The Oregon Health Authority reported 37 COVID-19 cases linked to Lamb Weston’s Hermiston facility on June 23 in its weekly reporting of worksite outbreaks.
According to OHA, the 37 cases includes employees, but also cases that have been traced back to employees through contact tracing, such as family members.
Shelby Stoolman, a spokeswoman for Lamb Weston, said the plant closed and will remain down while they work closely with the Umatilla County Public Health to ensure the safety of the staff.
“We’re taking this situation very seriously and prioritizing the safety of our team members,” Stoolman stated in an email.
Lamb Weston shut down their facility on Monday, June 15, to complete deep cleaning measures. According to OHA, an investigation was launched on Tuesday, June 16. OHA did not publicly disclose the potential outbreak at the time because the initial case count did not exceed the number necessary to consider it an outbreak. Outbreaks of more than 20 people in an employee workspace with at least 30 employees are now publicly reported, up from the threshold of five cases per worksite that the state was previously using.
Stoolman said the facility will remain closed until it is safe to continue operations and that they have not yet determined a reopening date.
“We’ve reviewed our safety protocols with the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon OSHA and have confirmed that we meet or exceed all of the requirements for safe operation,” she said in an emailed statement.
Lamb Weston is one of Hermiston’s largest employers. In June 2019, the company cut the ribbon on a new $250 million expansion of its french fry factory in Hermiston, and at the time reported that the location’s 570 employees made approximately 750 million pounds of potato products per year.
Other Hermiston residents also work at the company’s Boardman and Tri-Cities locations.