At least 38 employees at Vancouver fruit packing plant test positive for COVID-19

The first cases were confirmed last Sunday, with 26 more by Friday evening

VANCOUVER — A fruit packing plant in Vancouver has shut down after more than three dozen employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Clark County Public Health confirmed on Friday evening that they are working with Firestone Pacific Foods, which is located on Fruit Valley Road, to determine the severity of the outbreak.

The Firestone fruit packing plant on Fruit Valley Road has seen a major outbreak of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Photo by Ken Vance
The Firestone fruit packing plant on Fruit Valley Road has seen a major outbreak of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Photo by Ken Vance

The company’s CEO, John Hinerfeld, told Oregon Live that the plant had been closed since last Monday, after they learned of three confirmed cases last Sunday. 

A nearby healthcare facility closed later in the week in order to focus on testing all of Firestone’s 150 employees, including several who had tested negative previously. By Friday evening, there had been a total of 38 confirmed cases.

Clark County Public Health says 10 of those have already been reported to the state and are included in the 427 confirmed cases thus far in the county. It wasn’t immediately clear on Friday how many of the additional 26 cases live in the county.

“We thought we had a pretty good plan in place and boy, it bit us in the rear end,” Hinerfeld told The Oregonian. “This genie is not back in the bottle.”

The Firestone fruit packing plant on Fruit Valley Road has seen a major outbreak of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Photo by Ken Vance
Photo by Ken Vance

Hinerfeld said at least one of the employees who tested positive has been hospitalized, but is believed to be in good condition.

Food processing companies have become a hotbed for COVID-19 infections across the country, where employees work in close proximity in a closed environment. Oregon has seen outbreaks at two such facilities in Albany and Astoria.

Clark County Public Health said they are working with Firestone to implement a safety plan for when they are allowed to reopen, including panels to separate employees, more handwashing stations, and staggered lunch breaks to limit personal contact.

“Our staff are contacting every positive case to identify close contacts and will follow up with those close contacts,” the county said in a post on Facebook.

The Firestone fruit packing plant on Fruit Valley Road has seen a major outbreak of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Photo by Ken Vance
Photo by Ken Vance

It remains unknown how the outbreak might impact the county’s attempt to move to Phase 2 of reopening. An application was submitted early Friday afternoon, before the full impact of the outbreak was known.

Under the governor’s guidelines, a county must have fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks. That would put Clark County’s limit at approximately 49 cases since May 8.

According to analysis done by Clark County Today, there had been 52 additional cases between May 8 and this Friday, before accounting for the additional cases from the Firestone outbreak.

About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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