PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Clark County announced Tuesday there are 84 COVID-19 cases tied to an outbreak at Firestone Pacific Foods.
The outbreak is a setback that put the county’s reopening progress at a standstill.
Director of Health Dr. Alan Melnick held a press briefing Tuesday afternoon to address the outbreak. He said 69 employees have tested positive as well as 15 of their close contacts.
“I believe they were using some precautions,” Melnick said, but he did not know specifically how much PPE they had.
“There were questions and concerns enough that we felt they should not be operating as of Tuesday [last week],” he said. At that point, there were only 3 positive tests. They then began contact tracing and realized the processing plant was the epicenter of an outbreak.
Melnick said many of the employees only speak Spanish and the county is using Spanish speaking employees and an interpreter service to help with contact tracing. He estimated the company has about 170 employees.
They have tested of their 83 close contacts. 15 have tested positive so far.
The employees at the plant don’t have health insurance but the company has agreed to pay for their testing. It’s unclear if the the company if paying for testing of their close contacts but Dr. Melnick said the county was getting involved to ensure those who did not have insurance were taken care of.
“We had to bring in a significant amount of staff to work on this over the weekend, and interpreter services,” he said.
He also said they have contracted with a company to help with contact notifications. The outbreak is putting a strain on county employees who are already busy with other duties related to the pandemic.
The state ordered the processing plant to pause all operations on May 19 to prevent further spread of the virus between employees. Subsequently, Clark County’s application to enter Phase 2 of Governor Jay Inslee’s reopening plan was put on hold.
“Aside from these cases, we only had 3 cases reported county-wide over the weekend,” Melnick said. He was encouraged by this and is hoping to get the county back on track to enter Phase 2.
“If you don’t count this outbreak at the plant, county-wide we are still there, I’m hoping we can demonstrate this, one of the metrics is how you handle outbreaks,” he said.
All employees at Firestone have undergone testing in the last week.
The company’s CEO told KOIN 6 News they’re working hard to put measures in place so employees can return to a safe work environment. He hopes they’ll be able to reopen the facility by Thursday with the approval of the health department.
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