LIVINGSTON, CALIF. – After an Aug. 28 meeting with officials from the Merced County Department of Health (MCDPH) regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak at its poultry processing complex in Livingston, where 392 positive cases and eight deaths have been confirmed, Foster Farms and health officials announced the plant will close from Sept. 1 to Sept. 7 as part of a revised Health Officer Order. During the six-day closure the facility will undergo two rounds of deep cleaning and its 1,400 workers will each be tested two times.
The company said it will also conduct two rounds of testing of its “major processing and logistical facilities that comprise the Livingston Poultry Complex,” during the closure.
The closure will begin the evening of Sept. 1 to ensure safe removal of poultry at the plant and prepare for the deep cleaning.
“Before any employees can return to work in the Livingston Plant Building, they will need to test negative twice within seven days,” according to the MCDPH. “Foster Farms has procured tests to complete this mass testing initiative, and tests will be of no cost to employees.”
The remaining operations at the complex where there has not been an outbreak will remain open while observing prevention practices, including social distancing, screening of employees, providing personal protective equipment and expanded employee break rooms.
Since the declaration of the outbreak at the plant on June 29, MCDPH said the complex represents the most severe and longest lasting outbreak in the county.
Officials from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), MCDPH and Cal/OSHA have visited the plant multiple times and have worked together to implement an initial Health Order and the most recent one ordering the plant be closed. Prior to the latest order, a letter from Dr. Erica Pan, acting state Health Officer with CDPH, to Foster Farms expressed support for the county and concurred that the company must take immediate steps to protect workers.
Prior to the announcement of the closure, Foster Farms issued a statement on Aug. 28 that said the increase in cases at the plant were consistent with the state of California re-opening businesses and lifting COVID-19 restrictions.
“It is important to recognize that the increase in positives at the Livingston complex occurred subsequent to the dramatic increases in Merced County, where cases increased from 300 to over 7,800 cases countywide in a matter of weeks, following California’s lifting of COVID-19 restrictions,” said Foster Farms’ Aug. 28 statement. “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. While this context may provide some measure of understanding, we can never be complacent about employee illness or death.”
On Aug. 29 Foster Farms said it is committed to working with county health officials to prevent, track and limit the spread of the virus while maintaining open communications and exchange of data with MCDPH and informing workers of the outbreak status.
“COVID-19 is not the product of a company any more than it is the fault of a people, or a community,” the company said. “It is a scourge that companies like Foster Farms and communities like Merced County can work together to defeat. Foster Farms joins our nation in looking forward to a time when we are rid of COVID-19. We look forward to building an ongoing relationship with the Merced Public Health Department to help ensure the health and betterment of the greater community where we live and work.”