A group of Jamaican farm workers are behind Vermont’s current COVID-19 outbreak at an apple orchard, according to state officials.
Champlain Orchards in Addison County had 27 workers test positive over the weekend, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said on Tuesday. The commissioner had previously announced 26 cases, with one more test result being reported after the initial announcement.
They were housed together on a farm for a 14-day quarantine. They worked outside during that time, but didn’t associate with other workers, as permitted under Department of Health guidelines. The newspaper said one of those workers came down with symptoms last week, and tested positive for COVID on Oct. 3.
The orchard closed its doors to visitors on Saturday, and a Department of Health testing site that same day revealed that 25 others had tested positive. One was hospitalized at Porter Hospital in Middlebury. A 27th worker, from a different crew, who had transported some of the infected workers, also tested positive.
The workers are now staying in five separate houses as part of isolation protocols. Champlain Orchards said that affected workers would receive proper medical care without having to worry about finances.
In a message to its consumers and community, Champlain Orchards said no US staff member had tested positive for COVID-19 and that based on health recommendations, they quickly moved to prevent anyone who might have been contagious from coming into contact with other workers.
The outbreak is the highest number of reported cases in the state since early June. The cases linked to the orchard made up the majority of the 33 new confirmed cases the state reported on Monday for a total of 1,817 total cases since the pandemic began.
The outbreak is a twist of irony, considering that many Jamaicans were initially hesitant to go to the United States to work due to fears of being infected with the coronavirus by American citizens.
Many Jamaican farm workers had also signed a Ministry of Labour-issued document indemnifying the Jamaican Government against responsibility if they contracted COVID-19 while away.