County health officials have identified COVID-19 cluster outbreaks at 9 industrial facilities in Vernon, including a meat packing plant where more than 150 employees have become infected with the virus, authorities said Sunday.
The largest of the outbreaks was at the Smithfield plant in the 3000 block of Vernon Avenue where Farmer John meat products are packed, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Of 1,837 employees at the plant, 153 of them have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March, the health department said in a written statement. Forty-one of them have since recovered and returned to work. The company has offered testing to all workers.
The other eight Vernon facilities with five or more documented coronavirus infections include: CLW, Via De France Yamazaki Inc., Cal Farms Meat Company, Takaokaya USA Inc., F. Gavina & Sons Inc., Golden West Trading, Overhill Farms and Rose and Shore, officials said.
“Public Health is supporting the City of Vernon on response and mitigation plans and to ensure that close contacts are identified and isolation and quarantine orders are issued,” according to the statement.
It was not yet clear of the positive test results represented a spread of the virus among workers, or merely additional testing in the workforce.
“Although, the City Vernon has few residents, workers positive for COVID-19 could spread the disease to the communities they reside in,” the health department statement warned.
“We are closely monitoring outbreaks within facilities in the City of Vernon, as many of the employees reside in adjacent Southeast Los Angeles communities,” L.A. County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer,said. “We have assigned an infectious disease doctor to work closely with the Vernon Health Director on response and mitigation plans, and we are engaging in comprehensive contact tracing protocols to ensure that close contacts are identified and isolation and quarantine orders are issued, to keep employees and their families safe.”
L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said health officials were doing all they could to prevent the spread of the virus.
“I remind everyone to wear a cloth face mask when outside, stay home as much as possible, and maintain at least six feet of distance when around others,” she said. “Together, we can slow the spread of this virus to keep our families and communities safe.”
In a statement posted on its website, Smithfield said its employees “are crucial to our nation’s response to COVID-19.”
“We thank them for for keeping food on America’s tables, and have implemented aggressive measures to protect their health and safety during this pandemic,” the statement said.
All employees involved in food handling wear protective gear over their heads, faces, hands and bodies, the company said. Plexiglass barriers have been installed in work areas where social distancing is not possible.
Enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures have been put into place, and the temperatures of all employees are checked prior to entering facilities, according to Smithfield.
More information, including a city-by-city breakdown of reported cases and a list of testing centers, is available on the L.A. County Department of Public Health website.