Tillamook Plant in Boardman the Latest Coronavirus Hot Spot

Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been common at food processing and meatpacking plants across the country, sickening and killing emplyees working shoulder-to-shoulder in enclosed buildings, often without the personal protective equipment (PPE) or proper air circulation needed to keep them safe and prevent the spread of the disease.

In the latest outbreak here in Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority reported on Tuesday (7/7) that 22 people were sickened at the Columbia River Processing plant that produces cheese and dairy products for the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA). The report said that number may include household members and other close contacts to employees. An outbreak is defined by two or more cases linked to a common place.

The OHA's Joell Archibald said the agency was notified of the first positive test from an employee at the Tillamook plant on June 16th, almost three weeks ago, and began working with county and municipal public health staff in the area. She said that prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the names of employers would not normally have been released, but that under pressure from media and the public, state leaders decided on publicly releasing the names of companies where 5 or more cases were linked to a single employer; when the case count (including contacts) reaches 20, the company's name goes on a list in the OHA daily report.

OHA public information officer Timothy Heider said that an employer is notified by the employee when the employee receives a positive test result for the virus. Heider said that when the Oregon Department of Agriculture visited the plant on June 17, it was determined that there was adequate PPE and at that point "the company implemented containment control measures such as physical distancing and face coverings for employees." He also said that no deaths from the outbreak at the plant have been reported as of July 9th.

According to the procedures agreed on by state leaders, though, neither the employee's co-workers nor the community at large were informed until the 5-case threshold was met and the employer's name was released publicly. In short, this means that those workers and their contacts could be circulating in the community—shopping at the same stores and touching the same door handles, for instance—for days until the threshold is met.

Stand Up to Factory Farms, a coalition of local, state and national organizations concerned about the harmful impacts of mega-dairies—Tillamook is dependent on giant factory farm dairies for its milk supply—issued a statement today that said this outbreak  “underscores the vulnerability of the factory farm system and the workers in it. As cases continue to increase, it's unconscionable that Oregon is moving forward with permitting a new mega-dairy, Easterday Farms, that will exacerbate the extreme consolidation putting workers at risk. Oregon needs a mega-dairy moratorium and meaningful protections for food and farm workers now.”

For Tillamook's part, CEO Patrick Criteser issued a statement on the company's website assuring investors and the public that the pandemic has not disrupted their manufacturing operations or supply chain. In a statement the company said that three of the employees have already recovered and been cleared to return to work, while the rest are recovering at home, according to an article in the East Oregonian. "Those who are recovering at home or are quarantining after being identified as a close contact are receiving full pay and benefits," the company said.

The health authority's latest statewide weekly report showed that from June 29 to July 5, COVID 19 continued to surge with 1,910 new cases, an increase of 51 percent over the previous week.

The Morrow County Health District, Pioneer Memorial Hospital, the Morrow County Health Department, Morrow County Emergency Management and the Morrow County Sheriff's office—all public entities involved in responding to the outbreak—were contacted with questions about what procedures were followed at the Columbia River Processing plant when the county learned about the outbreak. They referred all questions to the Oregon Health Authority, which is quoted above.

Pandemic Life: Can We Still Be Happy?

I'm gonna lay it all out on the line here. I am not a happy camper when I cannot see my friends, as the kids say, "IRL"—in real life; to hear their stories, watch their faces erupt into guffaws, or catch the tiny nuances at the corners of their mouths or the glint in their eyes (talking to you, Anthony Boutard).

Facetime or Zoom meet-ups are not the same as those face-to-face, real-time moments. I get that it's necessary if your family or friends live across the country and electronic connections are better than once-a-year, holiday trips. But a pandemic's a pandemic, especially when cases are spiking, and no one wants to get sick or make their loved ones or communities sick, much less kill them.

So how do you socialize in person and still keep yourself and others safe?

Our back yard fits two (distanced) couples for happy hour.

Some recommendations are obvious: Stay outside. Wear masks. Keep at least six feet between each other. Or, as Melissa Clark said in a recent New York Times article on entertaining in a pandemic, "the only way to bring people together is to figure out how to keep them apart."

While admitting that there's no way to host a gathering that is 100 percent safe, Clark said it is possible to reduce risks. I agree with her advice to use the comfort threshold of the most anxious person in the group as your guide, since the point is to spend quality time together, not give someone PTSD.

