UPDATE: 74 employees at Monterey Mushroom in Loudon County test positive for COVID-19

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(WATE)

LOUDON COUNTY (WATE) — Monterey Mushrooms, Inc. provided an update to WATE 6 On Your Side regarding a cluster of positive cases of COVID-19 among its employees in Loudon County.

On Thursday, the VP of marketing & product development confirmed that 74 employees had tested positive and more than 500 employees had been tested.

No further details were shared.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Fifty-nine employees at Monterey Mushroom have tested positive for COVID-19.

In a statement, Monterey Mushrooms says the mass testing was recommended after two employees tested positive for COVID-19. On May 16, 300 employees were given rapid tests. On May 17, the results showed that 57 of those employees tested positive, bringing the total number of positive cases at the plant to 59.

Loudon County Mayor, Buddy Bradshaw said that is a “high number” but that they’ve known the entire time that active case numbers weren’t a true reflection of the total numbers in Loudon County.

“I was also told that an overwhelming majority, if not all, were asymptomatic. This is a drastic jump in confirmed cases but it does not change what we should be doing to protect ourselves,” Bradshaw said in a release.

Bradshaw also said you can’t catch the virus from the mushrooms themselves.

“I would probably wash my hands after removing them from the package at most but you definitely won’t catch the virus from consumption,” said Bradshaw.

The company is going above and beyond to reduce or eliminate exposure at the plant and people who have tested positive have been made aware and given instructions.

Read the full statement from Monterey Mushrooms below:

First, I’d like to share that the safety and well-being of our team members, their families, our communities, and customers is of the utmost importance. In response to COVID-19, from the early onset of the pandemic in early March, our company has implemented aggressive actions at our farm.  The list is comprehensive, from direct communication verbally and by letter to all employees (bilingual, in English and Spanish) regarding how to minimize or stop the spread of the virus, to frequent small group meetings to remind them of these precautions. Additionally we have:

  • Implemented staggered breaks and rest periods so that fewer people are on break and/or lunch at the same time.
  • Reduced the number of people working on production crews to help maintain social distancing.
  • Installed plexiglas and other physical barriers that separate the space between packing line employees.
  • Repeatedly communicated social distancing guidelines, by letter, by posted guidelines in both English and Spanish, and in small group meetings. 
  • We have placed laminated signs on cafeteria tables and break rooms, and posters and signs on walls regarding social distancing in both English and Spanish. 
  • Opened additional “break rooms” at the facility to help maximize the ability to practice social distancing.
  • Limited access on the farm to essential personnel, allowing no external non-essential visitors.  
  • We are diligently sending people with visible flu-like symptoms home and have asked employees to quarantine if coming back from vacation or any travel. 
  • We are paying sick time for anyone who is out with symptoms.
  • We have extra personnel to help sanitize our facility to keep our employees safe and well, as we diligently continue our significant, robust daily sanitation protocols.
  • We have mandated that all employees wear a face mask, while working and on the farm. 
  • We are also in the final stages of implementing temperature screening at the farm, combined with daily wellness screening  to help identify team members with any symptoms. 
  • Our management team has been very focused on these practices.

Friday afternoon, following information shared with us by the Tennessee Department of Health of positive COVID-19 test results for two (2) employees, they recommended and we supported testing all employees at this facility.  Their rapid response enabled testing to be done on Saturday for almost 300 of our employees.  The balance of the team (approximately 250 employees) will be tested within the next few days. Results received back early Sunday morning identified an additional 57 employees testing positive for COVID-19.  Those employees have been contacted and been directed  to self-quarantine and seek medical help from their medical provider or local health department.  The following steps have also been implemented:

  • Identifying close/direct contacts and identifying casual contacts.
  • Communicating verbally and in writing of the potential exposure to COVID-19 and asking the direct/close contacts to self-quarantine and seek medical help if they develop symptoms.
  • Communicating with the casual contacts, verbally and in writing, of the case and asking them to report the development of any COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Direct/Close contacts are not allowed to return to work until at least the 15th day from last exposure and ONLY after they are screened for COVID-19 and are not deemed to be a possible carrier.
  • The team members who tested positive are not allowed to return to work until they get clearance from a medical provider or local health department.

We engaged with and fully supported this COVID-19 testing for our employees, in an effort to support the general health and welfare of our team, their families and the greater community. Our primary focus at this time is the health and safety of our team members. Without them we would not be able to provide our customers and their consumers the healthy food we proudly grow and continue to provide as an essential agricultural business.

Bruce Knobeloch
Vice President, Marketing & Product Development
Monterey Mushrooms, Inc.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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