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National Frozen Foods outbreak in Albany hits 41
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National Frozen Foods outbreak in Albany hits 41

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A truck pulls into the National Frozen Foods plant in Albany on April 23. A total of 41 cases of COVID-19 are associated with the plant, making it the biggest known coronavirus hotspot in the mid-Willamette Valley.

The COVID-19 outbreak at National Frozen Foods has grown to 41 cases, according to a new report from the Oregon Health Authority, while the mid-valley’s total grew by two cases on Thursday, both in Linn County.

The spate of cases at the Albany food processing plant, which includes both workers and household members or other close contacts, is the only mid-valley coronavirus cluster included in a list of 19 workplace outbreaks around the state released this week by OHA. The OHA report also noted that there have been new cases at the plant since May 10; an outbreak is considered resolved when there have been no new cases for 28 days.

The National Frozen Foods outbreak was first reported by the Albany Democrat-Herald on April 23 following tips by concerned workers. At that time, eight employees and two associates had tested positive for COVID-19.

A few days later, Linn County’s public health director said in a public meeting that there were 18 cases associated with the plant. On May 6, Linn County Public Health announced that the case count had grown to 34 – 30 workers and four associates – but that was the last information released by company or public health officials until this week’s OHA report.

National Frozen Foods temporarily shut down production lines at the plant on April 23 to deep-clean the facility and instituted new safety measures to curb the spread of the disease. On May 11, however, the company became the first in the state to be cited for coronavirus-related safety violations. Oregon Occupational Safety and Health fined the company $2,000 for failing to implement physical distancing measures after employees tested positive for COVID-19.

“They are appealing the findings and the fine – which, to be honest, is a slap on the wrist,” said Michael Beranbaum of Teamsters Local 670, which represents around 270 workers at the plant. “I would say the system is flawed because the penalty should have something to do with the severity of the situation.”

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Beranbaum said that the company has been following the safety precautions ordered by Oregon OSHA, noting that the union has not received any additional complaints from workers since the enforcement action was taken.

Steven Schossberger, general counsel and vice president of National Frozen Foods, did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

OHA announced on Thursday that two more Linn County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the county’s total to 121 cases and nine deaths. Eight of the deaths have been associated with the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ Home in Lebanon, which has been connected with 38 cases.

No new cases were reported Thursday in Benton County, which held steady at 57 cases of COVID-19 and five deaths from the disease, according to the latest numbers from OHA. Three of Benton County’s fatalities have been former residents of the Corvallis Manor nursing home, where 13 residents and six staff members have tested positive for the disease.

Both the vets home and Corvallis Manor have been removed from OHA’s list of outbreaks at congregate living facilities, meaning the state agency considers those outbreaks over.

Altogether, OHA reported 76 new confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the statewide tally to 4,474. With no additional fatalities to report, Oregon’s death toll from the disease remains at 159.

The United States has now recorded more than 1.8 million cases, including 14,676 new ones on Thursday, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 827 fatalities reported on Thursday bring the nation’s death toll to 107,029.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at bennett.hall@lee.net or 541-812-6111. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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