The Source of the Mystery COVID-19 Outbreak in Multnomah County Is Townsend Farms

The sixth-generation fruit growing and processing company is apparently experiencing its second outbreak.

(Thomas Teal)

On Wednesday, state officials announced Multnomah County, the last in Oregon to seek to reopen, was also dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak at a business that neither the county nor the Oregon Health Authority would name.

"OHA and local county health authorities are investigating an increase in COVID-19 cases tied to an outbreak at specific locations of a business that operates in the tri-county region and the Willamette Valley," said a May 27 press release. "At this time, there is no indication that the outbreak at these locations poses any significant risk to surrounding communities."

State officials didn't name the company yesterday—and declined to do so when asked for more information. "More details about the outbreak, including location information, will be made available in coming days," the release said.

WW has learned from multiple, independent sources that the company in question is Townsend Farms, a large fruit growing and processing operation established in 1906 and headquartered in Fairview in east Multnomah County.

Earlier this month, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health fielded complaints about a previous outbreak at Townsend Farms.

"Social distancing and sanitation is not performed or maintained, 30 positive cases of COVID-19 at facility," read a complaint filed with OSHA Oregon on May 12.

"Employees tested positive for COVID-19 last week and are back at work four days after testing positive," the complaint continued. (There have been at least eight OSHA complaints filed against the company this year.)

The OSHA complaints from May 12, however, apparently refer to an earlier outbreak—not the outbreak that state officials reported May 27 in their news release.

Townsend runs a big operation at multiple locations. Owner Mike Townsend told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month that he would be hiring 450 migrant workers for the summer and faced unexpected difficulty and expense because of new regulations prohibiting workers from sleeping in bunk beds to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Mike Townsend did not immediately respond to messages left with his receptionist or on his cellphone.

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