances to other facilities over concerns about their oxygen supply earlier this week.

Kelman explained that while they haven’t really face pressing shortages yet, they’ve coordinated with other Kaiser Permanente hospitals in the region to help supply things like oxygen. So if one hospital is short another one will send over a supply. 

Both Kelman and Chambers said they’re worried about having enough resources, like drugs, if cases continue to surge. 

While both physicians understand that people are facing pandemic fatigue and want to see their friends and family, they urge the public to make decisions that help stop the spread of the virus. 

“I think we’re being referred to as the frontline, but really we’re the last line. We rely on public health and safety measures,” Chambers said. “We rely on people to stay home. We are trying to be the last line and provide the last level of care and support but there’s only so much we can do.”

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Los Angeles breaks record for COVID-19 deaths on the day before Christmas

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Registered nurse Carmen Verano answers a phone call in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana, California on December 18, 2020.

  • Los Angeles County public health officials said Thursday that 148 people had died from COVID-19.
  • It is the second day in a row that the largest county in the US set a record for deaths from the novel coronavirus.
  • “A person now dies every 10 minutes in LA County from COVID-19,” said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Los Angeles County announced its worst day yet during the pandemic, a day before Christmas, with public health officials confirming 148 new deaths from COVID-19.

It’s the second record-breaking day in a row.

The county, home to more than 10 million people, also saw more than 13,600 new cases on Thursday.

“A person now dies every 10 minutes in LA County from COVID-19,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said in a statement. “I hope we can find the strength and courage to take responsibility for each other’s well-being. Follow the public health directives. These are the only tools that will work right now.”

While children have been spared the worst of the pandemic, LA County has now seen more than 50 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome linked to COVID-19 in children, including one death.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MIS-C is characterized by inflammation in multiple body parts, “including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.”

In total, just under 9,300 people are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 in LA County, with more than 677,000 testing positive for the coronavirus.

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Los Angeles County – the largest county in the country – reports 35% spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations since November

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People arrive at a Covid-19 testing center despite the Stay-At-Home regulation underway in Los Angeles, California on December 8, 2020. – More than 8,000 new Covid-19 cases and another record for hospitalization was reported for Los Angeles County on December 8, 2020.

  • Over 3,100 people are now hospitalized with COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, public health officials said Tuesday.
  • The number of people hospitalized has risen by nearly 1,000 in just over a week.
  • “Right now, too many people in our community are infected with COVID-19, and it is irresponsible and dangerous for people or businesses to flaunt the essential measures that protect everyone from transmitting or acquiring the virus,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of public health in Los Angeles County.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Never have so many people been hospitalized with COVID-19 in America’s most populous county, Los Angeles public health officials announced Tuesday.

Over 3,100 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus in Los Angeles County, with just a quarter of them in intensive care. That’s nearly 1,000 more people hospitalized than there were at the end of last month, a rise of 35%.

Several hospitals in the county are close to running out of space in their intensive-care units, the Associated Press reported.

The county, home to some 10 million people, this week also reported its 8,000th death from the coronavirus, with 64 deaths reported on Tuesday.

Since the pandemic began, nearly 4 million Los Angeles residents have been screened for COVID-19, with more than 1 in 10 testing positive.

Over 1,700 healthcare workers contracted the disease over the seven days, double the number of cases reported the week before.

“Right now, too many people in our community are infected with COVID-19 and it is irresponsible and dangerous for people or businesses to flaunt the essential measures that protect everyone from transmitting or acquiring the virus,” Barbara Ferrer, director of public health in Los Angele County, said in a press release. “The way out of this may seem difficult, but the steps are simple, and those who disregard these safety measures are only delaying our recovery journey.”

Public health officials recently moved to reinstate prohibitions on both indoor and outdoor dining as part of an effort to arrest the latest surge in infection. On Tuesday, a state judge ordered those officials to revisit the closures later this month and conduct a risk-benefit analysis of the measure, which was challenged by California’s restaurant lobby, the Los Angeles Times reported.

To offset the economic pain of lost work, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently unveiled an effort to provide one-time $800 payments to thousands of low-income workers in the food service industry.

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