Nearly 40 employees at the Vancouver food processor tested positive for COVID-19 | Instant News


A food processing company in the Fruit Valley neighborhood in Vancouver has been the center of one of the largest COVID-19 case clusters in the Portland metro area to date.

Starting at 6 pm Friday, 38 employees at Firestone Pacific Foods have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, according to Marissa Armstrong of Clark County Public Health. He said employee testing was ongoing and that the numbers were likely to increase.

CEO Josh Hinerfeld said the company had the first case confirmed at midday Sunday and learned of two more that afternoon, according to an interview reported by The Oregonian / OregonLive. Firestone employs 150 people at once, according to Hinerfeld.

The Vancouver factory is closed on Monday, according to Hinerfeld.

Armstrong told The Columbian that more Firestone Pacific Food employees were tested positive during the week when they sought treatment for symptoms from medical providers. At 9am Friday, 12 employees were tested positive, 10 of them from Clark County, he said.

That number grew rapidly on Friday as a result of joint rapid testing of all employees in partnership with Firestone Pacific Foods, Vancouver Clinic and Clark District Public Health. The test has produced 26 additional positive cases at 6 pm, according to Armstrong. At that time, he said, tests were still being carried out.

“Our staff will conduct interviews with all those who test positive,” Armstrong said. “They have been instructed to isolate.”

He said health workers would continue to follow up over the weekend, although the results of additional tests might not be reported until Tuesday.

Details are not available on how many of those who tested positive showed symptoms of the disease, or how many, if any, were hospitalized. He said 10 cases were included in the count of district cases, but he added that it was not yet clear how many additional cases would be reported in Clark District or in other jurisdictions.

The COVID-19 case cluster is probably the largest workplace outbreak in the Portland area reported so far, excluding the health care sector, The Oregonian / OregonLive reported Friday.

Food processing facilities have emerged as the main source of infection throughout the country. There were outbreaks at work in Astoria and Albany in Oregon, in eastern Washington near the Tri-Cities and at factories near Boise and in Weiser, Idaho.

Firestone processes frozen fruit including raspberries, mangoes, cherries and blueberries. Hinerfeld said the company took steps to protect employees before the outbreak, including social distance, temperature checks, giving masks to employees and offering extended sick leave.

As businesses in Oregon and Washington reopen amid the gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions, Hinerfeld said his company’s experience should be a cautionary tale. He said he was working with government health and labor authorities to engineer additional protection.

“We thought we had a pretty good plan and boy, it bit us in the back,” he said. “This djinn doesn’t return to the bottle.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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