Mysterious coronavirus outbreak at unnamed business comes as Multnomah, Washington counties seek to reopen

Vancouver frozen fruit processor reports 38 coronavirus cases


The Oregon Health Authority announced a coronavirus outbreak Wednesday that has infected dozens of people in the Portland metro area but the agency declined to immediately release details about the business involved.

While the full scope has not been publicly disclosed, the outbreak appears to represent one of the largest linked to a workplace in Oregon. Before now, the state’s largest known workplace outbreaks have been at Bornstein Seafoods in Astoria and National Frozen Foods in Albany.

It’s unclear what impact, if any, the outbreak may have on efforts by Washington and Multnomah counties to reopen in the coming days or weeks. State health officials announced 71 new infections statewide Wednesday, with 41 of those Multnomah County residents and five Washington County residents.

Dr. Jennifer Vines, the Multnomah County health officer, said at a press conference on the county’s reopening plans that many of the 41 infections are connected to the mysterious workplace outbreak.

“Yes, a number of those cases are from Multnomah cases,” Vines said. “This is a more regional situation,” she added, deferring to state health officials on details.

Wendy Gordon, a spokeswoman for Washington County, declined to say if the business in question is in Washington County and referred questions to the state. A spokesperson for Clackamas County did not immediately respond to questions.

State health officials are expected to release more information about the outbreak, including the location and a tally of identified infections, as early as Thursday.

Robb Cowie, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority, confirmed total cases are in the dozens but otherwise said officials would not release the name of the business or other information Wednesday because the outbreak remains under investigation.

“Right now, we’re doing a public health investigation,” he said. “We’re gathering information. And we do intend to report on the location once we have gathered more information through the course of that investigation.”

State officials announced the outbreak earlier in the afternoon, writing in a news release that state and county health authorities were investigating an “increase in COVID-19 cases tied to an outbreak at specific locations of a business that operates in the Tri-county region and the Willamette Valley.” Cowie said the business is not Amazon, where at least two employees had previously fallen ill.

The Oregon State Public Health Laboratory has been testing affected workers linked to the mystery business, processing 262 tests on Tuesday. Additional tests remain and officials expect to identify more infections this week.

Cowie said that while officials are still investigating they “don’t see this as posing a significant risk to the broader community.”

“We’re not seeing evidence that the people infected were having contact with a large number of people in the general public in the course of their occupation,” he said.

Cowie said he did not know when state health officials first learned about the outbreak.

Disclosure of the outbreak comes at a politically sensitive time. Gov. Kate Brown has allowed all but two of Oregon’s 36 counties to reopen, with only Washington and Multnomah counties remaining closed. Washington County last week applied to reopen and Multnomah County is eying June 12.

Meanwhile, across the border in Washington State, Clark County’s plans to begin reopening are on hold indefinitely after a major outbreak last week at a Vancouver frozen fruit processing company. That incident has infected at least 69 of the facility’s 150 employees and at least 15 close contacts of those workers.

Oregon health officials have said little about prior workplace outbreaks, but there have been at least two – one at a frozen fruit and vegetable processor in Albany and another at a fish processing facility in Astoria.

— Mike Rogoway | [email protected] | twitter: @rogoway |

— Brad Schmidt; [email protected]; 503-294-7628; @_brad_schmidt

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