COVID-19 outbreaks at Oceana farms, facilities.

June 26, 2020

A drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Northwest Michigan Health Services in Shelby.

COVID-19 outbreaks at Oceana farms, facilities.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

District Health Department #10 held a virtual press conference Friday afternoon, June 26, to address the increased number of COVID-19 cases in Oceana and Newaygo counties.

“There has been an uptick in cases in Oceana and Newaygo counties,” said Jeannine Taylor, public information officer.

“There have been several facility outbreaks in Oceana and Newago,” said Medical Director Jennifer Morse. “The big risk in Oceana right now are facility outbreaks.” In Oceana County, 60 percent of the COVID-19 cases are connected to five facility outbreaks at farms and manufacturing facilities — not public places, Dr. Morse said. There are two large outbreaks that accounted for 125 cases.

There are 214 COVID-19 cases in Oceana County according to data as of Thursday afternoon, June 25, said Health Officer Kevin Hughes. Newaygo County currently has 157 cases. Both counties reported 11 new cases Thursday.

Three people have died from COVID-19 in Oceana County, and 81 have recovered. There have been no deaths and 92 recoveries in Newaygo County.

Recoveries are “based on whether individuals are still alive 30 days past the confirmed date,” states DHD #10’s website.

The officials said they are making sure the facilities are screening employees to help mitigate the spread of the virus. Community health workers are contacting COVID patients to bring them supplies, such as prescriptions, so they stay home, said Hughes.

Many of the cases have been asymptomatic, the officials said.

Large housing facilities for many farm workers and a “and fear of loss of income” are factors in the spread of the disease locally.

“Some go to work ill and some have trouble going home if they’re ill,” said Morris. “There is no availability for sick leave. Some have employer pressure to not leave work if they’re sick. There is a struggle with housing and fear of loss of income.”

“In the migrant setting, you may have two or three generations of people who live together. It’s their support system, and it’s hard to break it up,” said Hughes. Often there are four or five people per house.

Each COVID-19 case is assigned to a public health nurse, who then tries to determine potential contacts. Once the contact data is gathered, the patients are risk assessed, Dr. Morris said.

“We use this process for any communicable disease,” said Hughes. “They’re good at doing this, because they do it every day,” he said of the public health nurses.

Morris said that contacts are considered someone who you have been in contact with for at least 15 minutes and who was less than 6 feet away from you — usually family members. “It’s not someone you walked past at the grocery store,” she said.

Approximately 8 percent of Oceana County cases are from “community spread,” said Dr. Morris, “which means we really don’t know where they got it.”

In Newaygo County, the cases arose in “seven different facilities,” such as farms or factories, that are “much smaller — just more of them” compared to Oceana County, explained Morris. Some of the outbreaks in the two counties are related.

When asked for a list of the names of the farms and facilities affected by COVID-19, the health officials declined to provide it. “As an agency, we made the decision we were not going to release the names unless it involved the need to protect public health,” said Hughes. The facilities are not public places — “they’re not able to readily access these places.” If a public place has an outbreak, DHD #10 will release the name of it, he said.

Health officials announced an Oceana County Virtual Town Hall scheduled for Monday, June 29, at 2 p.m. Visit dhd10.org for information.

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