The Crestone Eagle • June, 2020

Second San Luis Valley ag-worker COVID outbreak

by Larry Calloway

Twenty-five workers at a potato warehouse in the middle of the San Luis Valley have tested  positive for COVID-19. The outbreak was verified by coronavirus testing at Mountain King Spud Growers near Center, where one man died of the infection. It is the second valley outbreak involving agricultural workers, accounting for about one-third of the 110 cases in the six counties, according to the SLV Emergency web site.

The Colorado Health Department continued to report only 20 cases in Saguache County, but Chella Moores of the County Health Department said on May 21 the outbreak brought the total positive tests to at least 39.  “And remember, not everybody gets tested,” she said. (Number May 23 is at 45).

Mountain King shut down for 14 days for cleaning, and infected employees and their contacts were directed to stay home, isolated from outside contacts.  The Center Town Board issued an emergency order requiring the wearing of protective masks in  city businesses and in all public areas where social distancing is not possible. Saguache County Health urged county residents (and visitors) to follow the state “Safer-at-home” rule, and, “when in public for essential business make sure to stay six feet away from other individuals at all times and cover your mouth and nose with a fabric covering.”

Meanwhile in Alamosa, San Luis Valley Health, a bulletin of the SLV Medical Center, said the investigation continues into the outbreak at the Colorado Mushroom Farm. Some 93 employees, mostly mushroom pickers, and their family members have been tested for COVID-19—resulting in 19 positive tests, 65 negatives and nine pending.

“We are grateful for the staff and community partners who have stepped forward to help address language and outreach needs for those whose first language is not English. Bilingual communication and public information have been a priority throughout this response,” Della Vieira, Alamosa County Public Health Director, said in a news release.

“Food processing facilities have been the site of multiple outbreaks around the country. As essential business operations, employees have continued to have contact with others throughout the Stay-at-Home and Safer-at-Home phases. An outbreak is a reminder to all of us that minimizing contact with others through social distancing and other measures is still important for preventing the spread of disease,” the bulletin said.

North of the valley, Chaffee County reported its first new COVID-19 case since April 11—a 65-year-old man who was put in isolation at Heart of the Rockies hospital in Salida on May 22.  County Public Health nurse Emily Anderson said the case is being investigated, but it is believed the man had very little close contact with community members other than his immediate family.

“As Chaffee County begins to reopen, this case is a reminder that COVID-19 is still circulating in our community and surrounding areas. It is important to recognize that safety measures such as minimizing social contacts, staying home whenever possible, wearing masks, maintaining distance, and not leaving your home when sick, continue to be important measures each one of us must take,” Anderson said.

Chaffee County has had 69 cases and 18 deaths from the pandemic virus.  Fifteen of the deaths were residents at Columbine Manor, a longterm care facility in Salida.

May 22, reprinted from Larry