The outbreak was first reported after four Duckwall Fruit employees tested positive last week for COVID-19. Those four employees, two of whom are Wasco County residents and two of whom are Hood River County residents, last worked Thursday, May 21, and the positive test results came back May 25-28, said the press release.
As of press time Monday afternoon, an additional four cases had been confirmed in Hood River County, one additional case had been identified in Wasco County; Hood River County has stated that the outbreak may have spread to Klickitat County.
“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," said Dr. Christopher Van Tilburg, Hood River County health officer, in a written statement released Monday.
The Hood River County Health Department has launched an investigation with the North Central Public Health District, which covers Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties, to conduct extensive contact tracing. The source of the outbreak has yet to be determined.
Said NCPHD Director Teri Thalhofer, “COVID does not respect county lines. We appreciate our partners coming together when an outbreak has multi-jurisdictional impact."
According to data released May 31 (most recent update as of publication), Hood River County has identified a total of 18 positive cases of COVID-19, 12 of which have recovered, out of 1,038 people tested. Wasco County has identified a total of 24 positive cases, of which 15 recovered, out of 1,178 people tested.
“The numbers of positive cases are likely to increase in the coming days as our investigation continues,” said HRCHD Director Patricia Elliott in a written statement released Monday afternoon.
The Hood River County Health Department coordinated with One Community Health, Columbia Gorge Family Medicine and Mid-Columbia Medical Center to ensure that all 331 Duckwall employees and other close contacts are tested, an effort that began last week and will continue through the middle of this week. “Without our community partners, we would not be able to have such a rapid response to the threat of COVID-19 in our region,”said Elliot.
Duckwall shut down their facility on May 28 for a third-party deep cleaning and sanitation and will remain closed until testing is complete. “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 released Friday, May 29.
Duckwall has been following recommended increased sanitation and social distancing protocols since Feb. 26, and additional measures 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.”
There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread via food or food packaging, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Hood River County Health 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 www.getreadygorge.com webpage as a resource for info on work safety, personal protective equipment, worker housing and food resources.
Residents of Hood River and Wasco counties are reminded to continue following coronavirus-safety guidelines.
"The most important thing I can say has very little to do with the details of our week’s cases and more to do with the fact that we still have coronavirus in our community," said Van Tilburg in a video-update posted to Facebook Saturday evening, "And it may be transmitted through a workplace, it may be transmitted through a congregate setting, it may be transmitted through a backyard barbecue with friends and family — so please be careful. Please use all those techniques of keeping yourself and your friends and family safe that we’ve been talking about for the last couple of months."
Both Hood River and Wasco counties have been in the Phase 1 stage of reopening since May 15. The identification of new cases does not impact either county’s Phase 1 approval under Gov. Kate Brown’s guidelines; Brown's office has yet to formally release guidelines for Phase 2 beyond stating 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.
When asked by a reporter on Friday whether or not, based on what's known about Phase 2 requirements, the this outbreak would impact Hood River County's ability to apply for Phase 2, Hood River County Environmental Health Response Coordinator Ian Stormquist said, "Not necessarily. The idea is we expect there will be continuing infections ...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 the next stage of reopening.