ONEIDA, N.Y. – Madison County officials held a press conference Tuesday to provide details on a coronavirus outbreak reported at an Oneida greenhouse.
On Monday, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said more than 120 people at Green Empire Farms recently tested positive for coronavirus, and 52 of them were county residents. Picente said many of those affected were seasonal workers, some of whom Madison County officials say are migrant workers.
Picente also said Monday that some of the greenhouse workers may live on-site in shared areas. However, Madison County officials say the employees have been staying in hotels, and take buses to and from work.
Madison County Chairman John Becker also clarified a statement made yesterday, claiming that viruses thrive in greenhouses, and may affect the food that is grown there.
"The greenhouse environment, a statement was made that it was ripe for bacteria and viruses, and that statement is non-factual. And the food supply coming out of the greenhouse is potentially unsafe, that also is unfactual. That was irresponsible to say and we would like to just correct that off the bat," said Becker.
Positive coronavirus cases in Madison County more than doubled over the weekend, with 121 active positive cases reported on Monday, up from just 51 reported Friday, May 1.
“We understand that this drastic uptick in numbers can be concerning for our residents. Please know we are doing everything we can to protect our residents, but we need your help and cooperation,” said Madison County Public Health Director Eric Faisst.
Becker says the spike is also due to an increase in testing, and the numbers may continue to rise.
"We are going to see another big spike in numbers because Madison County has been proactive -- proactive -- in testing. Because we've tested -- a lot of these people were asymptomatic -- they were tested and that why we're seeing a spike."
Officials said the majority of the new cases are from The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing facility in Chittenango, as well as Green Empire Farms.
Mastronardi Produce, the company that owns Green Empire Farms, announced new safety guidelines on Tuesday, calling it their Sunset SHIELD program.
The company advised employees to:
- Maintain six feet of distance.
- Stay home if they’re sick.
- Always use personal protective equipment.
- Use technology to communicate inside and outside of the office.
- Read and follow all signs and guides.
- Wash hands and sanitize often.
“Madison County is working with the greenhouse to make sure they’re taking the necessary steps to protect their workers,” said Faisst. "And I can tell you they've been very receptive in working with us."
Green Empire Farms is located at 1856 W Elm St. in Oneida, and grows produce sold under the Sunset brand.
Watch the full conference below: