Mission Foods worker dies after contracting COVID-19; family says company didn’t disclose virus spread at facility

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Jose Roberto Alvarez, 67, died last week after contracting the novel coronavirus at his Commerce workplace, his daughter Alisha Alvarez says.

Alvarez was the head of maintenance at Mission Foods Corp. — one of three food suppliers in Los Angeles County ordered to close due to “significant” coronavirus outbreaks among employees, officials said Monday. A total of 40 people test positive at the Commerce facility, along with 58 employees at S & S Foods in Azusa and 43 at Golden State Foods Corp. in the City of Industry, officials said.

“They have significant outbreaks amongst their employees [and] we were not notified, as we’re required to be notified, once they had their three cases,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday. “Our inspector asked them to make some modifications to really enhance their infection control protocols at all three sites.”

Alisha Alvarez says her family learned about the number of cases at Mission Foods — best known for its tortilla products — through the media, and not through her father’s employer.

“He would come home and tell my mom someone else got it, then someone else got it. There were rumblings he heard among the facility,” Alvarez said. “The fact that his work did not disclose that other people were sick, and putting him in harm’s way, is truly unbelievable.”

Her father, an immigrant from El Salvador, was in a high-risk category due to his high blood pressure and diabetes, Alvarez said. But as an essential worker and the provider for his household, he continued to go to work.

“I don’t think it was implicitly said to him but he truly believed that he would lose his job to a younger guy if he rang the alarm that he was at risk,” she said.

During the week of June 28, Jose Roberto Alvarez started feeling symptoms including a fever and a cough. Then he, his wife and other daughter tested positive for the virus. But while they got better over the next few weeks, he was hospitalized within days and put on a ventilator.

“When he went to into the hospital for two weeks, we said our prayers, we sent all the positive energy that we could, hoping that he would get out of this and truly we thought he would… It ended up taking him,” Alisha Alvarez said. “My dad was an incredibly loving and selfless guy.”

Alvarez says she hopes her dad’s death is not in vain, and she is now advocating for companies to be more transparent.

“Hopefully they put more guidelines in place to really protect their employees because at the end of the day your company doesn’t run without your employees,” she said.

Alvarez started a foundation in her father’s honor to raise money and assist families going through a hard time during the pandemic.

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