Oregon forgoes requiring mandatory COVID-19 tests for processing workers

Published on
June 17, 2020

Oregon plans not to require mandatory COVID-19 testing for workers in the seafood industry after outbreaks at Pacific Seafoods and Bornstein Seafoods processing plants prompted a letter from Clatsop County Public Health Director Michael McNickle requesting that the state make testing a requirement, according to The Daily Astorian.

McNickle’s letter to the Oregon Health Authority followed a coronavirus outbreak at Pacific Seafoods in Newport, where at least 124 employees and contractors tested positive. McNickle called for more inspections, for confirmed coronavirus carriers to be eligible for unemployment, and for companies to bear the cost of testing.

While Oregon Health Authority spokesperson Jonathan Modie wrote in an email to The Daily Astorian that while the state understands McNickle’s concerns, “OHA is not at this time recommending mandatory, continuous testing at food processing facilities.”

“I hope OHA will reconsider the need for more and consistent testing for the populations who are most at risk of contracting COVID due to their work,” McNickle, in response, wrote to the newspaper.

In an email to SeafoodSource last week, Modie confirmed that Pacific submitted the names and contact information of those who were infected to the Lincoln County Public Health Department and that contact tracing would occur as a “standard part of the investigative process,” though Pacific would not have to pay for the contact tracing.

“Contact tracing costs are jointly borne by the local public health authority (county public health department) and Oregon Health Authority,” he wrote. Modie was unable to provide a cost estimate.

Moreover, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that language barriers have created difficulties in contact tracing, as the outbreak has disproportionately affected the community’s Hispanic population.

The vast majority of the Pacific Seafoods cases were asymptomatic and were concentrated at the Pacific shrimp processing facility, although operations at all five Pacific locations in the area (Pacific Whiting, Pacific Shrimp, Pacific Fillet, Pacific Surimi, and Pacific Bio Products) were suspended as a result of the outbreak.

Pacific committed to implementing measures that will mitigate the spread of the virus once the plant reopens, including face coverings provided to all workers, face shields worn by those on the production lines, temperature checks before shifts, barriers between workstation, and staggered shifts to limit contact between employees. The company also said that they would carry out “robust sanitation and cleaning protocols.”

Photo courtesy of Horth Rasur/Shutterstock

Reporting from Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

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