Pacific Seafood suspends operations at five locations due to COVID-19 outbreak
Positive COVID-19 tests for 124 employees of Pacific Seafood and its contractors have led the company to suspend operations at its five processing facilities in Newport, Oregon, U.S.A.
The Clackamas, Oregon-based company said 53 of its employees and an additional 71 locally-based contractors tested positive for COVID-19, out of 376 workers tested, as of Sunday, 7 June.
“Initial results show that positive tests are concentrated at the Pacific Shrimp processing facility location,” the company said in a statement.
In response to the outbreak, Pacific has temporarily closed all five of its facilities in the area, including its Pacific Whiting, Pacific Shrimp, Pacific Fillet, Pacific Surimi, and Pacific Bio Products facilities. This marks the second time that Pacific has dealt with a coronavirus outbreak in one of its facilities – in May, Pacific Seafood temporarily closed a plant in Warrenton, Oregon, after a worker tested positive for COVID-19.
“We look forward to resuming operation at all facilities as soon as we are able to confirm the safety of our team members, fleet, and community. We will be performing detailed contract tracing to inform those decisions,” the company said. “Pacific Seafood is committed to continue to expand efforts to mitigate asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 will in the future require advance testing of all team members and contractors in Newport.”
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 workstations, and staggered shifts to limit contact between employees. The company also said that it will carry out “robust sanitation and cleaning protocols.”
According to KGW8, the company’s investigation into the outbreak started 2 June, but the initial case count was fewer than five workers. The vast majority of those who tested positive for the virus did not report any symptoms and no Pacific Seafood workers have been hospitalized, the company said.
In its statement, Pacific Seafoods said it had the outbreak under control, and that it will be providing free testing to all workers, retesting all employees who tested negative before resuming work; coordinating with local health officials to appropriately treat and monitor workers who test positive for COVID-19, and ensuring they do not return to work until receiving a verified negative COVID result; and conducting its own contact tracing “to ensure that any issues are isolated to areas outside our facilities.”
“All international, seasonal workers have tested negative for COVID-19 and have not yet started work in any of the facilities. Oregon Health Authority indicates the risk to the general public is low,” it said. “Pacific Seafood takes our responsibility to do everything possible to protect the continued health and safety of our workers seriously. Positive test results absent outward symptoms confirm new CDC estimates that 40 percent of COVID-19 transmissions occur before the onset of symptoms, and that 35 percent of individuals who contract the virus never show symptoms at all. The CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community, but at Pacific Seafood we are committed to going above and beyond for our team members, contractors, and our coastal community.”
The Oregon Health Authority said it does not believe that there is any risk of being exposed to the virus from the food processed at the plant, according to KGW8. County health officials in collaboration with the state health authority are working to conduct contact tracing.
“There is going to be some risk in Lincoln County,” Oregon Health Authority public health physician Dr. Paul Cieslak said. Some restaurants in the area decided to close when news of the Pacific outbreak was announced publicly.
Pacific Seafoods isn’t the only processing company in Oregon to struggle with an outbreak of the coronavirus at its facility. Last month, at least 26 workers at Bornstein Seafoods tested positive for the virus. Workers returned to the plant in late May after it reopened following a two-week quarantine period.
Photo courtesy of Chris Chase/SeafoodSource