VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — More than a dozen more people linked to Firestone Pacific Foods tested positive for COVID-19, Clark County health officials said Thursday.
An employee at the fruit processing plant in Vancouver spoke with KOIN 6 News about his personal experience with the outbreak as he waits out his quarantine at home. The man, whose identity is being withheld, said he started showing symptoms on Tuesday, May 19 — the day after the company halted operations.
“Been pretty exhausted,” he said. “Migraines, stuff like that.”
By Thursday, he and 73 of Firestone’s 165-person workforce had tested positive for the virus.
When asked about the company’s safety measures, the unnamed employee said, “I’m not an expert in PPE or anything like that or pandemic control but you don’t get that much of an outbreak without doing something a little bit wrong.”
Firestone CEO Josh Hinerfeld said the company immediately informed the Clark County Health Department when the first employee tested positive on May 19. The county ordered Firestone to pause all operations the same day to prevent further spread of the virus between employees. But the outbreak continued.
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.
The unnamed employee said he also noticed the safety measures being ignored.
“When our temperature is checked as we go in we’re given a mask. You’re expected to wear it the whole time you’re there and even wear it if you’re not eating during your break — that’s what they told us,” he said. “But as soon as you get in there some people have glasses and it fogs up their glasses and you have to do a lot of talking and it’s just kind of difficult. You’re already on a loud factory floor and, on top of that, you have this mask in front of you.”
He said he saw places where physical distancing wasn’t being followed, such as the wash room where he said employees must go several times a day.
“We have three machines that wash hands and one of them’s down so we’re down to two and they’re not six feet apart — they’re elbow-to-elbow when you’re using them,” he said. “It’s already really cramped. You have at least half the production crew in there at one time.”
He isn’t sure when he’ll be able to return to work. In the meantime, he’s hoping for the best for his coworkers and their families.
“I don’t know if everyone’s going to come out on top of this — if I’m going to see them next time I’m at work, you know?” he said.
Firestone met with Clark County Health on Thursday night. KOIN 6 News is working to learn more about the meeting.
Read the company’s extensive new safety plan below:
Follow KOIN 6 for the latest news and weather