EAST WENATCHEE — Half of the 71 agricultural workers in a Stemilt Ag Services housing facility near East Wenatchee have tested positive for COVID-19. All 36 were asymptomatic prior to testing and are now isolated in the housing facility.
It’s one of the first wide-scale tests of asymptomatic people in North Central Washington and believed to be the first of agriculture workers.
The company chose to conduct the testing as a proactive step to monitor the health of its employees, spokesman Roger Pepperl said. None have shown serious symptoms.
“Everybody is doing well and they’re isolated and being taken care of,” he said.
Stemilt partnered with Confluence Health to conduct the testing and is now working with the Chelan-Douglas Health District to monitor the workers, Pepperl said.
Individuals in the facility who tested negatively will be re-tested this week while they’re in quarantine, according to a Stemilt press release. The exact location of the facility was not provided.
The workers were part of a field crew that was conducting pre-season work, including pruning, spraying and irrigating crops, Pepperl said.
Stemilt is considering testing other employees, but hasn’t moved forward with specific plans yet, he said.
The company has followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing in its work processes, according to the release.
“What these test results tell us is that asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 are so common that these measures are not sufficient in these settings even when implemented well,” Chelan-Douglas Health District Administrator Barry Kling said in the Stemilt release. “That means we need to think differently. Social distancing measures should be maintained at farmworker sites and housing, but we also need to greatly increase testing of workers so that isolation and quarantine can be used when needed, and uninfected workers can continue to work.”
The health district could not be immediately reached for further comment. There were a total of 28 positive cases in Douglas County and 75 in Chelan County as of Monday evening, not including the Stemilt workers.