At least 38 people have tested positive for COVID-19 as part of an outbreak at a Vancouver fruit company, an official with Clark County Public Health confirmed Friday night. The outbreak was first reported by The Oregonian/Oregonlive, as involving at least 24 people at the Firestone Pacific Foods processor in Vancouver.
Company and health officials said the fruit processing location at the center of the outbreak is now closed. Marissa Armstrong with Clark County Public Health said in an email to OPB that Firestone and the Vancouver Clinic are working together to test all employees who could have been exposed at the facility.
“As of [Friday] morning, there were 12 cases associated with the facility (two are not Clark County residents). As of [Friday] evening, an additional 26 people have tested positive,” Armstrong said. Additional testing will continue over the next few days, and could result in a higher number of positive cases.
News of the outbreak came the same day that Clark County officials announced they were applying to the state for permission to relax restrictions, after making progress in controlling the virus.
Clark County was made eligible to apply for Phase 2 reopening status earlier in the week, after Gov. Jay Inslee announcement of criteria that opened the door to relaxing restrictions in 10 of the state’s more populous counties.
Washington state’s Phase 2 restaurant dining at diminished capacity, some opening of salons, and some increased retail and construction activity. To be eligible, communities are measured on benchmarks that include case trends, as well as having hospital capacity should case numbers rise. State health officials will also look at a county’s ability to trace the spread of the virus and protect vulnerable populations.
Armstrong said Clark County health staff “will be following up with everyone who tests positive to interview them and identify close contacts who need to be quarantined.”
In addition, she said, the agency is working with the company to “implement environmental controls to help them better align operations with new [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance.” Armstrong said those may include “installing barriers between work stations, installing more hand-washing stations, and staggering work shifts and lunch/break schedules.”
Firestone Pacific Foods has been in operation since 1896, according to the company’s website. Its products include numerous berries, such as blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, as well as stone fruit, such as cherries and mangoes.
Firestone is just the latest in a string of food processing facilities to experience a COVID-19 outbreak. More than 150 workers at a Tyson Fresh Meats processing plant near Pasco last month tested positive for the virus, as did at least 16 people at a Foster Farms plant in Kelso.