More than 50 seasonal contract strawberry harvest workers for Planasa in MacDoel tested positive for COVID-19 before they started work in the last two weeks, according to company officials.
54 of the 452 individuals the company tested as a precaution before harvest began near MacDoel were confirmed COVID-19 positive.
The case numbers were first attributed to Siskiyou County, but because the workers lived and quarantined in Klamath Falls during the past two weeks, the case numbers released on Thursday are listed among Klamath County’s caseload.
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 facility remains operational in MacDoel. 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,” he 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.
“At the end of the day, what we want is to protect our employees, to make sure there is no ... outbreak in our operation and protect the community as wll” said Oscar Garcia, human resources manager for Planasa.
Garcia said the 54 individuals who quarantined were provided food and gift cards for clothing.
“We really have been working on getting them resources,” Garcia said. “We understand that they came to work, they came to earn their wages, and unfortunately they were put on quarantine.”
Garcia said it has been helpful working with officials from Klamath Health Partnership and Klamath County Public Health throughout the process.
“We were able to definitely manage the cases that we have because of the guidance from the county,” Garcia said.
Amanda Blodgett, chief operating officer of Klamath Health Partnership, said the partnership with Planasa was critical to containing this outbreak.
“As a federally qualified health center, we receive special grant funding to be able to provide this testing for migrant seasonal farm workers,” Blodgett said. “So we were able to go out and provide this for Planasa at no charge to the organization, at no charge to any of the migrant workers.”
She also explained how the number of cases is now being attributed to Klamath County.
“Typically how cases are reported is based on county of residence,” Blodgett said. “The vast majority of the folks that we tested are not from Klamath County, however, the Oregon Health Authority deemed it an outbreak so that’s what changed the reporting.”
Klamath County Public Health said that seasonal workers tested positive with little to no symptoms and are currently in their 14-day quarantine period.
The 54 new positive cases are being assigned to last week’s total case numbers due to the cases being announced last week. This week’s total remains 10.