The Oregon Health Authority late Thursday announced it would disclose large coronavirus outbreaks at workplaces mere hours after the agency acknowledged it previously did not alert the public to 53 infections tied to a fruit company in Fairview.
Those infections at Townsend Farms only became public after state officials announced a separate outbreak linked to the company among 48 seasonal farm workers who just arrived in Oregon.
The initial outbreak at Townsend Farms appears to be the largest among workplaces in Oregon -- but that’s not entirely clear since state health officials have not been disclosing the information.
State officials will now report all coronavirus outbreaks at workplaces with at least five infections, Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, announced in a news release issued at 8:34 p.m.
“The COVID-19 pandemic demands that we all rethink how we accomplish necessary tasks that are vital to our roles," Allen said. “OHA believes a consistent, transparent statewide approach to reporting COVID-19 cases in workplaces will give Oregonians more information to help people avoid the risks of COVID-19 infections. We want to ensure employers, workers and customers know the same criteria will apply, no matter where they work or what businesses they support, everywhere in Oregon.”
Allen’s statement came four hours after after The Oregonian/OregonLive questioned Gov. Kate Brown’s office about why the initial outbreak, and others, have not been publicly reported by the state. The newsroom pointed to Los Angeles County, in California, which discloses workplace coronavirus outbreaks of at least five infections.
Asked why Brown wasn’t championing such disclosure, what direction she would provide to state or local county health departments, and whether she felt it was appropriate for large outbreaks to go publicly unreported, a spokesman for Brown’s office demurred.
“Generally speaking, our goal is to make as much information available to Oregonians as possible, without violating COVID-19 patients’ privacy rights,” spokesman Charles Boyle said. “OHA works with local public health officials to notify the public about COVID-19 outbreaks, in each case weighing if there is a broader risk of infection to the community, or if an outbreak has been contained through contact tracing and isolation.”
The Oregon Health Authority will now take the lead among public health departments statewide to disclose workplace outbreaks.
Officials will release information about past and future coronavirus outbreaks with at least five infections, except in rare circumstances where disclosure would identify an individual or reporting source.