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Foster Farms reopens Livingston plant
Foster Farms Liv pic1
A court order, which lasts until a Jan. 29 court hearing, requires the Livingston Foster Farms plant to supply face masks to workers and make sure they wear them or face shields where social distancing isn't possible. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

Foster Farms’ Livingston poultry plant was allowed to reopen on Monday, after being shut down for a week due to coronavirus concerns.

The Merced County Department of Public Health announced that the Livingston plant met the requirements to reopen as directed in the Health Officer Order as of 9:30 p.m. Monday. The facility was ordered by the Merced County Public Health Department on Aug. 27 to shut down and was then granted a 48-hour stay before the order had to go into effect.

An outbreak at the facility is the largest cluster of cases in Merced County, with at least 358 positive cases and eight deaths.

Near the end of June, as the cases began to mount at the facility but before any deaths, the health department conducted a walk-through of the facility and provided recommendations to control the outbreak. These included making significant changes to the employee break spaces and performing widespread testing of employees within the facility.

The health department continued to advocate for more testing at the Foster Farms facility through much of July. The health department, along with CalOSHA conducted another walk through on Aug. 3 and found that the recommendations made in June had not been implemented. On Aug. 5 and Aug. 11, the Merced County Health Officer issued directives to Foster Farms providing specific direction on testing requirements and other safety measures to control the spread of COVID-19 within the Livingston facility. Those directives required immediate COVID-19 testing of all permanent, volunteer and temporary employees who share air within a facility that has an outbreak.

Once an outbreak is confirmed within a building, it isn’t cleared from outbreak protocol until the building reports no additional cases for two consecutive weeks or until testing of the building shows less than 1 percent of the workforce is COVID-19 positive.

The State Attorney General’s Office, California Department of Public Health and MCDPH worked with Foster Farms to limit the impact of the closure and could not reach agreement. Temporarily shutting down a food production facility is the last option available in getting this outbreak under control.

Before reopening the Livingston plant, the Health Order required:

1) All employees allowed within the Livingston Plant have received two negative COVID-19 tests, no more than seven days apart;

2) Significant changes be made to all Livingston complex break spaces and areas of potential congregation (e.g., time card stations) to ensure adequate social distancing of all workers on the plant;

3) All facilities in the complex to undergo an extensive third-party deep cleaning; and

4) Safety training and communications provided to employees in English, Spanish and Punjabi.

The health department said Foster Farms has completed all of these items.

“The Department is pleased to see that our intervention led to significant improvements for the testing positivity rate among employees at the Foster Farms facilities,” said Dr. Salvador Sandoval, Merced County Public Health Officer. “All workers are starting with a clean slate after two negative consecutive tests for COVID-19 within the targeted period of time. We appreciate Foster Farms cooperation and response with addressing the outbreak in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 among their employees. The Department will continue to make the health and safety of Foster Farms employees a priority by closely monitoring the situation at the facility. The Department will not hesitate to intervene again, if it should become necessary.”

“We genuinely value our dedicated, hardworking employees. Since our founding in 1939, employee health and welfare has always been Foster Farms’ highest priority,” said Foster Farms Vice President of Communications Ira Brill.