Bornstein Seafood in Astoria, Oregon has closed until further notice due to an outbreak of COVID-19. Clatsop County Public Health began an investigation on May 4, 2020, after an employee at Bornstein Seafood tested positive for the deadly virus. More than one-third of 35 employees tested on Monday were positive for the disease. By May 5, 13 employees were ill with COVID-19, and more test results are pending. Contact tracing has begun, and workers at both Astoria plants have been asked to shelter at home until further notice.
Clatsop County Public Health reported that the 11 cases reported on Monday included four women—one aged 30-39, and three aged 40 to 49. Also testing positive were seven men—two aged 30 to 39, four aged 50 to 59, and one aged 60 to 69.
Before the outbreak occurred, a complaint was filed with OSHA by the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council against Bornstein Seafood. The complaint, filed on April 18, cited a lack of social distancing and a lack of personal protective equipment, and that some workers felt unprotected at work. With protective gear and temporal scanners in short supply, many companies are finding it challenging to procure equipment that meets county guidelines. OSHA has confirmed that the complaint is still open for investigation.
Workers have voiced concerns over loss of employment, medical bills, and how they will be able to make ends meet. Most seafood processors report that they do not have health insurance.
The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act reimburses employers with fewer than 500 employees with tax credits if they provide paid sick leave as it relates to COVID-19. While this act should apply to Bornstein Seafood, we do not know the current status of the workers. To calculate eligibility, businesses should count all active employees, employees who are on leave, temporary employees who are jointly employed by you and another employer (such as a staffing company), and day laborers supplied by a temporary agency. The act does not specify whether contract workers paid directly by the company are included in this act.
Other meat processing facilities across the nation have been closed due to similar outbreaks. Because workers are often in close quarters with poor ventilation, meat and seafood processing facilities have become a prime location for coronavirus infections to spread quickly.
Outbreak Best Practices
As we prepare for Alaska salmon season, we understand that an outbreak at sea could be devastating to the industry and the health of workers. Safety precautions must be in place to keep workers safe. The CDC recognizes that processing facilities are vital to maintaining our food supply chain. In order to mitigate risk, employers and supervisors should provide workers with:
• Proper protective gear to complete their work
• Appropriate physical distancing
• Good handwashing and hygiene areas
• Frequent cleaning and disinfecting
• Robust medical leave policies, so that workers who feel ill do not feel pressure to stay on the line, exposing more workers to COVID-19
• Educational materials and training, which start at the top and are enforced by supervisors
• Information provided in all languages spoken by the workers
If we are to support this critical industry, we must provide workers with a safe and clean work environment.