New COVID cases confirmed in HR and Wasco counties

New COVID cases confirmed in HR and Wasco counties

Four employees of Duckwall Fruit, a fruit packing house near Odell, tested positive this week for COVID-19.

All are currently quarantined in their homes and have not been hospitalized, said a Duckwall press release. Two are Hood River County residents and two are Wasco County residents. A member of a Wasco County resident’s household has also been  identified as a presumptive positive case.

“We are devastated to hear this news and we have been in contact with these employees, offering help with any personal or medical needs to make sure they and their families are taken care of,” said Duckwall President Ed Weathers in a written statement.

The four employees last worked Thursday, May 21, and the positive test results came back May 25-28, said the press release.

Duckwall shut down their facility on May 28 for a third-party deep cleaning and sanitation, and all 331 employees are being tested for COVID-19.

Duckwall has been following recommended increased sanitation and social distancing protocols since Feb. 26, which include frequent sanitation of high-contact areas, increased sanitation protocol, having employees work from home whenever possible, and additional barriers placed between packers and sorters.

Additional measures, including taking temperatures at shift entries and requiring mandatory face coverings, were added after Duckwall was alerted of the four positive cases.

“Duckwall Fruit’s mission never waivers,” said Weathers, “We continue to take the health and safety of our employees very seriously. We are working closely with authorities and implementing their recommendations.”

An additional 20 Duckwall employees have been deemed close contacts to the four positive cases and they are being contacted by either the Hood River County Health Department or the North Central Public Health District, which serves Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties.

“Hood River County Health Department and North Central Public Health District have investigators that are currently working with all the close contacts of these individuals in Hood River and Wasco counties,” said a press release from the Hood River County Health Department.

The North Central Public Health District declined to make additional comment.

These new cases bring Hood River County’s total of identified COVID-19 cases up to 14, and Wasco County’s up to 23.

Both counties have been in the Phase 1 stage of reopening since May 15, and the identification of new cases does not impact either county’s Phase 1 approval under Gov. Kate Brown’s guidelines.

Criteria for Phase 2 reopening has yet to be released, although Gov. Brown has stated that counties may begin to apply 21 days after being approved for Phase 1, and that counties must still be meeting the Phase 1 prerequisites surrounding testing, PPE supplies and hospital capacity when they apply.

“The idea is we expect there will be continuing infections,” said Hood River County Environmental Health Response Coordinator Ian Stormquist. “They’re looking for a surge in cases relevant to what’s going on.” Stormquist added that, before applying for Phase 2, Hood River County would look carefully at its own progress and the risk associated with moving to the next stage of reopening.

“Hood River County Health Department is very concerned for the vulnerable populations in our community, especially as local businesses begin to reopen, and increasing numbers of visitors are drawn to the area due to summer-like weather,” said the press release.

With much of the Gorge’s agriculturalists in the midst of harvest — and facing the unique challenges that come with it under COVID-19 conditions — the Hood River County Health Department reminds agricultural workers and their employers to utilize the webpage as a resource for info on work safety, personal protective equipment, worker housing and food resources.

The health department also issued a reminder on the importance of reducing pandemic-related stigma and discrimination.

“It is important to remember that there is no group of people who are more or less likely to pass or be infected by coronavirus,” said the press release. “…Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards other people. Stigma affects the emotional or mental health of stigmatized groups and the communities they live in. Stopping stigma is important to making communities and community members resilient. Everyone can help stop stigma related to COVID-19 by knowing the facts and sharing them with others in your community. Don’t believe everything you see or read on social media!”

People are reminded to continue following Gov. Brown’s social distancing guidelines, specifically: Stay home if they are sick; stay six feet away from people who are not household members; wash your hands and avoid touching your face; practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces at home and at work; and wear a cloth face-cover to help protect yourself and others at places where social distancing is difficult.

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