119 COVID-19 Cases at UNFI Closes Centralia Facility

Temporary Closure: Distribution Center Serves 825 Regional Grocery Stores, Plus Military Operation

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With 119 COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks, Centralia’s United Natural Food Inc. (UNFI) distribution center announced its temporary closure Sunday.  

The facility serves 825 grocery stores in the region, plus a large military operation. Working with the state Department of Health and local public health officials, UNFI expects to reopen Aug. 7. 

“We certainly would prefer to have been here today to talk to you about we being one of the largest employers in the county, the economic impact that we deliver, hiring more associates to support growth,” spokesperson Jeff Swanson told county commissioners Monday. “But unfortunately … we’re dealing with an increase in positive COVID cases amongst associates and third party contractors who work in the facility.” 

According to Lewis County Public Health Director JP Anderson, 56 of those 119 cases were identified through plant-wide testing that began Friday. Not all of those cases are from residents of Lewis County. 

As of Monday afternoon, one individual connected to the outbreak — a Texas resident — has used Centralia’s Lakeview Inn facility to isolate and recover from the illness.

The county’s current case rate is 150.8 per 100,000 — slightly above the state’s 137.6 — and is on the rise in what health officials have described as a fifth wave. 

The closure also marks the first time UNFI has closed any of its 58 distribution centers across the country due to the pandemic, according to Swanson. 

The company is working with Lewis County Public Health and Social Services to address the recent infections, and said in a news release that it will require employees to show two negative COVID-19 tests before returning to work. 

UNFI will “continue to promote the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine to its associate base,” and follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“UNFI’s actions in Centralia reflect the company’s ongoing commitment to maintaining robust safety and risk management practices to combat COVID-19,” the release stated. “The company’s efforts have been nationally recognized and are helping keep the food supply chain flowing throughout the pandemic.”

According to UNFI’s release, employees will be compensated through the closure. The company also said it will “continue to meet the essential needs of certain Centralia distribution center customers, including military commissaries” and will be communicating with local government officials and other partners. 

At the Monday meeting, county commissioners thanked Swanson for UNFI’s work, as well as the company’s creation of jobs in the county. 

UNFI’s senior vice president of risk and safety, Andre LaMere, also took the opportunity to urge county leaders to promote the COVID-19 vaccine, uptake of which has stalled in Lewis County. 

“Because we all know that’s the solution. That’s the way out of the pandemic,” he said. 

Comments

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Joy99123

Closed??? No your not, you had people in there working today! What makes you better than any other business around here? It;s not all about money, it's about the safety of your workers and people in Lewis County and Thurston or any other county around us. JP Anderson should have stood right there until you locked your doors, end of story. Many places in this area paid huge fines if they were open, what about you??? Lock the doors JP! They aren't getting it!!!

Monday, August 2
Miss Emelie

A young man whom I know (or knew) hit his head while working there and they told him to go home (not the hospital), and the same afternoon he was found unconscious in his backyard, then was taken by ambulance to the E.R. and last I heard was not expected to live through the night. Why did they send him HOME rather then the hospital?! To them it's all about money. I don't know if this kid, Elliott, made it or not, BTW....

Tuesday, August 3
T

This warehouse is not closed! NOT only have they stayed open. I know multiple people in the management. What they have been told is that the “CDC” is at the facility. They tested everyone. THOSE WHO WERE NEGATIVE WERE SENT HOME. ANYONE WHO WAS POSITIVE IS FORCED TO STAY AT THE FACILITY AND “QUARANTINE”. They are FORCING THEM TO STAY ANS WORK. SENDING OUT FOOD PRODUCTS WHILE HAVING COVID?!?! This is SO wrong! They’re killing themselves. They should be at home or hospital quarantined. Something needs to be done. They plan to do this to their workers at the Ridgefield facility this Monday, August 9, 2021 and none of their workers know it’s going to happen.

Friday, August 6
ALH

Yes, it is wrong about positive test results staying and working. As someone who actually works there, anyone with a positive test result must stay home until they have two negative test result. I did work as part of the skeleton crew this last week. Fewer than 50 people in the building at a time is a bit eerie.

Friday, August 6
MikePaynter

How are cases defined? Symptomatic, or get a positive PRC test which cannot distinguish between a cold, flu or Covid?

I wish news reported would be more specific.

Friday, August 6
MikePaynter is a troll

According to Lewis County Public Health Director JP Anderson, 56 of those 119 cases were identified through plant-wide testing that began Friday.

Saturday, August 7
DuddlyDoRightTWO

Joy99123 was hyper concerned that this warehouse had not closed while other businesses were closed and had fines imposed upon them.

A food warehouse is an essential business -- if the food doesn't get shipped out of the warehouse, it doesn't get on to trucks which then take it to grocery stores, which then place the food on the shelves for the customers to purchase. No food on the shelves and most modern society people will go hungry.

Washington state also deemed 'essential business' status on marijuana operations.

As I read the article it stated that 56 of the staff tested positive for COVID -19. It is common knowledge that the PRC test is unreliable for identifying COVID-19 infections nor was it designed for this purpose. There was mention on whether any of those tested had also taken the COVID-19 vaccinations are they part of the 'break through' group of people? It is interesting that these allegedly infected persons had to be tested to be identified as allegedly having COVID-19 infection. This would suggest mild or no-symptom infections.

There is a 99.9% recovery rate for those who contract the COVID-19 virus.

Thursday, August 12