PEMBROKE PINES, Florida — Florida has hundreds of confirmed cases of coronavirus and nine deaths, and the state health department is asking residents to stay home and avoid crowds.
But that didn’t stop Vital Pharmaceuticals, maker of the colorfully marketed BANG Energy drink, from ordering more than 200 employees to assemble Wednesday for an obligatory all-hands strategy meeting at a warehouse in Broward County, which has more COVID-19 cases than any other county in Florida.
The purpose for this pressured mandate? To announce the launch of a brand-new energy product called Redline Noo-Fusion, their latest line of beverages that claim to provide physical and mental stimulation.
Videos from the event, including one posted by CEO Jack Owoc, show employees dancing to hype music in a warehouse and other employees seated in chairs less than an arm’s length apart.
Employees were told the meeting was mandatory and that those who didn't attend would be required to take a full day of paid time off.
“It was either get corona and be potentially exposed or lose our jobs,” said one BANG Energy employee who attended but asked not to be named for fear of losing their job. “We were all scared.”
Attendees estimated about 100 BANG Energy employees followed orders and showed up to the pep rally. One said there was no hand sanitizer, but disinfectant wipes were provided. Employees sat in white chairs next to each other, clearly violating the 6-feet social distancing guideline issued by the Florida Health Department.
“When I was sitting in my seat, I was within an arm’s distance,” the source said.
Owoc entered behind a procession of dancers who gave a performance in front of LED screens, a scene that attendees saw mostly as a photo op or an attempt to create some viral content. All of the music and bright graphics really did not cover up the risk that the employees were facing.
“It could have been sent in an email, considering half of his employees were scared to be there. The more we complained, the more he wanted to move forward with the event, despite concerns,” the same employee told VICE News.
But Owoc views it differently. In a video post to Instagram, he claims the “big strategy meeting” occurred with no physical contact. "Big strategy meeting with chairs spread 6 feet apart. No physical contact. More social distancing horizontally and vertically in a 224,000 ft.² warehouse with 34-foot ceilings with bay doors open," he wrote on Instagram.
It's not like Owoc isn't aware of the danger. “F*€K CORONA🦠& THE 🦇BAT🦇 IT FLEW IN ON!” he wrote, advising his 720,000 followers to “PLEASE PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCING AND FOLLOW CDC GUIDELINES.”
Owoc even wrote a song, circulated to employees: “Don’t let the corona get all up on ya! First they tax us then they wanna vax us.”
Owoc’s wife, BANG Director of Marketing Meg Liz Owoc, posted a Tik Tok of herself learning a dance “in front of 100 people” at the event, which she later deleted.
Jack Owoc and Meg Owoc did not return multiple calls, emails, and DMs for comment.
BANG Energy has a history of running marketing campaigns through social media platforms claiming to be a healthy alternative for performance drinks. The energy brand also uses model influencers to endorse their products.
“We all thought it was so evil, how he made us do this,” said the source.
And their lack of preparedness has also been documented in their offices.
A March 6 email from management to employees stated a change in policies in response to COVID-19. BANG Energy/VPX would not allow people to work from home and promised to take extra sanitary precautions.
“I don’t feel comfortable going to work because they said they are taking measures for their employees and they are not,” said another person at the company. “I’m constantly in meetings and they don’t have anything to wipe down conference rooms.”
The Broward Sheriff’s Office has asked private businesses to practice social distancing and for employees who feel sick to stay home.
“We would encourage those businesses to follow the guidelines that have been put out by Department of Health and the Governor’s office. To practice social distancing and help flatten the curve on the pandemic,” said Veda Coleman-Wright, Broward Sheriff's Office spokesperson.
Cover: BANG employees gather to watch a mandatory performance of dancers at a new-product presentation in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic. (Photo: VICE News)