Nearly 40 cases of coronavirus have been traced to the Lusamerica Fish Company in Morgan Hill, and employees’ relatives charge that the company kept it under wraps.
We’re all familiar with the horror stories of massive COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-processing facilities nationwide, and a Washington Post report this week, available for free at SFGate, pegs 11,000 cases attributed to plants belonging to three of the nation's largest meat processing companies.
That phenomenon has now hit close to home, as the Bay Area News Group reports on an outbreak of 38 cases at a fish-packing plant at the Lusamerica Fish Company in Morgan Hill, roughly 10 miles north of Gilroy. That company, which sells its seafood under the name Tasty Catch, reports that there have thankfully been no fatalities thus far, though the company did not say whether any workers had been hospitalized.
“I think we are going to see cases like this spring up all over the country. We have closely packed people.” @SJSU Biotechnology & Business Professor Mark Schwartz on a COVID-19 outbreak at Morgan Hill's Lusamerica plant. More than 3 dozen employees test + https://t.co/0XHFheSqgR— KTVU (@KTVU) May 27, 2020
In a statement to KTVU, Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said that “A couple of weeks ago, an employee from this company, their spouse was hospitalized with COVID. They got tested as a contact and discovered that they were positive as well."
The “couple of weeks ago” part is what has some workers and their families upset. They say the company did not tell employees as soon as they knew of the outbreak, and while they did test workers, they also kept them working in close quarters while awaiting tests results which may have ramped up the spread of the outbreak.
“They tried to keep it discreet,” said one person whose partner works at Lusamerica. “That’s something they need to let everyone know. They all work together. We all have families. They need to be considerate of that.”
The company argues that they tested everyone, retested those who’d previously tested negative, take the temperatures of everyone arriving at the facility, and have installed new physical barriers in the workplace.
“Those that have tested positive, the majority are asymptomatic, so they are not experiencing the worst symptoms,” Lusamerica Fish Company’s chief operating officer Louise Moretti told Bay Area News Group. “We are experiencing cases, as most companies that are operating right now are.”
That’s not comforting! And a KTVU conversation with San Jose State biotechnology professor Mark Schwartz noted that meat and fish companies are lagging in viral safety measures, in a workplace environment where people are packed together like — well, you know.
“A mask is really there for you to prevent [COVID-19] from spreading to other people,” he said. “If you are breathing hard, it’s not 100 percent. If it slips down, you are going to perspire, you are going to breathe hard, better chance of spreading the virus.”
“They are playing catch up at this point,” Schwartz added. “We need to do [safety measures] before an infection hits a certain area. Companies need to do that before someone is infected, not afterward.”
Santa Clara County had just managed to slip into second place behind Alameda County as the Bay Area’s COVID-19 case hot spot. But the prevalence of the seafood industry in the south bay could be a threat vector puts that county back at the top of the tally.
Image: @zbigniew via Unsplash