COVID-19 Outbreak at Farmer John's Facility in Vernon

VERNON (CNS) - Officials at the Virginia-based company that owns the Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon has said they have implemented stringent new health protocols as 116 workers at the plant have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as workers at nine other industrial facilities.

At the Farmer John plant, 153 of 1,837 employees tested positive for COVID-19 between March and May, the Department of Public Health said.

Other facilities with outbreaks include CLW Foods, which handles meat; Vie De France Yamazaki, baked goods; California Farms Meat, Takaokaya USA, green tea; F. Gavina & Sons, coffee; Golden West Trading, meat, Overhill Farms, frozen foods; and Rose & Shore, deli meat and prepared foods, the DPH reported.

Between five and 24 employees at each of the nine facilities tested positive for the virus.

The DPH worried workers in these plants could spread the virus throughout their communities.

Smithfield, which owns Farmer John, revealed its new procedures at its Vernon facility.

“Our Smithfield family members are crucial to our nation's response to COVID-19. We thank them for keeping food on America's tables, and have implemented aggressive measures to protect their health and safety during this pandemic,'' Smithfield Foods said in a statement.

The website LAist reported Thursday that as many as 140 employees at the Vernon plant have tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus over the past few months, after a cluster of six cases were discovered in the plant's ham de-boning department in mid-April. The story cited Freddie Agyin,

director of Vernon's Health and Environmental Control Department.

Among the measures the company says it has put in place:

-- Adopted a series of stringent and detailed processes, protocols and protective measures that follow and in some cases, exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for meat and poultry processing workers and employers;

-- Boosted personal protective equipment (PPE) to include masks and face shields;

-- Installed plexiglass and other physical barriers on the production floor and in break rooms;

-- Implemented mass thermal scanning systems to identify employees with elevated temperatures prior to entering facilities;

-- Made free voluntary COVID-19 testing available to employees;

-- Increased social distancing wherever possible;

-- Added abundant hand-sanitizing stations;

-- Enhanced cleaning and disinfection;

-- Explicitly instructing employees not to report to work if they are sick or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms;

-- Requiring that sick employees stay home and isolate according to CDC and OSHA guidelines;

-- Paying employees, including any and all bonuses, when they are quarantined;

-- Offering paid leave for all employees at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19;

-- Expanded employee health benefits and removed all barriers in its health plan to access medical care, including eliminating co-pays for COVID-19-related testing and treatment;

-- Educating all employees about how COVID-19 spreads and how to protect themselves and others;

-- Posted employee communications in multiple languages;

-- Deferred all nonessential business travel;

-- Restricted all nonessential visitors.

Hundreds of pigs are trucked daily into the facility at 3049 E. Vernon Ave., where they are killed and turned into Dodger Dogs, as well as the ham, bacon, sausage and hot dogs sold under the Farmer John label.

Attempts to reach Vernon city officials were unsuccessful.

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