UPDATE (3:01 p.m. PT) — The Oregon Health Authority Thursday confirmed a coronavirus outbreak at Townsend Farms, a fruit farm and processor based in Multnomah County with other locations in Marion and Washington counties.
The outbreak, currently affecting 48 people, is at Townsend Farms’ locations in Fairview and Cornelius, OHA said.
Health officials said Thursday that the positive cases include 41 people in Multnomah County and seven people in Washington County.
An additional 13 tests are still pending at the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory.
Public health officials said those affected are migrant farm workers who traveled to Portland over Memorial Day weekend and that the workers are believed to have been exposed to the virus before coming to Oregon.
OHA said a total of about 350 people came to the Portland metro area May 23 and 24 to harvest fruit from those two Townsend Farms sites.
In a call with reporters Thursday, OHA and other partner agencies could not speak to where the workers had specifically traveled from and where they could have initially come into contact with the virus.
“People employed in agriculture are essential workers. They are also a vital part of our community,” Patrick Allen, OHA director, said in a statement. “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.”
OHA said an investigative team — including its agency, Multnomah and Washington counties, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture — is working with the farm to ensure infection control, safety and health measures are in place.
OHA said those measures include:
Providing separate housing for people exposed to coronavirus to quarantine
Ensuring food is brought onto the properties for workers during this time
Emphasizing infection control through hygiene, physical distance and personal protective equipment usage
Protecting drivers who bring workers to and from work sites through usage of PPE
Providing education and outreach, through the counties and their community partners, directly to the farmworkers
“For the farmworker community, from a health perspective, this is a more vulnerable group now with COVID-19,” Olivia Quiroz, executive director of the Oregon Latino Health Coalition said. “The Latino community in Multnomah County, and in particular in east county — so Wood Village, Fairview and Gresham — where this plant is currently located, this has raised the alarm in our community.”
Quiroz continued: “These are essential workers. Unfortunately, there are less protections for, in particular, the farmworker community.”
Quiroz said her organization and other Latino-focused agencies are working with local and state public health agencies to “raise the alarm” and further address these issues.
OHA said Thursday that it and partner agencies have been in contact with the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in regards to an outbreak at the same company that began April 29 when permanent employees at the farm’s Fairview location tested positive for COVID-19.
Those cases were reported to OHA at the time, which in turn reported them to the public through its daily case report.
Townsend Farms president Mike Townsend did not immediately respond to request for comment.