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State, company tackle questions about Pacific Seafood outbreak

From the Oct. 9 print edition

Patrick Allen, director of Oregon Health Authority
By Cindy Yingst, Thursday, October 15, 2020

Recent outbreaks of coronavirus at a Warrenton seafood plant and at the White House have some similarities: both have been linked to large gatherings in which participants wore no face coverings.

A Labor Day party is the possible “super-spreader” event for Pacific Seafood employees, who have now completed their mandated 14-day quarantine.

A party in the White House Rose Garden for Judge Amy Coney Barrett is suspected of contributing to an outbreak that included the president.

“Outbreaks like this are complicated and can involve things like social events and people who have contact with other members of their household as well as employment,” said Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority. “It’s not so simple to just point to a particular event or place and say that was the cause of the outbreak and that’s certainly the circumstances here.”

The health director, other doctors, state and county personnel, and local contact tracers participated in a live online meeting last Friday in which 250 people listened in. The meeting was requested by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici after residents and some county leaders expressed concerns about a lack of information on the outbreak.

Nearly 100 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to the most recent Pacific Seafood outbreak.

A cluster of cases was linked to the plant following the Labor Day gathering, said Dr. Emilio DeBess, a senior health advisor at OHA. Some employees began displaying virus symptoms.

The 159 night-shift employees were tested Sept. 22 and when 81 tested positive, the 106 day-shift employees were tested Sept. 24 and 25.

The plant voluntarily closed Sept. 24 and the health authority and Clatsop County began investigating and doing contact tracing, DeBess said.

Employees, many of them being housed at a local hotel, began a 10-day quarantine. Clatsop Community Action arranged for meal deliveries from several restaurants and took care of other personal needs and supplies. Pacific Seafood took on laundry duty.

Pacific Seafood has been working with the state and county for months to “make sure we’re not just meeting but exceeding protective measures,” said Brandie Hogg, the company’s human resources director.

Employees work in cohorts – small groups with no or minimal contact with other employees, she said. There are physical dividers on the plant floor and in break rooms. Employees undergo daily health screenings, wear face masks, gloves, and smocks, stay physically distanced, and use plenty of hand sanitizer. Visitors to the plant are restricted.

Workers received emergency paid leave while the plant was closed, Hogg said. Healthy employees began returning to work Sept. 30.

Here are some of the questions from those who listened in:

Q. Was the Labor Day gathering sponsored by Pacific Seafood?

A. No. It occurred at a different location and was run by a different company, DeBess said.

Q. If masks are required, how did this happen?

A. “Just because masks are mandated doesn’t always mean masks are being worn,” Allen said. “And masks are extremely helpful, but not perfect.”

Q. With Clatsop County being added to the watchlist, what’s the likelihood Phase II restrictions will be imposed again?

A. Very low, Allen said. But it depends on metrics – the number of cases per 100,000 population. Counties that returned to restrictions had 300 or 400 cases per 100,000. Clatsop has between 10 and 30.

Q. Have any complaints been filed with Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration against the company?

A. OSHA received an anonymous complaint in May that claimed people were being required to work after testing positive, OSHA Administrator Michael Wood said. “That did not appear to be happening.”

Q. When an outbreak occurs at a food processing plant, can the food become a source of contamination to those who eat it?

A. “At this time, there’s no indication that food itself would be a source,” DeBess said. “The likelihood of that organism or virus surviving is pretty minimal.”


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