The Oregon Health Authority will hold a town hall meeting Friday to discuss the coronavirus outbreak at Pacific Seafood in Warrenton after U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici called for more transparency.
The congresswoman on Tuesday sent a letter to the health authority and Pacific Seafood asking them to hold a virtual community meeting to address concerns after learning community leaders did not have enough information about the outbreak.
Pacific Seafood has said 95 workers have tested positive for the virus, the largest workplace outbreak in Clatsop County during the pandemic.
The state announced Thursday night that the health authority's director, Patrick Allen, will be joined by county officials and Pacific Seafood for the virtual meeting at 5 p.m. on Friday.
The question-and-answer session will be broadcast simultaneously in Spanish with American Sign Language interpretation.
"When I saw the news about a major workplace outbreak at Pacific Seafood’s Warrenton facility, I was deeply concerned," Bonamici, an Oregon Democrat, said in a statement. "This is a small, tight-knit community with limited health care capacity. A COVID-19 outbreak could be devastating and could again disrupt in-person education and shutter businesses.
"Community leaders did not have enough information about the outbreak, so I spoke with Gov. Kate Brown and asked Oregon Health Authority and Pacific Seafood to convene a virtual community meeting to help provide transparency and answer the community’s questions.
"The public needs and deserves to know what the State of Oregon, Clatsop County and Pacific Seafood are doing to protect the health of our community, now and in the future. I appreciate that OHA and Pacific took action on my request, and I’ll keep working for more transparency as our community copes with this outbreak and the ongoing uncertainty regarding this pandemic."
County Commissioner Mark Kujala, who represents Warrenton, said in a text message, "I'm glad people are talking and I hope there are open lines of communication going forward."
Michael McNickle, the county's public health director, and Monica Steele, the assistant county manager, will represent the county at the town hall.
"It shouldn't have had to come to this for the state to be responsive to local officials or even local concerns," Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer said. "And (Pacific Seafood) has ... answered pretty much whatever, but OHA still hasn't really provided much information other than what the company is able to or willing to provide."
Balensifer said the lack of public information about virus cases undermines the whole messaging around the pandemic.
"It would be nice to know more details than 'there's this many cases in your county,'" the mayor said.
"You know, half the state government tells you, 'Oh, it's a big deal. COVID's going to kill everybody.' And then when you see what they do, it's kind of like, 'Is that really what you mean?'
"There's a lot of communication going on, there is a lot of COVID updates from OHA that goes out to the regular public, but there's not ... anything worthwhile or substantive in those updates. It's all smoke and mirrors."
Balensifer called it odd that outbreaks at Bornstein Seafoods and Da Yang Seafood did not require state involvement like Pacific Seafood.
"They didn't supersede the county on those outbreaks ... it's only been (Pacific Seafood). What happened to equal treatment under the law?" he said.
"And we're just fortunate that (Pacific Seafood) has been telling us what they've been doing. But the state, for all intensive purposes, has basically just papered it over or otherwise just don't answer. And when people's kids are going from in-person teaching to back to home schooling, basically, and when businesses are really starting to raise their eyebrows and go, 'Are we going to go to phase one?' Those are questions that I can't answer because I get nothing from state on those questions. Zero.
"They're telling everybody to take things seriously and all that, but if they're not taking my inquiry seriously, what kind of message does that send to my constituents, let alone myself?"