Following the infection of 358 employees with COVID-19 and the related death of eight workers at Foster Farms in Livingston, the Merced County Health Department has ordered the plant shut down momentarily. The authorities said the temporary closure will enable the plant to be disinfected, and facilitate the testing of the remaining employees.
Sources have however expressed doubts that Foster Farms would comply with the closure order, even though the secretary for food safety at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) intervened to allow the poultry producer two days more before closing down.
“The call was productive and allowed all the parties to work out a path forward,” the USDA said. “The Merced County Department of Public Health made the decision to delay the shutdown of the plant for 48 hours to facilitate additional resources for COVID testing of plant employees and to ensure humane handling of the flocks at the facility.”
Foster Farms has about 12,000 employees across its plants in California, Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, and Washington; and the Livingston facility reportedly has 3,750 workers. The accurate number of employees infected with COVID-19 in the company is unknown because the 358 employees who are positive to the disease willingly underwent testing and voluntarily brought back their results, CBS News reported.
It is estimated that a thousand others might be infected given that eight have died of the disease and the company acknowledges they died of coronavirus. This prompted the Merced County health authority to order the temporary shuttering of the turkey and chicken processing company. The company however issued a statement that seemed to suggest that its facilities are coronavirus-free and that no employee got infected within its walls.
“It is important to recognize that the increase in positives at the Livingston complex occurred subsequent to the dramatic increases in Merced County,” the company responded. “Foster Farms’ comprehensive set of COVID-19 mitigations, promptly implemented following CDC guidance, can protect employees while they are on our premises, but we cannot fully protect them when they are exposed in the greater community.”
The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting disclosed on Tuesday that 170 people have died of coronavirus in 416 meat-packing facilities in 40 states, and 37,500 employees are positive to the disease. The Merced County public health director, Dr. Salvador Sandoval, noted that “The closure of this plant is the only way to get the outbreak at Foster Farms swiftly under control. Our hearts are with the eight families who have lost a loved one.”