This takes communication with your guests, both in the planning and setting of expectations for the gathering. Clark goes so far as to discuss appropriate bathroom protocols with her guests, but we've chosen to solve that problem by limiting the length of time spent at the handful of happy hours we've had with good friends and family. We have yet to break the dinner barrier, but will be doing that this weekend, again with lots of planning and discussion of comfort levels.

Keep food simple and easy…like this Tuscan-style bean spread.

My best advice is to keep it simple. Dave has mastered the art of making cocktails while wearing a mask and gloves, and I've managed to cobble together our meager collection of trays so each party has their own individual appetizer serving. Dips and salsas are easy to spoon into cups or bowls, cheeses can be divided into individual wedges and crackers or chips can be parceled to avoid the problem of reaching into a common serving bowl.

Wine is easy, since one person can be the designated "pourer" so multiple people aren't handling bottles. Paper napkins and sanitzer have become a part of the tablescape, with bleach wipes available as well.

Below is an easy white bean spread that makes enough to be divided, and has been a hit at a couple of our cocktail hours. I'm just happy to be seeing friends again!

And if you've got some bang-up suggestions for entertaining in a pandemic, e-mail me your ideas and what you've learned. I'd love to do a follow-up post!

Tuscan-style White Bean Spread with Capers

1 15-oz. can cannelini beans, drained (or use 2 c. cooked white beans)
1 medium clove garlic
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. capers (or more if you adore them like I do)
1-2 Tbsp. parsley, minced (optional)

Put beans, garlic, salt, thyme, lemon juice and olive oil in food processor and process until smooth. Using a spatula, scoop bean purée into medium-sized bowl and add capers and parsley. Stir to combine and adjust salt. Serve with bread, pita or crackers.

Makes about two cups. (Can be doubled.)

COVID-19 and Farmworkers: Crowded Conditions, Lack of Protective Equipment a Deadly Combination

We've all read about the outbreaks of coronavirus in meatpacking plants across the country, but other workers in our food system have also been impacted by the spread of the virus due to lack of protective equipment, crowded working conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals that make them more susceptible to the virus. The Hillsdale Farmers' Market's assistant manager Azul Tellez Wright wrote about these issues in its newsletter.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many of the inequalities
that people of color face in the U.S.

Nationwide, people of color (POC) are more likely to fall ill with COVID-19, an upsetting truth that is reflected here in Multnomah County. A study conducted by the Multnomah County Health Department in April showed that 40 percent of coronavirus cases in Multnomah County were POC even though they only comprise a third of the population. POC are more likely to hold essential worker positions, such as the thousands of agricultural workers whose jobs have not stopped as the pandemic has descended.

Farmworkers are subjected to crowded conditions, a lack of protective gear and poor housing.

The weight of Oregon’s $50 billion dollar agriculture industry is mostly carried by the thousands of seasonal and often undocumented workers who are hired each season. Agricultural working conditions can put farmworkers at a higher risk for infectious diseases like COVID-19. The nature of the work (i.e. harvesting, canning) makes keeping a six foot distance a challenge.

On top of that, many employers aren’t putting sanitation and distance requirements in place and aren’t providing their employees with personal protective equipment. Many migrant workers live in close quarters, making quarantining impossible. Federal guidelines for farmworker labor camps allow four people in a 10 feet-by-20 feet space, which is roughly the size of a garden shed. [A petition from the nonprofit Oregon Law Center is proposing stricter regulations to protect farmworkers, including changes to transportation, work and living areas to allow workers more space and ensure proper hygiene, according to the Oregonian.]

Despite paying taxes and being considered essential workers, immigrants cannot access the public benefits that many Americans have come to rely on the past few months. Immigrant and undocumented workers were also excluded from the stimulus checks that came as a reprieve for most Americans in March. In the event that they do get sick, many farmworkers are also not eligible for state or employer healthcare.

Farmworkers' families are also more susceptible to the virus.

Clearly, the inequities that farmworkers face are made far worse by COVID-19. There are a number of local organizations that are listening to Oregon’s farmworkers and working with local and state agencies to provide protections against the COVID-19 outbreak. Causa is an immigrant rights organization that works to improve the lives of Latino immigrants and their families through advocacy, coalition building, leadership development, and civic engagement. Consider donating to Causa’s Worker Relief Fund which collects money to go directly to farmworkers families who were excluded from the federal stimulus package.

