COVID-19 cases at Vancouver food plant jump to 65

Coronavirus

The plant halted operations on Tuesday, May 19

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Following the disclosure of a COVID-19 outbreak at a Vancouver food processing plant on Saturday, May 23, the company has released new case numbers after Clark County Public Health stepped in to assist with more widespread testing.

As of Monday, 65 employees at Firestone Pacific Foods have tested positive for the coronavirus. The food processing plant said 87 people tested negative and there are still a few workers who have not been tested.

The facility was instructed to halt operations by the Public Health department on Tuesday, May 19, to prevent the continued spread of the virus between employees. Firestone said that they hope to resume production on a limited basis by Thursday, May 28, however, that is pending approval from the county health department.

The outbreak at the plant caused the state of Washington to pause Clark County’s application to move onto Phase 2 of the governor’s plan for reopening. The county remains in Phase 1 as health officials discuss what to do next. The Chair for the Clark County Council said she hopes the outbreak will be contained and that the state will see that the county can manage it and approve the county’s application for Phase 2.

“It’s a disappointment, a real disappointment,” said Eileen Quiring the Chair for Clark County Council. “They have to close down the facility. Other than that, I really don’t know what the requirements of the facility are. What I do know is that the health department is basically working around the clock on this.”

KOIN 6 News spoke with Quiring on Wednesday, May 20, when Clark County first applied for Phase 2.

“It’s just sort of unbelievable. I mean, what timing,” lamented Quiring. “I’m hoping they will give us some leeway and consider that if this is contained only with these employees and it hasn’t moved far beyond it, they will consider that we are doing our job that we can actually address it.”

Questions answered

Firestone Pacific Foods has deep cleaned and sanitized the facility. Employees must be tested before returning to work. KOIN 6 News spoke with a company spokesperson via email for the following Q&A.

How is Clark County Health helping the company? What are they requiring for you to reopen?

“We have been cooperating closely with the Clark County Department of Health’s infectious disease specialist and Deputy Director of Health. In addition, we have been in consultation with an industrial hygienist with the WA Bureau of Labor and Industries.  The County has played an important role in:

  • coordinating testing of employees at the Vancouver Clinic
  • decisions to extend temporary closure of production
  • development of our COVID-19 response plan
  • contacting all employees who test positive and providing notification and information to us
  • providing recommendations to us on return to work guidelines 
  • providing feedback on the additional protective measures we are adding to the work environment”

Are employees are being paid while they have to self-isolate? If so, are they using sick-leave benefits? And if that’s the case, what happens if they run out of sick leave?

“Employees are being offered the choice to use any sick leave they have accrued as well as an advance on their sick time if needed, and/or the Federal Emergency paid sick leave.  Employees are given the choice on which of these resources they want to use according to the Federal Leave policy.”

Do employees have company healthcare benefits to cover costs in case they’re hospitalized or need additional treatment for COVID-19?

“Last week we implemented company paid tele-health coverage to ensure access to health resources for our employees and their families. This resource gives them 24/7 access to doctors free of charge. We offer health insurance to our employees through Kaiser.”

Anyone who tested positive for the virus was instructed to stay home and self-isolate. Public Health is also working on notifying the close contacts of those individuals, and they too will be asked to quarantine for the next two weeks.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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