Oct 19, 2020Outbreak totals 59 among harvest workers in Oregon strawberry operation
Nearly 60 incoming seasonal contract strawberry harvest workers for Planasa Oregon Operations LLC on Short Road in Klamath Falls tested positive for COVID-19 before they started work about two weeks ago, according to company officials.
According to a story reported by the Herald and News of Klamath Falls, Oregon, initially, the Herald and News reported that the cases were in MacDoel, according to information initially provided to H&N. While there is a Planasa office in MacDoel, the outbreak is linked to workers who were tested before going to work at the Short Road facility in Klamath Falls.
Klamath County Public Health reported that 54 of the 452 individuals the company tested as a precaution before they started harvest work were confirmed COVID-19 positive. Oregon Health Authority released a press release later that detailed there were five additional cases reported, for a total of 59 cases, that could include other household members aside from harvest workers.
According to the Herald and News, the outbreak investigation started on Oct. 1, but the initial case count was below the threshold for public disclosure, according to an Oregon Health Authority news release. Fifty-two of the total 59 cases will be added to the totals for the week ending on Oct. 3. The delay in reporting resulted from initial uncertainty about the location of the worksite where many of the employees were employed, according to OHA.
The harvest workers lived, worked, and quarantined in Klamath County. The outbreak does not involve Siskiyou County, according to Klamath County Public Health.
The Herald and News also reported:
Valeree Lane, of Klamath County Public Health, emphasized to remain respectful of all seasonal workers, who include residents of Klamath County.
“We have people who are not just coming here on a seasonal basis but are actually people that live here full-time that are part of the seasonal workforce,” Lane said.
“It wasn’t necessarily just people from outside our area that came in with (COVID-19).”
All workers were asymptomatic and none were hospitalized, according to Klamath County Public Health. Officials are emphasizing there is no risk of community contagion from the outbreak.
Contract workers for Planasa were immediately placed in protected housing in Klamath Falls after they tested positive, according to Michael Delaney, U.S. Business Director for Planasa.
“Once they were identified as positive they were not allowed to come to work,” Delaney said. “We put them in quarantine and we paid for that quarantine here in Klamath Falls.”
The Planasa facility remains operational in Klamath Falls. Contract workers who tested negative for COVID-19 continue to perform their seasonal work. Temperature checks for workers are enforced at the facility, according to Delaney, and individuals with higher than 100.4 degrees are sent home and tested for COVID-19. CDC guidelines are also enforced, according to Delaney.
“The outbreak did not happen at the workplace,” Delaney said. “The workers that came into the facility from various other states and locations to come and work an agricultural job, it came with them.”
He emphasized that in February, Planasa officials took proactive measures by reaching out to counties where their contract employees work.
“We wanted to have testing done before we started working because, again, these people are coming from multiple states and locations,” Delaney said.
Planasa reached out to Klamath Health Partnership in Klamath Falls in May to coordinate testing for incoming contract workers.