Woodburn-based PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, or Northwest Farmworkers and Treeplanters United) is the largest Latino union in Oregon. They are raising money for their farmworkers emergency fund to support former and current undocumented workers affected by COVID, which includes farmworkers. The Oregon Latino Health Coalition is another organization that has been working with local and state public health agencies to increase protections for farmworkers. [Another organization working to improve conditions for farmworkers is Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a farmworker justice organization currently striking against dangerous working conditions and lack of protective equipment at fruit companies in Washington State.]

Oregon Farmers' Markets are Open and Adapting as Pandemic Progresses

"Milwaukie had its second market of the season on Sunday," wrote Milwaukie Farmers' Market market manager Brendan Eiswerth about the normally packed Mother's Day market. "I was having nightmares about there being too many customers, the opposite of the nightmares I had for the past 21 years about no one showing up."

That was the signal worry on most farmers' market managers' minds in this era of COVID-19: how to keep shoppers and vendors safe while supporting small family farmers and producers.

Markets have made changes to keep shoppers and vendors safe.

Most markets in Oregon have made adaptations to follow statewide guidelines from Governor Kate Brown's Executive Order that designated farmers' markets as essential services. The Oregon Farmers' Market Association developed its own resource list to guide farmers' markets in adjusting their operations to minimize risk to the public of transmission of COVID-19.

A previous post outlined how local markets were innovating to provide food and support local farms during the pandemic, including experimenting with setting up systems for pre-ordering from vendors online and then picking up on market day. Others tried switching to a drive-through model where shoppers could pull up to a vendor's stall, choose items and then have the vendor place them in the shopper's car.

Some markets tried a drive-through model early in the pandemic.

Ginger Rapport, manager of the Beaverton Farmers Market, said that the drive-through model, implemented during the smaller winter market, got them through the early months of the pandemic, though she knew it wasn't sustainable in the busier spring and summer months.

"At the beginning of the pandemic when people were not sure how to deal with the whole situation, the drive thru provided some customers a measure of comfort that allowed them to continue shopping with us," she said.

Markets were also observing distancing requirements, placing booths from six to 10 feet apart, with one person at each stall assigned to reinforce social distancing. Other measures included encouraging shoppers to come alone, if possible, and to make a shopping list in advance of their trip in order to limit the time spent at the market. Most had already canceled classes, activities and music performances, and were asking people to refrain from extended interactions with other shoppers to shorten the time spent at the market.

Hillsdale's proposed plan for returning to a pedestrian market.

Hillsdale Farmers' Market initially piloted online pre-ordering with drive-through pick-up where shoppers simply had to pull up to the vendor's booth and their purchases could be loaded into the car. Initially there was some resistance. "I definitely received complaints from vendors and customers," said manager Eamon Molloy. "But it worked pretty well. We had well over 300 households move through the market between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on May 3rd."

But by mid-May a construction project next to the market site and the increasing number of shoppers necessitated pivoting to another model. Molloy tried curbside pick-up, but site constraints made it too hard to implement. "It is unfortunate, too, because we still had over 150 households who wanted to just pick up and keep safe distance by being in their cars," he said.

Molloy is now sketching out plans for a restricted-access pedestrian market (above left), only allowing 65 shoppers at a time into the market site with a suggested time limit per trip of 20 minutes. For the safety of shoppers and vendors, masks will be required for everyone onsite, with handwashing at designated stations strongly suggested before entering and after leaving the market.

Many vendors have hand sanitizer available for shoppers to use.

The Hollywood Farmers Market, a neighborhood institution since 1997, operates year-round and has had an open, accessible site with six main points of entry, an unmanageable situation when it comes to limiting access.

"Our market-day crowds had generally been well below capacity," wrote market coordinator Ari Rosner. "But we knew that the nice weather, strawberry availability and the Mother's Day holiday would mean bigger crowds."

Liberal use of caution tape stretched around the perimeter reduced those six entrances to just two, which were staffed with volunteers tasked with monitoring the number of shoppers in the market at any one time and keeping those waiting properly distanced. "At the peak of the market, we had probably 60 shoppers waiting in line between the two entrances," said Rosner. "But talking to shoppers at the front of the line, it seemed like no one had to wait more than about 10 minutes to get into the market."

Safety is the priority at farmers' markets during the pandemic.

