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Los Angeles fast-food workers ‘especially vulnerable’ to COVID-19 transmission, researchers say

Photo: halbergman/iStockphoto

Los Angeles — Adverse working conditions at fast-food restaurants – as well as worker and customer failure to comply with physical distancing and mask-wearing protocols – may put fast-food employees in Los Angeles at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, according to a recently released report from the University of California, Los Angeles and UC Berkeley.

Researchers analyzed demographic and government data, surveys and media reports. They found that one-third of fast-food restaurants in the city employed at least 20 people, “suggesting shared equipment, workspaces, bathrooms and break areas,” the report states.

Additionally, the report highlights numerous surveys showing that service occupations, including fast food, are “especially vulnerable” to COVID-19 transmission. One survey, from the UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center, found that 84% of fast-food employees worked within 6 feet of someone not wearing a mask, while 44% said at least one colleague had contracted the virus.

Other findings:

  • 54% of food service workers interacted with at least 10 unmasked individuals in one shift.
  • 37% reported their workplaces had no mandatory training on COVID-19 safety protocols.
  • 58% of workers felt reluctant to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols.

Fast-food workers’ household environments also may exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, the researchers found, as workers tend to inhabit multigenerational homes. More than two-thirds of workers inhabit homes with four or more people, and a third live in a household with someone older than 55.


“It’s important to remember that COVID-19 transmission from fast-food worksites can then impact households and surrounding communities,” report co-author Tia Koonse, legal and policy research manager at the UCLA Labor Center, said in a press release. “The majority of fast-food workers live near their workplaces and are more likely to use public transportation.

“Most live with four or more people, which makes social distancing difficult or impossible, and about a third live with people older than 55. This means that a worksite outbreak raises the risk for community spread in dense working class areas of Los Angeles.”

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