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Coronavirus puts production at Weiser food processing plant on pause

A company official says they had a hard time getting all the workers tested because of limited resources in the small Idaho community.

WEISER, Idaho — Just nine days ago, Fry Foods in the small town of Weiser had one employee who reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

"We made the decision to shut the plant down that day and start our investigation.  With recommendations I was told to create a bubble, start with that person, immediate family, people around them and just start working my way outward," said Douglas Wold, Fry Foods human resources manager.

Wold tracked down about 42 people who contact with the initial person.  He says all 42 people were able to get tested at local clinics and hospitals.

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"Now where are we at with Fry Foods?  How many employees?" asked Kim Fields. 

"Right now we have 20 confirmed cases," Wold said.

Fry Foods shuttered its facility for a week.  Wold and the company wanting to test all of their nearly 300 employees before they could safely reopen. But Wold says not everyone met testing criteria.

"It's been challenging. At first, we did get those first 40, 50 people.  And then we started getting some push back from the local clinics and hospitals that if employees weren't symptomatic, which hardly any of them have been symptomatic, that they were not going to be able to test them, they just didn't have the supplies and that's not what they were recommending at that time. So we, even though we wanted to pay for it, we struggled getting all of our employees in," Wold said.

"So what's the feeling, Douglas, when you're trying to do the right thing, you're trying to test your employees, but it sounds like there was some roadblocks?" asked Kim Fields.

"It was the actual hospitals and clinics, their administrators who were just following the primary directive, which was - if they're not symptomatic, send them home, they don't get tested," Wold said. "We should have been able to obtain testing, especially when we were willing to pay for everybody."

RELATED: Crush the Curve Idaho announces first wave of coronavirus antibody test results

Crush the Curve, a nonprofit testing group founded by local businesses and health leaders, began testing all employees late last week.  And with test results back within 48 hours, Fry Foods was able to partially and safely reopen Monday.

"What can we learn from what's happened there?" asked Kim Fields. 

"That we need to communicate better with one another.  We need to make this testing available to businesses so we can get ahead of this problem and not be chasing behind it.  If the sooner we can get that testing in place and know the results to be able to track and trace it properly, the sooner businesses can get back to work, the sooner workers can get back to work and it's really going to alleviate all sorts of pressure on the unemployment departments, and the states, our entire country," Wold said.

The CDC recently updated its recommendations to include testing asymptomatic patients as a priority.

But Southwest District Health, which oversees Washington County, does not recommend screening asymptomatic people.

RELATED: Health officials say coronavirus outbreak in Weiser is linked to a family gathering

RELATED: Employees at Tyson plant near Tri-Cities return to work after COVID-19 testing

RELATED: Idaho coronavirus updates: May 13-15

RELATED: Weiser Memorial Hospital looks to make improvements with $6.5 million bond initiative

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