Amazon sites, Salem Hospital have longest lasting Covid-19 outbreaks in Oregon – 20 months

Since May 2020, nearly 1,000 employees at the three sites along with their household members and close contacts have been infected

By: - November 26, 2021 6:00 am
A woman walks past the Amazon Go grocery store at the Amazon corporate headquarters on June 16, 2017 in Seattle, Washington

Tax transparency laws in Oregon would require companies like Amazon to detail tax payments. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

Coronavirus cases have dipped recently in Oregon, and widespread outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the state appear to be in the past, at least for now.

But outbreaks continue to dog three workplaces in Oregon: Amazon’s warehouse in Troutdale, another Amazon facility in Salem and Salem Hospital.

All three appeared in the health authority’s initial outbreak reports in December 2020. And they’re the only three sites where the outbreaks have continued, according to the health authority’s latest report on Wednesday

Salem Health officials dismissed the report, saying it disagreed with the health authority’s inclusion of household members and close contacts of hospital employees in the numbers.

“OHA’s methodology is opaque and troubling in its weekly outbreak report,” Salem Health said in a statement. “The number is not reflective of the number of employees who have tested positive. We have found that only a small percentage of the total number of Covid cases associated with Salem Health on OHA’s report are employees of Salem Health.”

Nevertheless, no other hospital in Oregon has been identified by the state as having such a long outbreak. 

Five other hospitals are listed on the latest report: Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, with more than 160 cases since July; Oregon State Hospital, with nearly 100 cases since April; Good Shepherd in Hermiston, with more than 75 cases since July; St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, with nearly 20 cases since August; and Providence Portland Medical Center, with nearly 10 cases emerging this month.

The report notes outbreaks in nine correctional centers, from the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem to Clackamas County Jail to Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario. 

“The presence of correctional facilities and food packing and agricultural worksites on this list highlights the challenges of controlling Covid-19 in settings where people must work or live in proximity,” the report said. 

Sprawling stores and distribution centers, owned by Costco, Walmart, Target and Home Depot, have also battled outbreaks.

But none as long as Amazon.

Nearly 400 cases dating to May 2020 are associated with Its Troutdale warehouse, which employs 4,000 people. A similar outbreak that emerged the same time is connected to an Amazon facility in southeast Salem, with nearly 230 cases. That site employs 1,200 people.

An outbreak at a third Amazon site, also in southeast Salem, has seven cases. That outbreak started last month, the report showed.

Alisa Carroll, Amazon’s national communications manager, declined to comment on why the two outbreaks have persisted so long.

“We cannot provide site-specific case figures as they lack a significant amount of context,” she said in an email. “Instead, we focus on communicating transparently to local health authorities and to our employees whenever there is a new case. To best protect our employees, we immediately kick off contact tracing to determine if anyone was exposed to that individual, and we inform those employees right away.”

Those notices sparked a complaint from a Troutdale employee to the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division in September. 

“Employer is experiencing Covid-19 out of control with employee communications on positive cases on September 4th, 5th, 8th and 9th,” the complaint said. 

Another complaint filed in October said Troutdale managers weren’t requiring face coverings throughout the building, with signs “deep into the warehouse” calling for masks beyond that point. The complaint said managers don’t always wear masks and that groups of employees without face coverings huddled together in break rooms.

Another complaint about the Troutdale warehouse that was filed in January and alleged a lack of social distancing at the warehouse was refuted by a site safety manager. 

“Upon receiving this notice, the site leadership team conducted an investigation into the alleged hazard and found that proper social distancing practices are in place to maintain a safe work environment in all areas of the facility,” the manager wrote to OSHA. He said Amazon provides face masks to employees and visitors and “requires that everyone wear a face covering over the nose and mouth.”

One of OSHA’s investigations into the warehouse remains open. 

Amazon’s statement to the Capital Chronicle said it offers paid time off to employees to recover from Covid or care for a family member. 

Salem Health said it requires any employees who test positive or who have symptoms to quarantine.

“Salem Health hospitals and clinics have been a safe place for patients to seek care throughout the pandemic,” its statement said.

 

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.

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