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July 4, 2020

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15 new COVID-19 cases reported; 13 linked to Firestone outbreak

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Thirteen more COVID-19 cases have been connected to the outbreak at Firestone Pacific Foods in Vancouver, Clark County Public Health announced Thursday, all in close contacts of plant employees.

There were two additional cases confirmed Thursday that were not connected to the outbreak at Firestone. The county now has 548 confirmed cases, and 25 deaths. There have been no new deaths reported since May 15. At least 9,094 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Clark County. Seven people are hospitalized for the virus.

There are 119 cases linked to the food processing plant off Fruit Valley Road in west Vancouver, which had its first confirmed case May 16.

In total, 74 Firestone employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Four of those employees live outside of Clark County. Public Health has identified another 45 cases in close contacts of employees at the facility.

There have been at least 169 Firestone employees tested for COVID-19 so far, and at least 138 close contacts have been tested.

Production at the facility has mostly ceased for now. Everyone who tests positive is instructed to isolate at home until they are no longer contagious, according to Public Health. Public Health staff is interviewing all positive cases to identify and notify close contacts, who will be asked to quarantine for 14 days.

The Oregon Health Authority announced Thursday that there is a large outbreak connected to two Townsend Farm sites in Washington and Multnomah counties. Outbreaks at farms and food processing facilities have cropped up recently, and even sparked worker strikes in Yakima County.

At a Thursday press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee outlined new guidance and rules for farming and food processing facilities that is aimed at clamping down on the escalating problem.

Firestone has created its own 50-point return-to-work plan, regarding safety measures the company feels it needs to meet before it can safely reopen. It will not be allowed to reopen without the approval of Public Health and the state Department of Labor & Industries, which are working with Firestone to improve its security measures.

Firestone and Public Health confirmed Wednesday that some of the facility’s safety measures were lacking, particularly around physical distancing.

The company’s plan includes covering and taping off its water fountains, ordering a new lobby door that could have a fob entry and could be pushed open, ordering Plexiglas barriers and putting up curtains to separate employees.

On Wednesday, Firestone CEO Josh Hinerfeld said that the company’s daily temperature screening protocol missed many cases, because a large portion of Firestone’s cases were asymptomatic at the time of COVID-19 testing.

“I think this is why we weren’t catching this during our screening process,” Hinerfeld said.

That means the virus was able to circulate undetected and infect more workers. The prevalence of asymptomatic cases has been of growing concern to health officials.

In a press conference Thursday, Inslee and Secretary of Health Dr. John Wiesman unveiled a plan to test staff and residents in all Washington nursing homes by June 12 and all assisted living facilities with a memory care unit by June 26, regardless of whether there was a known case at the facility.

The plan should help the state assess how common asymptomatic cases are in long-term care facilities, and also give health officials an idea of how prevalent asymptomatic cases are in general.

As evidence of asymptomatic transmission has increased, the need for mask-wearing and physical distancing has also increased, because those measures can help stop the spread of the virus from people who don’t know they are sick.

“It’s a demonstration of our love for our neighbors when we wear a mask,” Inslee said. “It’s a demonstration that we don’t want to infect them.”

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