Jamaican Farm Workers Responsible for Outbreak in Vermont

A sign at Douglas Orchards in Shoreham on Saturday informs visitors that it is closed because a worker had tested positive for Covid-19. Douglas is part of Champlain Orchards. Photo by Clare Cuddy/VTDigger.org

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.

According to an administrator at the company who spoke to the Jamaica Gleaner, all 27 positive cases are Jamaicans who had arrived to work at the company last month. The employee also stated that one or more persons from the group brought the virus with them from Jamaica.“They did not catch it here. They came here with it. They were in quarantine when they were tested,” she stated.
In September, the group of 29 workers flew from Jamaica into John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. According to a Vermont newspaper, VTDigger, They took a charter bus to the Shoreham farm.

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.

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