California Poultry Plant Shuts Down Due to 'Uncontrolled' Coronavirus Outbreak

A Foster Farms poultry plant in Livingston, California, has been ordered closed following an "uncontrolled" outbreak of cases among employees, including eight deaths, the Merced County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) confirmed in a statement Thursday. The news came as cases in the state surpass 693,200.

"In view of increasing deaths and uncontrolled COVID-19 cases, the decision was made to order the Livingston Plant within the Foster Farms Livingston Complex closed until acceptable safety measures are in place," Dr. Salvador Sandoval, Merced County's public health officer, said in the statement.

"Our charge is to protect the public's health, even in the face of difficult decisions. The closure of this plant is the only way to get the outbreak at Foster Farms swiftly under control," Sandoval added.

The plant has seen 358 of its employees test positive at the facility in what is the "most severe and long-lasting outbreak in Merced County," MCDPH confirmed.

The department warned: "The true spread of COVID-19 in the Foster Farms Livingston Facility remains unknown," noting that case tallies were largely based on employees' voluntarily testing and reporting to Foster Farms.

The decision to shut down the facility was made after the State Attorney General's Office, California Department of Public Health and MCDPH worked with Foster Farms to limit the impact of the closure and could not reach agreement, the statement confirmed.

The MCDPH previously made recommendations to control the outbreak following several visits to the facility since June. During the visits on August 5 and 11, the Foster Farms facility was given specific directives on testing requirements and other safety measures to control the spread of infection.

"Since the August 5 directive was issued, the spread of COVID-19 within the facility has not been contained and active outbreaks continue to exist, posing a significant threat to Foster Farms employees and the surrounding community.

"Due to the number of deaths and a need to quickly test both permanent and temporary employees at the Foster Farms Livingston Facility, the Merced County Health Officer has ordered the Foster Farms Poultry Processing Plant to close until the plant is able to reopen safely, as approved by the Health Officer," the department said.

Foster Farms has been given 48 hours to close down its Livingston facility.

Average daily new cases in California have been mostly increasing since late March, before slightly flattening out from early July. The three-day moving average of daily new cases has been on a slight downward trend in the recent two-week period from August 13 to 26, according to the latest report Friday from Johns Hopkins University.

Foster Farms turkey California 2015
Turkeys from Foster Farms displayed at the Redwood Empire Food Bank on November 15, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Getty Images

The coronavirus has infected over 24.5 million people across the globe since it was first reported in Wuhan, China, including over 5.8 million in the U.S. More than 832,700 people have died following infection, while over 16 million have reportedly recovered, as of Friday.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

COVID-19 cases in U.S.