Health officials say they are monitoring the rising number of COVID-19 cases among workers at nine food processing facilities in Vernon with coronavirus outbreaks, including the Farmer John slaughterhouse and meat packing plant.
Authorities have identified 153 COVID-19 cases among the 1,837 employees at Farmer John, which represent the largest coronavirus outbreak in a nonresidential setting in Los Angeles County. Of those 153 who tested positive, 41 have already returned to work, health authorities said.
Eight other facilities in the small industrial city directly south of Boyle Heights have reported between five and 24 cases of employees testing positive. They are:
- CLW Foods (meat processing)
- Vie De France Yamazaki (baked goods)
- California Farms Meat
- Takaokaya USA (green tea)
- F. Gaviña & Sons (coffee)
- Golden West Trading (meat)
- Overhill Farms (frozen foods)
- Rose & Shore (deli meat and prepared foods)
With a land area of about 5 square miles and a population of about 100 people –mostly city employees– Vernon is principally an industrial city with meat packing as its principal industry. It’s plants attract and hire workers from neighboring communities with large Latino, low-income communities, like Huntington Park, Maywood, City of Commerce, East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. Many of Vernon’s workers travel to the city by public transportation, principally MTA buses.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, health officials said they were concerned about workers at Farmer John and the other facilities contracting coronavirus and spreading it in their communities. The numbers of reported COVID-19 cases in Boyle Heights and East LA have spiked in the last week, but it was unclear if that was related to the outbreaks in Vernon.
As of Tuesday, authorities had only identified 2 COVID-19 cases among Vernon residents.
“L.A. County public health experts are working closely with Vernon’s Health and Environmental Control Department to ensure all preventive measures are taken to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said Sunday. “Our public health experts are making sure employees with the virus, and their families, remain quarantined to minimize exposure to others.”
County Health officials said they did not know if the rise in cases in Vernon is due to additional testing or to spread amongst workers, but said they are working closely with city officials, who report cases directly to the LA County Department of Public Health.
“We have assigned an infectious disease doctor to work closely with the Vernon health director on response and mitigation plans, and we are engaging in comprehensive contact tracing protocols to ensure that close contacts are identified and isolation and quarantine orders are issued, to keep employees and their families safe,” said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health.
On Monday United Food and Commercial Workers, the union that represents some 1,300 Farmer John employees, called for an immediate closure of the plant.
Smithfield Foods, the Virginia-based company that owns the Farmer John Vernon plant, said they have implemented stringent new health protocols to protect against the virus.
“Our Smithfield family members are crucial to our nation’s response to COVID-19. We thank them for keeping food on America’s tables, and have implemented aggressive measures to protect their health and safety during this pandemic,” Smithfield Foods said in a statement.
Known for its brand of bacon, sausage and other meat products – and especially for the Dodger Dogs served at Los Angeles’ ballpark– the Farmer John plant is recognized by locals for the colorful, bucolic mural depicting happy hogs enjoying life in a farm that decorates its outside walls. Thousands of pigs are slaughtered every week at the plant at 3049 E. Vernon Ave.