Intel contractor tests positive for coronavirus, highlighting social distancing dilemma
Intel said Tuesday, March 24, that a contractor working on its major Hillsboro expansion has tested positive for the coronavirus.
While it's not clear the worker contracted the coronavirus at the job site, the infection highlights a dilemma for Oregon and its economy as the viral outbreak spreads.
Shutting down construction, manufacturing and other vital industries would further undermine the state's teetering economy – but allowing those activities to continue creates a risk that the outbreak will continue if workers spread the virus among one another.
On Monday, March 23, when Gov. Kate Brown ordered Oregonians to "stay home," she specifically exempted construction and manufacturing. She said those industries, and others she didn't single out, may continue operating so long as they can keep workers and customers six feet apart. "I am not interested in taking someone's job or shutting down someone's business if they can practice social distancing at work," Brown said.
Intel's coronavirus infection is at least the second for someone working at a major Oregon manufacturer. Last week, Precision Castparts told The Oregonian/OregonLive that one of its workers is presumed to be positive for coronavirus infection — though that worker hadn't actually been tested at that time.
Large manufacturers in other states have already closed down due to the outbreak. Michigan's major automakers stopped production last week and Boeing announced Monday it is shutting its Washington factories.
Several Intel contractors and Precision Castparts employees have told The Oregonian/OregonLive that they don't feel they can keep the recommended six-foot distance from their colleagues on the job.
Workers' photos from Intel's construction site Tuesday show workers walking to the job in close proximity to one another and an orange pylon with a notice taped to it instructing workers to "Stay 3 Feet Apart."
Some, who asked that they not be identified talking about their employer, say they don't feel safe but can't afford to quit. If they leave of their own accord they would generally not be eligible for unemployment insurance payments.
On Tuesday, the governor's office said Oregon's Occupational Safety and Health division will collect online complaints about workplaces violating coronavirus safety practices.
Intel is Oregon's largest corporate employer, with 20,000 working at its Washington County campuses and well over 1,000 more helping build a multibillion-dollar expansion to its D1X factory at its Ronler Acres campus near Hillsboro Stadium.
Intel kept its factories in China running throughout the worst of the outbreak there and has said its Oregon operations have been "relatively normal" throughout the crisis. The company has had cases of COVID-19 among its employees in Arizona and California but said the case disclosed Tuesday is the first among its Oregon sites.
"The individual was last at work on March 19, and people who may have been in close contact with the individual have been notified," Intel said in a written statement Tuesday. "We notified our Oregon personnel yesterday evening about the case."
Hoffmann Construction, the general contractor on Intel's project, said the worker who tested positive worked on the exterior of the building.
"The individuals he had contact with have been notified and are self-quarantining," Hoffman said in a written statement. The company said its safety practices "meet or exceed" health guidelines and the standards established by the governor's order.
After identifying a likely COVID-19 case last week among employees at its main plant near Portland, Precision Castparts said it deployed a professional sanitation crew to clean the employee's work area and other areas.
"After an investigation, we believe the employee's contact with others was limited to a specific group of people," the company said in a written statement. Precision Castparts said it notified employees of the situation and encourages workers to stay home if they feel sick and follow health advisories on washing hands and avoiding large groups.
Precision Castparts said it "manufacturers aerospace engine and other critical airplane replacement components, which are necessary supplies for airlines to continue to be able to operate airplanes and transport goods and people. We will continue to operate to provide these essential parts to the airline industry while supporting our employees in remaining healthy."
While many Oregon businesses have shut down during the outbreak, and many other employees are telecommuting, tens or hundreds of thousands of people continue to go to work in factories, grocery stores, nursing homes, warehouses and delivery vehicles.
Raymond Azordegan, 55, said he quit his part-time job last week delivering packages in Hubbard and Newberg for an Amazon contractor. "I just felt very vulnerable," Azordegan said. "I had to quit to protect myself. A lot of people are quitting because of the fear."
Oregonian reporters Aimee Green and Brad Schmidt contributed to this report.
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