A novel coronavirus outbreak at National Frozen Foods in Albany, Oregon, has grown.
Linn County Public Health Director Todd Noble said during Tuesday morning’s Linn County Board of Commissioners meeting that there are now 18 cases of COVID-19 associated with the Albany plant and 81 total cases in Linn County.
Processing remained shut down at the facility on Tuesday, said Michael Beranbaum, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local Union No. 670, which represents about 270 workers at National Frozen Foods in Albany.
“They’ve been cleared by the Health Department to restart operations. The only problem is, they really can’t start until all of the employees get tested. My understanding is that they’ve been calling everybody in to get tested. I don’t know how long it will take for results to be available,” Beranbaum said.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he added.
Beranbaum said that while processing at the plant has halted, the warehouse and distribution side continue to operate with product from before the illness hit the plant.
Steven Schossberger, general counsel and vice president of National Frozen Foods, did not return phone calls on Monday and Tuesday seeking comment regarding new cases, the possibility of food recalls and a potential timetable for restarting processing at the Albany facility.
The update on the COVID-19 caseload connected to National Frozen Foods might be the last on the subject for some time.
Linn County Public Health won’t be providing specific numbers on how many more cases are associated with National Frozen Foods, said Capt. Michelle Duncan of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s spokeswoman for the coronavirus pandemic.
“The guidance they are getting from the Oregon Health Authority is not to release numbers assigned to specific facilities,” Duncan added.
Oregon Occupational Safety & Health, a division of the Department of Consumer & Business Services, is investigating workplace safety complaints regarding the coronavirus, social distancing and other safety precautions at the National Frozen Foods plant in Albany, Beranbaum said. He added that an Oregon OSHA investigation does not mean there are problems at the facility.
On Thursday, Linn County confirmed that there were 10 cases of COVID-19 at the Albany National Frozen Foods plant. Eight of those cases were workers, and two were people associated with employees. (Noble didn’t provide a breakdown of the figures he reported to the Linn County commissioners on Tuesday.)
On Friday, National Frozen Foods voluntarily shut down processing in Albany so a deep clean could be conducted under the supervision of Linn County.
Workers at National Frozen Foods have contacted the newspaper saying that they are concerned with their safety and potential exposure to the virus.
An April 16 memo from plant manager Larry Hargreaves to National Frozen Foods employees obtained by the newspaper discusses two initial confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the facility.
National Frozen Foods opened its Albany plant in 1982.
The 20-acre plant puts out millions of pounds of frozen produce each year. During a good day in the summer, the facility can churn out a million pounds of beans alone, according to a 2012 article.
National Frozen Foods’ Albany plant processes beans, cut corn, squash, vegetable purées and cream-style corn, according to the company’s website.
Other hot spots for coronavirus in the mid-Willamette Valley are the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ Home in Lebanon and Corvallis Manor, a nursing home in Corvallis.
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