Asked how the pandemic has affected her market, which was established in 1988 as a gathering place for the community, Rapport said that COVID-19 has upended the way that she runs the market. "I have managed this market for 25 years and in each and every year before this, my focus was on maximizing the real estate available to me," she said. "Social distancing has redefined how we operate. It [has been] stressful to reinvent the wheel every week but, like everyone else, we are in survival mode.

Having to give up the social component of the market experience breaks her heart, Rapport said, but providing vendors and customers with a safe shopping experience while keeping the market going for its small businesses and farms has to be the priority now.

Like most of the market managers I spoke with, Rapport said she tries to keep her eyes on the prize as she navigates the obstacles presented by the pandemic. In her words: "To give our customers the opportunity to shop for farm fresh products and artisan foods with the promise that we will be here for them when they are once again able to join their family and friends for a long, leisurely day enjoying the market and one another’s company."

The Beaverton Farmers Market is a sponsor of Good Stuff NW.

Farmers' Markets Innovate to Provide Food, Support Local Farms

"The unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves
has changed how we define normal. And that new normal may be the status quo
for weeks or even months ahead."

In announcing that the Beaverton Farmers Market was planning to offer a drive-through option for shoppers, manager Ginger Rapport put it bluntly, writing, "To say that these are difficult times is an understatement. The unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves has changed how we define normal. And that new normal may be the status quo for weeks or even months ahead."

Farmers' markets are a vital link in a vibrant local food system.

On Tuesday, March 16, Oregon Governor Kate Brown released an executive order addressing the health threat from coronavirus (COVID-19), stating that all food establishments that offer food or drink are prohibited from offering or allowing on-premises consumption of food or drink. The order also prohibited public gatherings of 25 people or more.

In seeking clarification on the order, the Oregon Farmers Market Association (OFMA) presented the case to the governor's office that farmers' markets should not be classified as gatherings or events but are, rather, open-air grocery stores and a vital lifeline for local farmers and producers. Closing them would be tantamount to cutting off a critical food source for the community, and could force many family farms out of business. In addition, the case was made that the food in farmers' markets is subject to much less handling, since it does not go through warehouses, distributors, or store staff.

Farmers' markets are already implementing safer practices.

So it was with great relief that, in a bulletin on Thursday, March 18, updating the Governor's statement, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) clarified that the prohibition "does not apply to essential businesses and services, including workspaces, grocery stores, retail stores, convenience stores, farmer's markets, banks, gas stations, hotels or motels, health care facilities, pharmacies, childcare facilities, state or local government or schools."

In fact, Oregon farmers' markets had already begun implementing practices to protect shoppers and vendors from transmission of the virus and, out of an abundance of caution, were already discussing various ideas for getting products to their communities.

North Carolina shoppers demonstrate social distancing.

In advance of the ODA bulletin, two markets, Beaverton Farmers Market (top photo) and Hillsdale Farmers Market, decided to pivot to new models including a drive-through option at the Beaverton market where market shoppers can shop from the safe distance of their vehicle. Hillsdale canceled its regular market stall set-up and is offering online pre-ordering direct through farmer vendors, with pick-up at its regular location on market day. Both markets have mobilized to help vendors set up online ordering systems.

"COVID-19 has disrupted our routines," wrote Hillsdale market manager Eamon Molloy in the market's newsletter. "In order to keep people healthy and maintain the recommended safe social distances, we will not conduct a regular market. Farmers and food vendors are setting up pre-order portals and taking orders by email."

In a notice on the OFMA listserv, Kelly Crane, the organization's Executive Director, said that she would begin discussions on purchase of a group license for an online ordering system for interested member markets.

Pritha Golden, Market Director at the Hollywood and Lloyd farmers' markets, outlined the reasons that her markets would remain open as usual and described practices that have been instituted to keep shoppers and vendors safe. "Farmers' markets are essential," she stated. "Despite the current health crisis, food remains a basic human need, and we provide access to nutrient-dense food. With our ability to space out our vendors, provide an open-air market, and relieve stresses on grocery stores, we aim to support the safest food shopping options."

Go to online ordering and information about the drive-through option at the Beaverton Farmers Market.

Go to online ordering information at the Hillsdale Farmers Market.

Go to OSU Small Farms Team: FAQ for Small Farms and COVID-19.


Previous: Farmers' Markets Taking Precautions Over Coronavirus Concerns

Photo of social distancing in North Carolina by Debbie Roos.