Coronavirus: Over 100 Dole Springfield employees test positive, cases ‘still going up’

Over 100 employees of the Dole Fresh Vegetables plant in Springfield have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Clark County Combined Health District.

On Saturday, the district tested 829 employees at an isolated area outside of the plant in an attempt to slow the spread of the workplace outbreak — which began after the first case of the virus was confirmed in an employee on April 22.

Emma Smales, spokesperson for the CCCHD, said the district is still waiting on some results from that mass testing, but as of Tuesday afternoon the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in employees was, “over 100” and, “still going up.”

“It’s hard to give a hard number at this point,” Smales said.

In mid-May, as cases connected to the plant climbed over 20, CCCHD Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said there was nothing to suggest the virus was spread at the plant. Instead, he said it was likely that the virus was transferred among employees and employee contacts outside of the plant — as many of the positive cases socialized outside of work, rode together to and from work and some lived together.

READ MORE: Clark County health officials say cases at Dole came from outside work

It’s hard to say if that’s still the case, Smales said.

“There are just so many cases right now that we are just starting to investigate,” Smales said. “A lot has to go into investigating each case and which shift the person worked and who they were standing next to, with this many cases it’s just not practical to say whether or not we know that right now.”

All positive employees are quarantining, according to CCCHD.

The Dole plant will remain open, William Goldfield, the director of corporate communications for Dole, said in a statement.

Additional safety protocols have been implemented at the plant since the outbreak began in late April, according to Goldfield.

“These additional measures included increasing the distancing and separation of workers in our facility, employing wellness questionnaires and administering temperature checks prior to employee entrance into the facility,” the statement said.

The statement went on to say that the plant has been, “very proactive and continues to work closely and collaboratively with the CCCHD.”

“Of course as an essential business, we are striving to get salads to people around the country, but are focused on providing a safe and healthy workplace for our employees and their respective families,” the statement said. “The safety of our employees, contractors, families, communities and products remains Dole’s top priority.”

No one has tested positive for the coronavirus because of consuming Dole’s salad, Smales said, as the coronavirus is not a foodborne illness.

A foodborne illness is an infection or irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, while the coronavirus is a respiratory illness that predominantly attacks the lungs, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine’s website.

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Results from the testing event are expected to continue to trickle in throughout the week and are expected to continue to go up, Smales said. Prior to last weekend’s testing, the district had confirmed 38 cases of the coronavirus related to the plant, according to CCCHD data. All confirmed cases were either employees or contacts of employees.

The outbreak at Dole is one of six workplace outbreaks of the coronavirus CCCHD is monitoring. Others include Southbrook Care Center (nine employees, 26 residents, two deaths, one contact), the Clark County Juvenile Center (four employees, two contacts, one juvenile), Mercy Health — Springfield Regional Medical Center (nine employees), Victory Faith Center (18 residents) and Navistar (five employees).

Clark County had 460 cases, seven deaths and one probable death of the coronavirus as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Ohio Department of Health’s website.

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