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CEO of Vancouver fruit processor says company could have done more to protect employees

The CEO of a Vancouver fruit processor linked to 85 coronavirus cases said Wednesday that his company could have done more to protect employees.

Firestone Pacific Foods CEO Josh Hinerfeld said that the company started implementing new safety policies and educating employees about the novel coronavirus in March, but that it struggled to implement and enforce physical distancing measures on the production line and in a break room at its facility.

“We could have done better,” Hinerfeld said. “Through this process, we learned that we didn’t do enough. I sure hope through our experience, which obviously has been very painful for many, that others will learn from it.”

Firestone Pacific Foods said Wednesday that 70 of its employees and another 15 people identified as close contacts of those employees had tested positive for COVID-19. Those numbers were up from 65 cases on Sunday and just 10 on Friday.

Firestone suspended production and closed its office on May 18 due to the outbreak. Washington state health officials also suspended Clark County’s application to move to Phase 2 of its reopening on Saturday night because of the Firestone outbreak.

An investigator from Clark County’s public health department identified several areas of concern at the Firestone facility following the outbreak, including a lack of physical distancing on the production line and during breaks and the sharing of clock-in and clock-out paperwork.

Hinerfeld said that the company implemented daily health screenings for employees starting on March 20 and required employees to wear masks on April 29. But, he said, some employees were still working in close proximity on the production line and it was difficult to enforce the mask rule when employees went on break and ensure physical distancing in a small break room. The company set up a canopy outside in May to give workers another place to go during breaks.

“I say with great humility, we thought we had a good plan in place here to keep people safe,” Hinerfeld said.

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