Workplaces Are Major Source Of COVID-19 Cases, Official Says

0
266

LOS ANGELES — For the second time in three days, Los Angeles County set a daily record July 16 for new coronavirus cases and announced more than 50 additional deaths, while the county’s top health officer warned that workplaces have become a major source of virus transmission.

The county Department of Public Health announced 4,592 cases of the virus, topping the single-day record of 4,244 set July 14.

The county also announced 59 new deaths, lifting the countywide total to 3,989.

The number of people hospitalized due to the virus dipped slightly to 2,173 — still one of the highest levels of the pandemic.

Rising case numbers have health officials pleading with the public to adhere to health orders by avoiding large gatherings, wearing face coverings and distancing themselves from others while in public.

“Without aggressive action on the part of every person, we will not get back to slowing the spread,” public health director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.

She and county health officer Dr. Muntu Davis both said businesses also need to do more to protect workers, with Davis saying workplaces have seen sharp increases in virus transmissions.

Davis said inspectors over the past few months have been responding to 2,000 to 3,000 complaints a week about potential health protocol violations at workplaces.

Dozens of workplace outbreaks are under investigation, the largest of which continues to be at the Los Angeles Apparel garment-manufacturing facilities in South Los Angeles, Davis said. Health officials reported last week that 300 employees at the plant had tested positive for the coronavirus, and four people have died.

Davis said July 16 the number of confirmed cases at the facility has risen to 375 among the company’s 2,290 employees.

“The manufacturer is still closed pending some additional activities to bring them into compliance and for us to finish investigating any potential contacts that may still need to be under quarantine at that location,” he said.

Workplaces most susceptible to outbreaks are food-processing companies and distribution facilities, including meat-packing plants, manufacturers, garment factories and wholesale warehouses, he said.

“These workplaces have several things in common,” he said. “They’re large employers with large numbers of low-wage workers, and they have workers who are spending long shifts together in close proximity and in indoor spaces.”

Those situations have contributed to the data showing that “Black and Latino residents and people in high-poverty areas are bearing the brunt of this virus.”

He also said many employers are still falling short of meeting operating protocols, saying the county is “not seeing compliance that we need with the public health director directives being in place to keep people’s health and livelihood safe.”

“Businesses have a corporate, moral and social responsibility to their employees to provide a safe work environment,” he said. “They must adhere to all the health officer directives. People’s health, lives and livelihoods are at stake.”

Davis noted that while the county is receiving and responding to thousands of workplace complaints a week, some workers may be reluctant to come forward due to fear of retaliation from their employers. He said the county has a hotline workers can call to safely report possible violations, at (800) 700-9995.

In general, employers voluntarily come into compliance once they are visited by inspectors, Davis said, and it is very rare for the county to resort to large fines or possible criminal prosecution.

Davis’ comments came a day after the county announced a 65% expansion of its testing capacity, focused solely on under-served communities. The county’s medical services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, said new sites were being established in Montebello, South Gate, Azusa, Panorama City, Compton and Downey-Norwalk. She said existing sites were being expanded in Bellflower, Pomona, El Monte and East Los Angeles.

The average daily number of confirmed cases in the county has doubled over the past two months, going from 1,452 in early June to 2,859 now, Ferrer said July 15.

More than 1.4 million people have been tested for the virus during the pandemic, with the overall rate of positive tests at 9%. The rolling average over the past seven days was slightly higher, at 9.8%.

Health officials have declined to identify any exact trigger points that might lead to a return to the original “Safer At Home” order that called on residents to remain at home as much as possible, leaving only for essential errands, and that shuttered most businesses.

Gov. Gavin Newsom renewed business restrictions in 30 California counties, including Los Angeles July 13. His order again forced the closure of indoor gyms, hair salons, nail salons, places of worship, massage businesses and tattoo parlors. Newsom also ordered a statewide closure of all bars and forced restaurants throughout California to cease indoor service.