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Nearly 700 dockworkers at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have contracted COVID-19 and hundreds more are taking virus-related leaves, raising fears of a severe slowdown in the region’s multibillion-dollar logistics economy.

A growing longshore worker infection rate, which parallels the surge of the virus across California, is exacerbating a massive snarl at the two ports due to a pandemic-induced surge in imports of general goods. Port executives, union leaders and elected officials are mounting an urgent campaign to initiate dockworker vaccinations, fearing that a labor shortage could force terminal shutdowns.

“We’ve got more cargo than we do skilled labor,” said Eugene Seroka, executive director of the Los Angeles port, in an interview. “We are told 1,800 workers are not going on the job due to COVID right now. That can [include] those who are isolating through contact tracing or awaiting test results. Or maybe [those who] fear … going on the job when a lot of people are sick.”

Workplaces across California, from behemoth warehouses to neighborhood businesses, face soaring coronavirus cases while trying to stay afloat amid continually seesawing restrictions. As the pandemic has worsened, containing the virus has become more difficult, especially among the L.A. region’s essential workers — who include dockworkers as well as grocery store clerks and nurses.

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