Clatsop County and Pacific Seafood signed an agreement Monday detailing how they will work together moving forward during the coronavirus pandemic.
The memorandum of understanding covers how to prevent the spread of the virus at the Warrenton seafood processor, how any future virus cases will be dealt with and clarifies roles and responsibilities.
“COVID-19 has introduced many, once unfathomable, challenges to individuals, families, businesses and governments throughout the county,” County Manager Don Bohn said in an email. “From the beginning of the pandemic, the Board of Commissioners committed the county to a path of collaboration, cooperation and fervent commitment to do our collective best for the community.
“Clatsop County appreciates the partnership with Pacific Seafood in preparing the MOU and to the work we will do together moving forward. Responding to COVID-19 requires all of our best efforts; and this agreement is part of our commitment to consistently serve well.”
John King, the general manager at the Warrenton plant, said, “Pacific Seafood is thankful for the collaboration of the county and Oregon Health Authority in formalizing this agreement which maintains some of the most stringent worker protections in the state and provides for coordinated rapid response contact tracing if virus cases are detected in the future.
“Pacific Seafood is proud to be a leader in COVID-19 prevention, and this agreement is another example of how we go above and beyond what is required by state and federal regulations when it comes to keeping our workers and communities safe. Thank you to all of our community partners, we are stronger together.”
Workplace outbreaks at seafood processors have accounted for a disproportionate share of the county’s virus cases. Outbreaks at Pacific Seafood in May and September make up about a third of the county’s virus cases since March.
The county and the Clackamas-based company clashed during the outbreak in May and again in late June after a Pacific Seafood worker from Moldova tested positive for the virus.
The county wanted the contacts of the worker to quarantine, since they had traveled to Warrenton together. But, according to county leaders, the health authority and Pacific Seafood maintained that workers who tested negative and were asymptomatic could continue to work.
After the dispute, the health authority took the lead on handling new virus cases at the Warrenton plant.
Bohn told The Astorian in October that the county began working with Pacific Seafood and the health authority in July on drafting a written agreement to define the roles of the county, the company and the health authority when workplace virus cases are detected.
However, Pacific Seafood did not sign the document. Following the September outbreak at the plant — which Pacific Seafood put at 95, the county’s largest during the pandemic — the county and the company told The Astorian they were working toward signing an agreement.
Bohn said the county wants to take the lead in responding to any future outbreaks at the plant.
The document, signed by Bohn and Dan Occhipinti, the executive vice president of corporate support for Pacific Seafood, covers three main areas: prevention, testing reporting and notification and contact tracing and quarantine.
The county and the company agreed to follow the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for critical infrastructure, which enables food processors to allow workers to continue working following potential exposure to the virus as long as they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.
Workers who live with roommates who test positive would have to quarantine for 14 days, however.
The agreement also outlines how the county and company will communicate new cases with each other and to the public through the news media.
The county and Pacific Seafood agreed not to publicly disclose virus cases at the Warrenton plant unless five or more workers test positive, the health authority’s threshold for public disclosure of workplace outbreaks.
According to the agreement, the Oregon Department of Agriculture will coordinate with Pacific Seafood for on-site facility visits and audits.
The agreement will stay in effect until the coronavirus emergency declaration is lifted.