A State Moves to Publicly Disclose Information on Workplace Coronavirus Outbreaks

A jar of hand sanitizer is shown taped to the door handle of a coffee shop in downtown Portland, Ore., Monday, March 16, 2020.

A jar of hand sanitizer is shown taped to the door handle of a coffee shop in downtown Portland, Ore., Monday, March 16, 2020. AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus

 

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The decision by Oregon officials comes after scrutiny over outbreaks at a fruit company there.

A state health agency in Oregon will begin providing information to the public about workplace coronavirus outbreaks that involve five or more cases, officials said on Thursday night.

The move comes after a pair of outbreaks at a fruit company in the state left dozens of people infected. Gov. Kate Brown’s office was then peppered with questions by a local news outlet about why the state wasn’t more proactive in disclosing details about the spread of the highly contagious virus at workplaces.

“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,” Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

Oregon isn’t the only place that is disclosing this type of information. For instance, Los Angeles County posts information online about confirmed coronavirus cases at “non-residential” settings, including businesses and educational institutions.

On the other hand, in Louisiana, the state this month disclosed that about 100 workers had tested positive for Covid-19 at three crawfish farms, but refused to name the businesses. 

Townsend Farms, the fruit company in Oregon, experienced two outbreaks of the virus between late April and late May, both involving about 50 people.

The Health Authority’s announcement that it would report workplace outbreaks came hours after The Oregonian asked Brown’s office about why the state wasn’t doing more to provide this sort of information to the public, the news outlet reported.

In its announcement, the Health Authority emphasized that in most cases where a disease outbreak occurs in a single jurisdiction, the county health department is usually responsible for investigating and reporting on the incident.

The authority also said that it would not be reporting information on workplace outbreaks if the disclosure would identify an individual or a reporting source and more generally highlighted a need to balance public disclosure with privacy concerns.

Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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