VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — A Vancouver company says it might not have done enough to protect employees after more than 70 workers tested positive for COVID-19.
Firestone Pacific Foods, a plant that processes and freezes fruit for farmers along the West Coast, learned an employee tested positive for COVID-19 on May 19.
“I was concerned as an essential business — I realized we were at risk for an outbreak,” said Firestone CEO Josh Hinerfeld.
Hinerfeld said the company immediately informed the Clark County Health Department about the case. The county ordered Firestone to pause all operations the same day to prevent further spread of the virus between employees.
But by Monday, 65 employees had tested positive for the virus. Subsequently, Clark County’s application to enter Phase 2 of Governor Jay Inslee’s reopening plan was put on hold.
County health officials announced Wednesday the total had risen to 74, not including 32 close contacts of employees who also tested positive. Hinerfeld said of those 74 people, at least 60 showed no symptoms.
Health officials who investigated the facility said it has room for improvement in terms of implementing stricter safety measures, including sanitizing more equipment, making hand sanitizer readily available and enforcing stricter social distancing.
Hinerfeld said Firestone put several measures in place starting in March, including requiring face masks and daily temperature checks of every employee. He said they also asked workers to socially distance but it was hard to enforce, especially when employees took breaks.
Firestone says it’s working with an infectious disease specialist, the Washington Bureau of Labor and the county health department to ensure things are safe when employees return to work. Hinerfeld said they’re anxious to reopen because farmers are counting on them.
“Gosh darn it, if we don’t get up and running pretty quickly we’re going to have a lot of farmers that are going to be in trouble,” he said. “If that product doesn’t get frozen right away, it has to get dumped.”
Firestone had hoped to reopen sometime this week and is implementing a 50-point plan but will have to wait for Clark County’s approval before resuming operations. The company plans to meet with the labor bureau on Thursday.
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