A fruit packing facility in Hood River’s Mid-Valley has become the center for a cluster of COVID-19 cases. Whenever more than two cases are linked to a particular location, it is called an ‘outbreak’. As of Friday, May 29, 2020, the criteria for an outbreak were met at Duckwall Fruit. We have not identified the source of this outbreak. Everyone should continue to follow guidance for proper social distancing and mask use both at work and during personal time outside of work. The number of cases both positive and presumptive continues to change, please see our website for the latest confirmed count. With complete transparency and cooperation from Duckwall Fruit, testing of employees, and other close contacts, is occurring with the coordination of community partners. One Community Health, Columbia Gorge Family Medicine and Mid-Columbia Medical Center have stepped forward to ensure that all employees at Duckwall Fruit receive timely testing before the facility begins operation again. The Hood River County Health Department (HRCHD) is very grateful to have such outstanding community participation. “Without our community partners, we would not be able to have such a rapid response to the threat of COVID19 in our region.” said Patricia Elliott, Director of HRCHD. “The numbers of positive cases are likely to increase in the coming days as our investigation continues.”
Connie Serra, MD Lead Physician said; “At One Community Health (OCH) we are focusing our COVID-19 efforts on supporting vulnerable populations, including agricultural workers, who we have been serving since we were founded over 33 years ago. We are offering workers access to free COVID-19 education, free testing, and healthcare at our weekly farm worker health clinics. For orchardists and packing houses, we have created a series of services to support them this season, including free worker COVID-19 prevention and safety education provided by our bicultural/bilingual community health workers. We are also closely partnering with our local health departments to locate the virus, test and contain the virus from spreading. The contact tracing efforts of our health departments are essential, particularly as our state is becoming more active and stay at home restrictions are eased. We understand this is a confusing and challenging time, but we are grateful for our community’s collective response in supporting our local farms, packing houses, and essential workers to have a safe and successful harvest. We appreciate the risks and sacrifices they are taking to put local produce on our tables.”
Not all of the individuals who tested positive and are connected to this outbreak cluster live in Hood River County. Several individuals live in surrounding Counties, with a potential for positive cases to be seen in neighboring communities of Washington State as well. According to Teri Thalhofer, Director of North Central Public Health District (NCPHD), “COVID does not respect county lines. We appreciate our partners coming together when an outbreak has multijurisdictional impact”.
Duckwall Fruit, HRCHD, NCPHD and the Oregon Department of Agriculture are working collaboratively to mitigate this outbreak. Duckwall Fruit has worked hard to put safeguards into place for their employees even before this outbreak occurred. Ed Weathers, President of Duckwall Fruit stated, “At Duckwall Fruit our first priority has always been the health and safety of our employees, and in the case of communicable disease, also the health and safety of their families. Duckwall Fruit and The Hood River County Health Department continue to work closely with the common goal of protecting our employees and the community. We are especially
grateful to the Hood River County Health Department for their continual assistance in this difficult time and will continue to work closely with their team and follow the guidance they provide.” Duckwall Fruit has a long history, having operated for more than 100 years providing fresh fruit packing in the Hood River Valley. According to the Food and Drug Administration, there is currently no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID19.
“Unfortunately, we will likely see more incidences of virus spread in the coming weeks and months”, Christopher Van Tilburg, Health Officer for HRCHD states. “Although clustered at one workplace, we don’t know where the outbreak started-or where it spread–it may have occurred among employees off work. We need to do what we can to keep our workplaces safe AND stay safe on our time off of work. This will become paramount as we move towards reopening the county and state. Employers can review Governor Kate Brown guidelines for workplace safety https://govstatus.egov.com/or-covid-19. Specifically, institute physical distancing in the work environment, allow employees to work remotely when possible, encourage good hand hygiene and masking when physical distancing is a challenge, or mandatory masking when appropriate. Most importantly, employees should stay home and call their doctor if they are ill or have symptoms.”
Outbreaks are always a challenge, particularly when multiple jurisdictions are tasked with tracking and tracing cases and contacts. “We want to thank our community and regional partners, because without them this would be an impossible task. The time and effort put forth by the employer, the health departments, and our community testers make this undertaking doable. We want to recognize the many social service providers that support our work as well, such as the FISH Food Bank, Bridges to Health, and others, and all those individuals manning the Hood River Emergency Operations Center.” says Patricia Elliott, Director of HRPHD. “Outbreaks are extremely complex and time-consuming, but necessary to ensure the health of all residents and employees of Hood River County. We also want to thank the families and those affected by this outbreak for their cooperation and willingness to assist us in this matter.”
For more information about COVID-19 visit:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html Hood River County Health Department: (541) 386-1115, https://www.co.hood-river.or.us, follow the left menu to Departments, Health Department.
Hood River County Emergency Management, Get Ready Gorge: www.getreadygorge.com/
Governor Kate Brown, workplace safety: https://govstatus.egov.com/or-covid-19
When you can be around others after you had or likely had COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/end-home- isolation.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fprevent- getting-sick%2Fwhen-its-safe.html