The Oregon Health Authority said it will report all past and future outbreaks that involve five or more coronavirus cases in a workplace.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority on Thursday evening said it will begin reporting large COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces.

The head of the OHA, Patrick Allen, directed the agency to report all past and future outbreaks that involve five or more coronavirus cases in a workplace setting, no matter where the outbreak is located. Exceptions will be made when disclosing the information would identify an individual or a reporting source.

The change comes after the state public health agency was heavily criticized for not identifying Townsend Farms as the business connected to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Portland area. The outbreak currently affects 48 out of about 350 people who arrived in the Portland area May 23 and 24 to harvest fruit from Townsend-owned sites in Fairview and Cornelius, OHA said.

According to its website, Townsend Farms grows, harvests, processes and delivers berries to stores across the country and has five receiving stations in the Northwest.

Health officials first publicly announced there was an outbreak in the Portland metro area on Wednesday, when they revealed there were 71 new coronavirus cases, of which 41 were in Multnomah County. However, the OHA refused to identify the business, even after multiple requests for more information by KGW, other media outlets and Oregonians. 

Townsend Farms’ connection to the outbreak was first reported by Willamette Week and The Oregonian, before OHA publicly announced the company’s involvement Thursday afternoon. Moreover, there was a previous outbreak at the Townsend Farms location in Fairview in April that was only reported as part of the state’s daily coronavirus case count.

“The COVID-19 pandemic demands that we all rethink how we accomplish necessary tasks that are vital to our roles,” Allen said in a statement Thursday night. “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. 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.”

OHA said it will publish workplace outbreaks involving five or more cases through future news releases and on its COVID-19 website. 

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