Foster Farms plant in Merced County shut down amid uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak, 8 deaths

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Merced County health officials announced on Thursday they are shutting down the Foster Farms facility in Livingston due to an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak.

So far, 358 of the employees at the facility have tested positive and eight of its employees have died because of the coronavirus.

Merced County health officials say the facility is a hotspot for the virus in the county and a source of large proportion of the area's COVID-related deaths.

According to a statement released by the county, for Foster Farms employees, the case fatality rate is 2.2% while it's 1.3% for the rest of Merced County.

The outbreak started back on June 29th and the county says that it made trips to the facility and issued two formal directives to the company, ordering it to increase testing and implement safety measures.

However, it says those directives were not followed and spread of the coronavirus has continued, leading to the order to close.

Merced County has given the facility 48 hours to shut down.

The stay will allow the facility to stay open Friday while they arrange logistics.

In the meantime workers say they have gotten texts and phone calls asking them to report to work.

Action News spoke with an employee at the plant, Adriane Amitava, who says she is not comfortable returning to work.

Amitava says safety measures like sanitizing, temperature checks and masks are now in place but thinks the facility needs needs to get a grip on the outbreaks.

"We are not doing the six feet distance. We are very close to each other," she says.

Livingston Mayor Gurpal Samara says the company is a lifeline for many in the area.

"They do want to work. They just don't want to risk their lives or lives of their loved ones," he says.

Gurpal is calling on Foster Farms to step up the responsibility for employee health.

"To me even one death is too many."

Authorities have ordered it to close until the outbreaks are under control and it can reopen safely.

Merced County says it has been working with state health officials and Foster Farms to try to keep the essential food production line open, but could not reach an agreement.

In a statement, California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra supported the closure.

"If we're going to keep food on our tables during this pandemic, we must do a better job of protecting the essential workers who are putting it there. That means standing up for the people in our poultry facilities, agricultural fields, meat processing plants, restaurants, grocery stores, and more. Foster Farms' poultry operation in Livingston, California has experienced an alarming spread of COVID-19 among its workers. Nobody can ignore the facts: It's time to hit the reset button on Foster Farms' Livingston plant."

We reached out to Foster Farms for comment but haven't gotten a response.
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