300 coronavirus cases and 7 deaths linked to Foster Farms facility in Livingston

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Merced County Public Health Department says it can confirm more than 300 reported cases and 7 deaths tied to the Foster Farms poultry complex in Livingston, and officials are concerned about how the outbreak is being managed due to the increasing numbers.

The plant employs more than 3,700 people and has been a staple in the community for decades. It is also one of more than two dozen facilities in Merced County experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks of three or more cases.

Livingston Mayor Gurpal Samra says, "For a while, I must have gotten at least 100 calls from employees who were concerned and saying the company does not care about them, they care more about their bottom line."

Samra says he received complaints about a lack of communication and safety measures, but company officials tell us they provide protective equipment, testing, plexiglass partitions, and frequent messages.

Foster Farms' Vice President of Communications Ira Brill says, "We had our countermeasures in place very, very quickly. Up until about June 8, we had less than about a dozen positives, and really as the county exploded when restrictions were removed, we saw people that were becoming infected literally walking into the plant."

Merced County has seen many of its numbers skyrocket since mid-June, including the total number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Samra says he does not blame Foster Farms for the outbreak but felt compelled to share the community's concerns after hearing from those who lost loved ones.

He says, "When you hear a friend of mine say hey my brother just passed away, that's gut-wrenching, what do I tell them?"

The outbreak may also raise questions about food safety, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no evidence of the virus spreading to consumers through food or packaging that infected workers may have handled.

Foster Farms says it will continue to work with federal, state and local agencies to ensure the safety of its customers and staff.

Brill says, "We have done everything we can do, and the minute there is any further mitigation that can be put in place, we're going to do it."

Local health officials say the state task force that was in Merced County last week is also aware of the Foster Farms outbreak and is deploying additional resources.

The county's standard response to any facility experiencing an outbreak of three or more cases includes support with cleaning protocols, testing, and notifying close contacts.
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