PORTLAND, Ore.—State and county agencies are investigating a COVID-19 outbreak at Townsend Farms operations in Multnomah and Washington counties, and are working to support seasonal workers who have fallen ill and protect others exposed to the virus.
Public health investigators with Oregon Health Authority and Multnomah and Washington counties say the outbreak currently affects a total of 48 of about 350 people who arrived in the Portland metro area May 23 and 24 to harvest fruit from Townsend-owned sites in Fairview and Cornelius. The individuals are believed to have been exposed to the virus prior to coming to Oregon. An additional 13 samples are still pending at the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory.
Seasonal workers were set to come to the Portland area over the Memorial Day weekend, and county and state officials coordinated with the company to plan for testing of all workers shortly after their arrival. As planning was under way, OHA also stepped in to provide additional testing capacity for the effort through the state lab.
“People employed in agriculture are essential workers. They are also a vital part of our community,” said Patrick Allen, OHA director. “The agricultural work environment can put them at higher risk of infection from a communicable disease like COVID-19, and we need to do everything we can to reduce that risk. State and local public health officials are committed to working with the agriculture industry to reduce the risk of infection for workers.”
The investigative team, including OHA, the counties and Oregon Department of Agriculture, are working with the company to ensure proper infection control, safety and health measures are in place to protect workers. These measures include:
- Providing separate housing so people exposed to COVID-19, and those who are sick, can quarantine and isolate themselves while they are ill (the company reports that employees are sheltering in place and not going out in public).
- Ensuring food is brought onto the properties for the workers during this period.
- Emphasizing infection control through hand hygiene, physical distancing, face coverings and use of PPE.
- Protecting drivers who bring workers to and from worksites with PPE.
- Ensuring proper housing so symptomatic workers can be separated from worksites.
- Providing education and outreach, through the counties and their community partners, directly to farmworkers to inform them about how to protect themselves from COVID-19 infection.
The agencies also have been in contact with Oregon OSHA.
This COVID-19 outbreak affecting workers in Fairview and Cornelius is separate from an outbreak at the same company that began April 29 when permanent employees at the company’s Fairview location tested positive for the virus. These cases were reported to OHA, which in turn reported them to the public as part of its daily case reporting.
“This outbreak shows how we all need to continue to work together—individuals, businesses, local and state public health—to keep this virus from spreading to the most vulnerable and protect the health of everyone in Oregon,” Allen said.