Responding to concerns from Clatsop County, the Oregon Health Authority said the state will not recommend mandatory coronavirus testing for essential workers at seafood plants and other food processors.
Outbreaks at Bornstein Seafoods in Astoria and Pacific Seafood in Warrenton prompted Michael McNickle, the county’s public health director, to call for mandatory, continuous testing paid for by businesses. In a June 2 letter to the state, he also called for more inspections and the contacts of confirmed cases to be able to self-quarantine for 14 days and be eligible for unemployment.
The outbreaks were directly tied to 38 of the county’s 46 coronavirus cases.
Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority, said in an email Friday that the state appreciates and shares McNickle’s heartfelt concerns. He also acknowledged that food processors have been severely impacted by the virus and that Hispanic workers have been disproportionately affected.
He said Dr. Paul Cieslak, the medical director for communicable diseases at the health authority, spoke with McNickle about his letter and discussed the importance of continued close collaboration between the state and the county in responding to outbreaks at food processors.
“While it has been the topic of internal discussions, OHA is not at this time recommending mandatory, continuous testing at food processing facilities,” Modie said.
McNickle said he is glad the health authority is taking the county’s concerns seriously.
“I hope OHA will reconsider the need for more and consistent testing for the populations who are most at risk of contracting COVID due to their work,” he said in an email.
Modie said the health authority is asking businesses to ensure workers who decide to isolate get access to financial support through community-based organizations, unemployment benefits and federal relief.
He said the health authority has also recently updated its guidance that “acknowledges the appropriateness in some circumstances of testing asymptomatic individuals who are in historically underserved populations that have borne a disproportionate burden of disease during this pandemic, such as those who identify as Latino/Latina/Latinx, and encourages agricultural employers to help employees who may have been exposed to sick co-workers to access testing for COVID-19, with assistance of the local public health authority.”
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici asked the Oregon Health Authority for clarification on the guidance Saturday after The Oregonian reported a Hispanic couple in Washington County was denied coronavirus testing at two hospitals, reportedly because they were asymptomatic.
“Expanded testing is an important step in slowing the spread among this community, but it is clear that barriers still exist to getting resources and support to the Latinx population,” the Oregon Democrat said in a letter to Patrick Allen, the director of the health authority.
“As you continue to address this disparity, I encourage you to work directly with health care providers and other community leaders to provide them with a clear plan to get information and resources to their communities; a plan that takes into consideration potential language and cultural barriers.”