OREGON COAST — Recent COVID-19 outbreaks temporarily closed two processing plants at the Port of Astoria’s Pier 1 and Pier 2, according to a Clatsop County press release. On May 9, the Astorian reported Pacific Seafood suspended operations at a plant in Warrenton.
Locally, Bornstein Seafood closed its processing plant on the Newport Bayfront “out of an abundance of caution,” said Vice President Andrew Bornstein. The plant, he said, is being cleaned and disinfected, and they hope to reopen soon. The company is supplying employees with personal protective equipment and rewriting employee agreements to reflect current conditions and to keep employees safe. Masks will be required, he said, and temperatures monitored.
With whiting and shrimp seasons underway, Lincoln County will see a large number of workers entering the county to work in local processing plants. As part of their plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Lincoln County is performing targeted testing of incoming Bayfront fish plant workers.
Rebecca Austen, Lincoln County health department director, explained, “We are working with the plants and hotels to provide safe environments for the workers, and public health will be doing active surveillance of these workers to assure that we can mitigate an outbreak. I don't see us testing everyone, but rather doing random testing every week of 25 to 30 people to monitor the situation.”
Lincoln County Public Information Officer Susan Trachsel said, “The Astoria closures are one reason why we wanted to initiate testing here in a targeted way, so we could get ahead of any similar issues that could happen here. Staff in Clatsop County would tell our staff in Lincoln if we needed to be aware of people locally that are connected to the Astoria outbreak.”
Deputy Director of Public Health Nicole Fields said the county is trying to be proactive by testing sample groups. “We’ve begun testing of the workforce already and are working with the businesses and Oregon Department of Agriculture to provide health and safety guidance,” she said.
Trachsel said, “The issue with widespread testing of a workforce that is not confined to say, a ship, is that they can still leave, go to the store, go home, and be exposed in the community. So a test is just a point in time, which means you'd have to test constantly to really know.” Without rapid testing in the county, there aren't enough tests or staff to do that, she explained.
“You can look to the White House for why even daily testing cannot prevent the virus. Plus, you could test negative and still have the virus — just not at the levels yet to be detected by the test,” Trachsel said. “It's really physical distancing, protecting others (with a face covering) and really strong hygiene that will prevent the spread.”