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LOCAL NEWS: OHA virtual forum addresses Pacific Seafood Warrenton outbreak

LOCAL NEWS: OHA virtual forum addresses Pacific Seafood Warrenton outbreak

by Joanne Rideout

At a virtual town hall meeting on Friday, representatives from the Oregon Health Authority, Clatsop County, Pacific Seafood and other agencies answered the public’s questions about the recent COVID-19 outbreak at the Pacific Seafood plant in Warrenton. Joanne Rideout has more. 

Read below or listen: story length [4:40]

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said Pacific Seafood has cooperated fully with the state during the most recent COVID outbreak. This outbreak and additional cases caused by untraceable community transmission have landed Clatsop County on a state COVID watchlist list along with Malheur and Benton counties. Inclusion in the watch list does not mean, at least so far, that the county will be moved back to Phase 1 of state guideline for reopening. Clatsop County is currently at phase 2.

The town hall meeting happened at the request of US Representative Susanne Bonamici. Bonamici was contacted by local leaders who said they did not have enough information about the outbreak. In the wake of the outbreak, Warrenton schools are currently closed to in person learning.

Patrick Allen said that food processing establishments are among the types of businesses highly impacted by the virus. He said Latinx workers have been among those disproportionately affected.

Addressing concerns about workers facing racism from community members, Allen said workers should not be ostracized.

Partick Allen: “The Health Authority has determined that these workers, their work place and their products do not pose a significant threat to the public. Workers in a workplace outbreak should never be subjected to discrimination or be prevented from patronizing other businesses.”

Allen said many factors within families and communities can contribute to an outbreak and it’s not possible to point to a specific workplace and say they are the cause of an outbreak. He said OHA is doing active outreach to the Latinx community, and recently held a live Facebook session in English and Spanish to keep people informed. Contact tracing continues.

Allen said the Clatsop County Health Department was the lead agency in all local COVID-19 matters, and that OHA had stepped in at the county’s request to assist with the Pacific Seafood outbreak. So far 87 cases have been diagnosed among Pacific Seafood workers. More cases among contacts of workers could arise as contact tracing continues.

OHA has a contract with social services agency Clatsop Community Action to provide support to quarantined workers. Susan Prettyman is CCA’s social services program manager. She said that while the agency is helping out Pacific Seafood workers specifically right now, the agency offers help to anyone directly affected by COVID-19.

Susan Prettyman: “We offer wraparound services such as food, hot meals, energy assistance and even rental assistance if they need some extra support. With regards to the workers under quarantine with Pacific Seafood, we partnered with several local restaurants and agencies to provide wraparound services and support. We have a team of staff that assess the workers needs, and shop, order food, assemble and then safely deliver food to the workers. To date, CCA has provided close to 1,000 warm meals for Pacific Seafood workers.”

Prettyman urged anyone in the community who has been negatively impacted by COVID 19 to contact Clatsop Community Action for help.

Brandie Hogg, director of team member services for Pacific Seafoods, said the company was following all OHA recommended protocols for worker safety, including facemasks and protective face shields, physical distancing, gloves, protective smocks, daily health screenings and sanitation best practices.

She said the company learned that some of its team members who had tested positive had attended a Labor Day social gathering, sponsored by another company. Hogg said this meant that the COVID exposure might be traced to attendance at the barbecue and not workplace exposure. She said the company was providing emergency paid leave for workers diagnosed with the virus and was working with community agencies to provide meals to workers affected.

Brandie Hogg: “We’re in regular contact with our team members that are quarantining and thankfully we can report that nobody has been hospitalized, only a few have minor coldlike symptoms, and most are completely asymptomatic.”

Hogg said the company began phased reopening last week with workers who have completed their quarantine period and have tested negative. The company expected to add more workers through the weekend.

Regarding Clatsop County’s recent placement on the state COVID-19 watchlist, Allen said inclusion in the watchlist is based on a metric of coronavirus diagnoses that can’t be traced to another case.

Patrick Allen: “What being on the watchlist means though really is, we, OHA, provide additional resources and assistance to a county on the watchlist to help them deal with those sporadic cases and to get that count back down. And that’s exactly what we have been doing over the last week with Clatsop County in terms of providing case investigators, helping with testing, those kinds of things to provide those added resources and assistance.”

Once a county is on the watch list, it remains there for three weeks and is then reviewed by the state.

Warrenton Schools Superintendent Tom Rogozinski weighed in on the closure of the school district following the discovery of the Pacific Seafoods outbreak. The outbreak initially closed the district but other factors have kept it closed.

Tom Rogozinski: “The initial closure was related to the immediacy of our community outbreak. The long term closure is related to the metrics that were exceeded.”

That metric is no more than 30 cases per 100,000 people for two weeks in a row. Rogozinski said the district is monitoring the numbers and expects to be able to open to in person learning in certain circumstances even if the district as a whole remains closed to in person learning until metrics improve.

I’m Joanne Rideout in Astoria.