Coronavirus Outbreak at Vermont Apple Orchard ‘Contained,' Officials Say

The 27 cases reported Monday and Tuesday were among laborers who travel to the U.S. from Jamaica under a federal guest worker program

NBC Universal, Inc.

Vermont state health officials said Tuesday a COVID-19 outbreak at a well-known apple orchard in Addison County has been contained to the site, though more test results on workers there were still pending.

Twenty-seven workers at Champlain Orchards were reported to be sick, up one from the number reported Monday.

"We're behind on the harvest, and now there's obviously the complication from the COVID cases," Bill Suhr of Champlain Orchards told NECN and NBC10 Boston's Vermont news affiliate, NBC 5 News, Monday.

Of the 101 farm workers who were tested at Champlain Orchards in Shoreham over the weekend, 27 had positive results, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said.

The outbreak contributed to the biggest one-day increase in cases since June 3, with health officials reporting 33 positive results in a state with a consistently low infection rate.

The apple pickers arrived Sept. 14 and were in quarantine when the Health Department learned one of them had tested positive, officials said. They arrived at New York's Kennedy Airport and took a bus together to Vermont.

Health officials noted that there is a 46% increase in coronavirus cases throughout the region this week, which includes data from New England states and New York.

Champlain Orchards, as do other U.S. businesses like it, relies on foreign workers to pick its apples and other fruit.

The fruit from Champlain Orchards ends up in stores across Vermont, as well as parts of Massachusetts and New York, according to the business's website.

The staff the Shoreham growers use are from Jamaica, and are in Vermont legally through a federal visa program, according to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

The Vermont Department of Health said it appears a worker was infected with the coronavirus before arriving in the U.S., but didn't know it because his symptoms hadn't shown up until the very end of a mandatory quarantine period.

Because the crew lives together, Levine said conditions were right for easy spreading within one of the farm's three housing units.

"These workers have been often coming here for years, so I think they're almost a part of the community that they're in," Dr. Levine said, noting he considers that level of connectedness a fortunate sign for Addison County, which had few coronavirus cases before this outbreak. "They have a great deal of trust and faith in those those work with and work for, which I think is always a positive sign, as well."

Levine praised Champlain Orchards for the business's cooperation and the seriousness with which it treated the situation.

State officials made it clear to consumers that fruit from the location is absolutely safe to eat.

"Those apples, from my understanding, are disinfected before being released to the public," said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.

Levine affirmed the governor's statement about the fruit, and added there is no threat to the public from the sick laborers, because they're isolated.

NECN and NBC10 Boston witnessed other staffers delivering the affected pickers groceries and health supplies Tuesday.

The business told the news stations it appreciates the words of support it has received from its neighbors and loyal customers.

Contact Us