Foster Farms processing plant in California ordered to shut down over COVID-19 outbreak

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The Merced County Health Department ordered the Foster Farms Livingston Facility to shut down over the largest and most severe COVID-19 outbreak in Merced County, according to a statement released on Thursday by the health department.

The shutdown order came Wednesday.

However, late Thursday, Mike North, Merced County’s spokesperson, said county officials issued a 48-hour stay to the shutdown order to “help facilitate logistics associated with any necessary closure.” North said the enforcement stay followed a “phone call” with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s secretary for food safety.

It wasn’t immediately clear how Foster Farms would respond to the shutdown order. A man who answered the phone at the Livingston plant on Thursday afternoon said they had no comment and hung up.

Vehicles, including trucks with Foster Farms’ logos, were seen entering and exiting the Livingston facility after 6 p.m. Thursday, and the facility’s gates were open.

The outbreak at the Livingston Facility accounts for 18% of COVID-19 deaths in the county under age 65, and 4 out of 10 coronavirus deaths in Livingston.

In a statement Thursday, officials described the Foster Farms outbreaks as the “most severe and long lasting” in Merced County.

At least 358 employees have tested positive, and eight employees have died due to the coronavirus, according to a letter obtained from the Merced County Health Department. The true spread, however, remains unknown, according to the statement.

“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,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in the written statement.

The California Department of Public Health also issued a statement to support the county’s action.