OKANOGAN — Recent testing of one of the largest employers in Okanogan County, Gebbers Farms, revealed a very low rate of COVID-19 amongst its employees.
Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman on Aug. 19 ordered all Gebbers Farms employees to be tested for COVID-19. Results revealed that 0.7%, or about 22 of Gebbers Farms’ 3,100 employees, were positive for COVID-19, according to an Okanogan County Public Health department news release.
Public Health Director Lauri Jones said she thinks the low rate surprised state officials and that the focus on Gebbers Farms had become a political issue. People have been spreading a lot of misinformation about where people are contracting COVID-19 in Okanogan County, she said.
“We tried to let the state know that we felt this was community spread,” she said. “But I know there were other political things going on, which we’re not political. We’re just doing our jobs.”
In reality, the outbreaks in Okanogan County and positive cases probably come from a combination of people living close together and traveling when they shouldn’t be, she said.
“You may have eight to 10 people who live in a household and you have two people that work at Gebbers, one at McDonald’s, one at at the casino and two at Walmart,” Jones said. “So it’s hard when you don’t have enough housing in one area. It forces people to live together.”
In particular, Gebbers Farms got a lot of attention in July when three of its employees died within a month from COVID-19. Okanogan County had 13 total deaths, though, and 10 of those were not Gebbers Farms employees, Jones said.
Okanogan County is doing much better now than it was in July when there was a spike in positive cases, and schools have started moving to a hybrid-learning model, Jones said. The county has had 14 cases in the past 14 days, a rate of 37.4 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period, according to the health department’s website.
The Chelan-Douglas Health District, by contrast, is reporting about 138 positive cases per a 100,000 person population of a two-week period in the two-county area.
Wiesman’s August order also required Gebbers Farms to:
- Not allow any employees who would not get tested for COVID-19 to work
- Test any new employees for COVID-19
- Immediately quarantine and test any employees who showed any COVID-19 symptoms
- Not pass on any costs from testing to employees