White Salmon — COVID-19 cases are rising in Klickitat County, evidence which Mount Adams Fruit’s management team is pointing to as a factor in the outbreak at the Bingen facility, which was announced Dec. 11.
Doug Gibson, vice president of Mount Adams Fruit, told Columbia Gorge News that the company began testing Dec. 10 after the team had expressed concern regarding the spread of the virus county-wide.
Upon recommendation and oversight by the Klickitat County Health Department, they tested around 200 employees, “Just about everybody,” Gibson said. According to Erinn Quinn, Director of Klickitat County Public Health, nearly all of the employees were asymptomatic. The tests resulted in over 30 positives, Quinn said, although she could not give an accurate count since some employees live outside the county.
At the moment, no one from the facility is experiencing serious symptoms from the virus, said Troy Frostad, head of human resources and operations for Mount Adams Fruit. The team continues to check in with quarantined employees, as does the county health department, to monitor symptoms.
Once an employee exits the quarantine phase, on-site medical staff will work with employees to ensure they can safely return to work, Frostad said.
In the meantime, employees who must quarantine are covered for two weeks of pay, and the company’s healthcare plans cover 100 percent of testing costs and provide for medical treatment. The team is in discussions to resolve a situation in which an employee needs to more time to recover.
Since the start of the pandemic, the team has organized a “COVID-19 committee,” which collaborates between leadership and the county health department to determine the best course of action to keep a safe and sanitary environment, Frostad said. Since the spring, the team has implemented social distancing and plexiglass barriers at pear packing stations and in the lunch room. In most cases, supervisors enforce double-masking, or doubling up on face shields and face masks. The team has also hired two additional cleaning staff on top of their nightly janitorial services to ensure sanitation on all common touch surfaces during production.
The facility also has test kits on hand for employees, and management is training employees to request a test kit when they feel like they need one.
“We are doing everything we can, other than an even greater emphasis on social distancing,” said Gibson in response to a question posing if the team is doing anything different now that there is an outbreak.
The Saturday after the outbreak was announced, the team hired a local industrial cleaner to disinfect the facility.
Said Frostad on the cases: “Our positives that we had really mirrors what the general county has experienced,” noting cases coincide with the incubation period from the Thanksgiving weekend. “Up until that, we haven’t had very many positives.”
“We’re continuously vigilant; all of our supervisors have been trained on how to make sure social distancing happens,” Frostad said.
Gibson said the outbreak has severely limited production for the plant. “We are able to keep commitments in business thus far, we all continue to do our best really,” Gibson said, noting the health of their employees is the first priority.
If you are currently experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, please contact your primary care provider about getting tested.