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Idaho virus outbreak linked to family gathering

| May 14, 2020 11:51 AM

WEISER, Idaho (AP) — A cluster of COVID-19 cases has been confirmed in Washington County, leading to the voluntary shutdown of a food processing plant, Idaho health officials said Wednesday.

Southwest District Health said some people infected with the coronavirus work at Fry Foods Inc. in Weiser.

Company Human Resources Manager Douglas Arnold Wold said eight workers are infected, and all of them had attended a family gathering of at least 30 people last weekend in Weiser or are related to someone who attended. Wold said some people from Utah also took part.

“It was a family reunion get-together," he said. “So far, every single one who has tested positive is from that party.”

Health officials were working to contact people who have been in close proximity to those who became infected.

"It is still so important to keep taking precautions to protect yourselves and those around you," Nikole Zogg, director of Southwest District Health, said in a statement. “Please avoid social gatherings with those not in your immediate household."

Wold said 260 people work at the plant that closed on Sunday and won't reopen until the owners believe it is safe. It's not clear if the workers will be paid while the plant is closed.

Wold said the plant had safety measures in place for weeks, such as curtains separating workers, and it doesn't appear that the virus spread at the plant, though that has yet to be confirmed.

The plant produces mainly onion rings that are distributed to grocery stores and restaurants. Wold said production has been taken over by the company's plant in Ontario, Oregon, and there will be no shortage of onion rings.

Idaho is in the first stage of a four-stage plan to reopen by the end of June if there isn't a rise in infections that could halt the process.

In the first stage, gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed.

Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little has scheduled a news conference Thursday and is expected to announce whether the state will advance to the second stage of reopening and additional lifting of restrictions.

Idaho has 2,293 confirmed cases and 69 deaths due to the virus, according to a tally Wednesday by Johns Hopkins University.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. But it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death for some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.