Vancouver-based United Grain has suspended operations at its grain export terminal at the Port of Vancouver, in southwest Washington, after two of its on-site staff tested positive for COVID-19, the company announced Monday.

United Grain operates the largest grain elevator on the West Coast, with more than 200 grain silos occupying much of the east end of the port. The terminal transfers grain from rail cars and river barges to ships bound for international destinations.

The company learned of one positive COVID-19 test result among its staff Thursday afternoon, according to public relations manager Stephanie McClintock. Company officials sought guidance from Clark County Public Health and began working to identify other employees that could have been exposed to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Several employees were tested Friday, McClintock said, and one of those tests came back positive Friday evening (the others were negative). She said both of the COVID-19-positive workers are United Grain employees, rather than longshoremen or contractors.

The company halted its port facility operations on Friday evening and brought in a mobile testing truck Saturday to test additional staff. The results of those tests were still pending as of Monday afternoon, she said.

The facility remains closed, and McClintock said United Grain is working with Clark County Public Health and will rely on the agency’s guidance to determine when it is safe to restart operations.

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The current shutdown is the first closure for United Grain during the pandemic. The business was considered essential and exempted from the stay-home order that shuttered most businesses in March.

The grain elevator normally runs 24/7 aside from an annual pair of preplanned one-week shutdowns to deep clean the equipment. The unplanned shutdown has already had a significant logistical impact on the business, McClintock said, but she expressed confidence the company would be able to adapt to the challenge.

United Grain began operating in 1969 as a wheat exporter, but has expanded over the years into additional grain markets, including corn and soybeans. The terminal unloads roughly 50,000 railcars and loads more than 100 ships per year. United Grain employs approximately 100 people.

Monday’s news comes hours after Clark County Public Health reported 68 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, the second-highest number of cases confirmed in that county in one day since the pandemic began.

The United Grain shutdown has not currently affected any other port operations, according to port director of communications Therese Lang, and so far no positive cases have been reported among port staff or other tenants.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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