Thu | Nov 26, 2020

All 27 COVID-positive farm workers are J’cans

Published:Thursday | October 8, 2020 | 12:14 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
A Jamaican farm worker picks apples in a United States orchard.
A Jamaican farm worker picks apples in a United States orchard.

The 27 migrant farmer workers who reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus at an apple farm in Vermont in the United States last weekend are all Jamaicans, Champlain Orchards confirmed yesterday.

In a telephone interview with The Gleaner, a spokesperson said that the Jamaicans took the virus there.

“They are all Jamaicans,” a sales administrator at the company, who gave her name as Becky, told The Gleaner. “They did not catch it here. They came here with it. They were in quarantine when they were tested.”

On Monday, state officials said that 27 positive cases contributed to the biggest one-day increase in cases since June 3 in a state that has consistently had one of the nation’s lowest infection rates.

Health officials also supported the claim that the apple pickers took the virus to the farm when they arrived on September 14 and were placed in a 14-day quarantine.

A message posted on the farm’s website yesterday said: “The orchard is closed until further notice.”

The Gleaner has gathered that at least one of the Jamaicans has been hospitalised.

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.

Health Commissioner Dr Mark Levine said the cases were unearthed after the health department offered testing to all the workers over the weekend, leading to the latest results, and contact tracing has been under way.

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 total number of deaths from COVID-19 in Vermont has remained at 58 for over two months.

Efforts to speak with Colette Roberts-Risden, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, which oversees the farm work programme, proved futile.

Earlier this year, there were reports of Jamaicans who visited Canada on the programme testing positive for the virus.

Many Jamaican farm workers reportedly signed a Ministry of Labour-issued document indemnifying the Jamaican Government against responsibility if they contracted COVID-19 while away.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com