No additional cases of COVID-19 at Monterey Mushroom
A company representative says additional employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at a Loudon County plant.
As of May 26, 74 employees at the Monterey Mushroom plant tested positive for coronavirus, up from 57. A company representative said Tuesday that there had been no additional coronavirus cases.
According to Loudon County Mayor Rollen "Buddy" Bradshaw, the health department tested nearly 300 workers at the Monterey Mushroom plant last week.
He reported 57 of those workers tested positive for the virus. As of May 26, the company said 502 employees had been tested.
Monterey Mushroom provides "fresh, locally-grown mushrooms to your favorite grocery stores, restaurants, food manufacturers and institutions," according to its website.
Bradshaw told WVLT News' Gwendolyn Ducre that this information was given to him from the health department, which hosted onsite testing at the plant. Bradshaw said most of those who tested positive didn't have any symptoms.
"57 of the nearly 300 did test positive for COVID-19. Yes, that is a high number but we’ve known the entire time that active case numbers were not a true reflection of total numbers in the County. I was also told that an overwhelming majority, if not all, were asymptomatic. This is a drastic jump in confirmed cases but it does not change what we should be doing to protect ourselves," said Bradshaw in a Facebook post.
Doctor John Adams with Parkwest Medical Center said many of the 57 cases may have been pre-symptomatic, meaning not yet displaying symptoms of an illness or disease, not asymptomatic which means showing no symptoms - even while infected. Officials did not say whether the additional employees who tested positive were asymptomatic, as well.
"My suspicion is in all these cases of so-called asymptomatic infection, I would be surprised if during very careful questioning you didn't find that the people had some mild respiratory symptoms or some symptoms of something being out of the ordinary, said Dr. Adams.
Workers reported to the plant on Monday wearing masks and social distancing. Some workers told WVLT News they fear they could spread the virus to their family members. The workers were not required to wear masks a few weeks ago. Bradshaw said that's because the company's guidelines are continuously evolving.
The concerns arose after one employee tested positive for the virus.
All of the employees were notified and "the company is going above and beyond to reduce or eliminate exposure at the plant and folks who tested positive have been made aware and given instructions," Bradshaw said.
In a response to WVLT News Monday, company spokesperson Bruce Knobeloch said, "We empathize with the feelings of our team members about the safety of their families. We are confident we have taken aggressive steps to minimize the risk while at work, and stress the need for continued vigilance at home or away from work."
WVLT News Reporter Ashley Bohle said some employees reported they were not required to wear masks until a few weeks prior. Knobeloch said, "Our guidelines and protocols have evolved since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
In the early stages face covering use was recommended, but not mandatory."
Knobeloch continued, "We tested our employees out of an abundance of caution in collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Health. Our understanding is most, if not all employees tested were asymptomatic at the time of their tests."
According to Knobeloch, about 540 employees work at the farm. He said almost 300 were tested Saturday and about 250 additional employees were tested in the coming days.